Sensor-based IoT: Everyone Joining the Party But Gaps Remain

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By Dan Shey | 1Q 2018 | IN-5063

This Executive Foresight looks at the four biggest markets for sensor-based solutions and their unique requirements and conditions. Battery life and cloud-based applications are among the concerns for the commercial market, which equipment distributors, VARs, and specialized services suppliers need to address.

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The market for sensor-based solutions has been dominated by the smart home, but other markets have unique conditions that will require sensor-based solutions. The four biggest markets are: agriculture, commercial buildings, smart cities, and industrial environments. This insight looks at recent market developments with sensor-based offerings and where they need to go to reach their full potential.

Market Activity: Everyone is Joining the Party


Commercial buildings appear to be a target for many startups and legacy IoT suppliers. Meeting room and general occupancy management facilitated using a sensor-based solution has been a favorite for startups like Yanzi, but is now also seeing traction with companies like Ericsson, which has created a smart office package called the Ericsson Smart Building Office Module. The heating and cooling market is seeing lots of activity in sensor-based solutions, driven, in part, by a large base of smaller HVAC vendors seeking partner assistance to launch their own IoT services, as well as by an untapped base of smaller commercial buildings. AAF Flanders, a filter supplier, recently launched Sensor360, which provides HVAC monitoring services to commercial building owners and is packaged in a filter supply agreement.

The agriculture IoT market, serving both tree crops and field crops, is getting a boost from LPWA technologies. While NB-IoT solutions are expected to play an important role, LoRa is providing the boost now for many agricultural IoT suppliers due to low-cost sensors and network components. CropX, for example, is switching to LoRa from 2G for its agriculture IoT solution. The industrial market is also considered to be a very big opportunity for sensor-based solutions, not only for condition-based monitoring services, but as a workforce multiplier. Already, industrial OEM heavyweights are augmenting their current products with more sensors and connectivity and sensor-based monitoring services. Schneider Electric offers its wireless PowerTag for energy metering of its breaker panels. Several others, such as Yokogawa, Omron, Bosch, and ABB have acquired wireless networking expertise and hardware, and ABI Research expects some of them to offer a sensor-as-a-service solution.

One of the most interesting startups to hit the market with a sensor-as-a-service solution is VersaSense. This startup is offering sensors, networking, and cloud applications for monitoring and analytics. Its solution is highly integrated and optimized to enable plug-and-play sensor installation and 5-year battery life. Another important announcement for industrial sensor solutions recently came from Siemens, which launched the Mentor Embedded IoT Framework. The new embedded software development framework is now integrated with leading cloud environments, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Eclipse IoT, Microsoft Azure, and Siemens MindSphere, providing cloud-based services access for device authentication and provisioning; configuration and control; monitoring and diagnostics; and software updates and maintenance. Mentor provides sensor-based IoT markets with an end-to-end development and management toolset.

Smart city solutions that leverage sensor-based applications got a boost last year when the Chinese government announced its commitment to the NB-IoT standard, along with target application segments of smart street lights, environmental monitoring, and, interestingly, manhole cover detection. Recent developments in the smart city market are coming from the mobile network infrastructure vendors. Huawei introduced OceanConnect as a platform for NB-IoT smart city applications and Nokia recently announced its IoT for Smart Cities suite. One offering within the suite is a sensor-as-a-service option, whereby collected data monitoring and analytics can be sold to local authorities. The offering would be sold through operators who would leverage their cell sites for sensor placement.

Gaps Remain for Sensor-Based Solutions Serving Commercial Markets


As the activities of various suppliers in sensor-based solutions demonstrate, networking and device function activities were one of the first areas needing development to enable long battery life operation for massive numbers of sensors. Without this, the ROI of such solutions will never hold up. Cloud-based vertical market applications are critical as well, not only to address the unique needs of the market, but to make the data and insights as consumable as possible. Nokia’s IoT for Smart Cities is a perfect example of an offering that helps cities build what they need and scales as it grows without requiring massive CAPEX investment.

But sensor-based solutions will need to develop capabilities in three other areas in order to reach their potential for massive IoT in commercial markets. The first is a suite of horizontal services in provisioning, kitting, and fulfillment. Provisioning will be greatly assisted with eSIM. But device fulfillment for software and security applications, regardless of wireless technology, will require a level of automation that goes far beyond that currently found in smartphone fulfillment operations.

The second is in monitoring and management services. Cloud-based vertical solutions and IoT platforms will partially address some of the provisioning needs (such as plug-and-play functions) and the monitoring and management needs. But services will be needed to meet battery life requirements, particularly as sensor deployments go from the hundreds to hundreds of thousands. For example, battery-as-a-service, which combines device and connection management, could become a requirement in massive sensor environments. As a final note on monitoring and management, oneM2M is intended to help bring scale to these activities, but the IoT market has been slow to embrace the standard.

The third requirement to drive sensor-based solutions is in deployment and professional services. This is where feet on the street become important, particularly in the commercial building, industrial, and smart city markets. The complexity of machinery and sensing needs in these markets will, in the early days, preclude the self-install solutions currently available in the smart home market. Local installers will have better relationships and the knowledge to serve both as a sales channel and for post-install support. Equipment distributors, VARs, and specialized services suppliers, such as facility management companies, will play a critical role in these three markets defined by a long-tail of customers.