By Patrick Groot Nuelend, Head of Product Management ENC, EMEA, Zebra Technologies
The internet of things (IoT) has been given the term ‘Industrie 4.0’ in Germany for its potential to spark a new industrial revolution. Eighty per cent of companies see IoT as the most strategic technology initiative in their organisation in a decade; there could be 38 billion IoT devices in the world by 2020; and by 2025 the market for IoT technology could exceed $6 trillion.
As companies embrace this disruptive trend, how is it changing business? And, critically, with your Wi-Fi network at the heartbeat of any IoT strategy, how can you ensure it’s ready to help you make the most of IoT’s potential to find new ways to work more efficiently, productively and cost-effectively?
From manufacturing to healthcare: new ways of working
Periodically technology arrives that changes everything. IoT is one such technology. It will allow us to rethink the way we do things with particularly far-reaching benefits in:
- Manufacturing: Manufacturing has long been seen as a sector that will be changed most by IoT and, to date, the majority of IoT sensors, 40.2 per cent, are found in here. By collecting real-time data from across supply chains, manufacturing lines and machines, manufacturers are shaving seconds off processes, driving down defects, working more safely, cutting costs and improving productivity. For instance, using data from machines and robots on the plant floor, and using predictive analytics, it’s possible to schedule pre-emptive maintenance to avoid line closures.
- Healthcare: IoT has a huge range of applications in healthcare. Take the example of a critical patient. In many cases they need to be triaged, tested and treated within set time-frames. By placing Bluetooth-enabled wristbands on them, they can then be tracked through a hospital using Bluetooth beacons. If their progress slows, alarms can be automatically raised with senior clinicians who can intervene.
- Transport and Logistics (T&L): Of the many ways IoT will be used in T&L, one of the most interesting is using smart cameras in depots to assess the dimensions of items. This added intelligence can be used by Big Data systems to provide loading guidance that optimises vehicle space to reduce unnecessary mileage, costs and CO2 emissions.
- Retail: Bluetooth beacons are allowing retailers to track customers around aisles. The data can be used to identify successful store layouts (using heat mapping) and to connect with customers’ smartphones to interact in new ways such as welcoming them in-store and sending promos and discounts.
IoT will create a huge volume of data from sensors that will connect to the internet using your Wi-Fi network. This has implications. If your network isn’t business critical already, it’s likely to be; if it’s a few years old it may struggle to cope with the surge in demand; and, given the sensitivity of data it will handle, you may need to rethink security. What we’re talking about here is the need to provide ‘carrier-grade’ network performance. But the likelihood is your IT team are not wireless experts – so it’s important to think about the best way to deploy, integrate and manage your network. With all this in mind, and with the help of Gartner’s IoT stack, I outline five things to think about to get your Wi-Fi IoT ready:
- Versatile connectivity: A whole range of devices will connect to your network – not only tablets, PCs, phones and laptops – but also smart sensors such as temperature controls. While most new devices will be based on the latest standards (802.11AC Wave 2) – that offer more bandwidth and scalability that’s so essential in the world of IoT, if you have legacy devices connecting to your Wi-Fi you need to make sure the network can support them.
- Communications and networking: Look for Access Points that not only include Wi-Fi radios but Bluetooth and Radio Frequency (RF) sensors. Bluetooth will make it easier (and lower the cost of) deploying Bluetooth-enabled devices – e.g. in retail, Bluetooth-driven Electronic Shelf Labels or beacons. RF sensors are important as they will scan the network neighbourhood to look for any interference and proactively jump to new channels to protect quality of service. This autonomy will allow your IT team to take a hands-off approach to day-to-day management.
- Use the power of the cloud: If you’ve a large number of users, many sites, demand for guest access and the requirement to scale – to pretty much any size – cloud-based Wi-Fi could be for you. With cloud systems, the power of switches and controllers and the intelligence of the network are put into the APs that will self-register over the internet with the host cloud. If you need more capacity, or more sites, you just add more APs (there’s no need for controllers. This simplifies the way networks are built and changes the economics of Wi-Fi – from a hardware play – to a more flexible and versatile ‘Op-Ex’ model.
- Apps and services: Look for networks that make it easier to on-board guests (while managing authentication) and include technology to monitor network activity. That monitoring should include both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth clients to find suspicious behaviour. This is especially crucial in retail where we have seen incidents of Bluetooth being used to steal payment card details over an unprotected Bluetooth system.
- Remote control and management: Most vendors can give you loads of network stats but to make that meaningful you need analytics that give you intelligence, such as how your apps are performing, who’s connecting to the network and from where, and what the quality of those connections is – and, critically, how you can improve in these areas. Make sure, too, that your network allows your IT team to see every AP and remotely manage and troubleshoot the network.
Your IT team has a lot on. The last thing they need is to take on the management of a complex wireless network that’s now, more than ever, business critical. Technology is helping. Just as Wi-Fi networks have become super-fast – in excess of one gigabit download speed – they’ve also become easier to install, manage and maintain. There’s nothing in IT that does not benefit from radical simplicity and, with Wi-Fi, we’re getting to a place where carrier-grade network performance can, with minimal intervention, be set up and maintained by the networks themselves.