IoT Blog
IoT Blog

What Industrial IoT Trends Can We Expect To See in 2021?

by Olivier Pauzet, Vice President & General Manager, IoT Solutions
Over the past year, we have seen the Industrial IoT (IIoT) take an important step forward, crossing the chasm that previously separated IIoT early adopters from the majority of companies. 

New solutions like Octave, Sierra Wireless’ edge-to-cloud solution for connecting industrial assets, have greatly simplified the IIoT, making it possible now for practically any company to securely extract, transmit, and act on data from bio-waste collectors, liquid fertilizer tanks, water purifiers, hot water heaters and other industrial equipment.

So, what IIoT trends will these 2020 developments lead to in 2021? I expect that they will drive greater adoption of the IIoT next year, as manufacturing, utility, healthcare, and other organizations further realize that they can help their previously silent industrial assets speak using the APIs integrated in new IoT solutions. At the same time, I expect we will start to see the development of some revolutionary IIoT applications that use 5G’s Ultra-Reliable, Low-Latency Communications (URLLC) capabilities to change the way our factories, electric grid, and healthcare systems operate. 

In 2021, Industrial Equipment APIs Will Give Quiet Equipment A Voice

Cloud APIs have transformed the tech industry, and with it, our digital economy. By enabling SaaS and other cloud-based applications to easily and securely talk to each other, cloud APIs have vastly expanded the value of these applications to users. These APIs have also spawned billion-dollar companies like Stripe, Tableau, and Twilio, whose API-focused business models have transformed the online payments, data visualization, and customer service markets.

2021 will be the year industrial companies begin seeing their markets transformed by APIs, as more of these companies begin using industrial equipment APIs built into new IIoT solutions to enable their industrial assets to talk to the cloud. 

Using new edge-to-cloud solutions - like Octave -with built-in Industrial equipment APIs for Modbus and other industrial communications protocols, these companies will be able to securely connect these assets to the cloud almost as easily as if this equipment was a cloud-based application.

In fact, by simply plugging a low-cost IoT gateway with these IIoT APIs into their industrial equipment, they will be able to deploy IIoT applications that allow them to remotely monitor, maintain, and control this equipment. Then, using these applications, they can lower equipment downtime, reduce maintenance costs, launch new Equipment-as-a-Service business models, and innovate faster.

Industrial companies have been trying to connect their assets to the cloud for years, but have been stymied by the complexity, time, and expense involved in doing so. In 2021, industrial equipment APIs will provide these companies with a way to simply, quickly, and cheaply connect this equipment to the cloud. By giving a voice to billions of pieces of industrial equipment, these Industrial IoT APIs will help bring about the productivity, sustainability, and other benefits Industry 4.0 has long promised. 

In 2021 Manufacturing, Utility and Healthcare Will Drive Growth of the Industrial IoT

Until recently, the consumer sector, and especially the smart home market, has led the way in adopting the IoT, as the success of the Google Nest smart thermostat, the Amazon Echo smart speaker and Ring smart doorbell, and the Phillips Hue smart lights demonstrate. However, in 2021 another IIoT trend we can expect to see is the industrial sector starting to catch up to the consumer market regarding the IoT, with the manufacturing, utility, and healthcare markets leading the way.

For example, new IIoT solutions now make it possible for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and other manufacturing companies to simply plug their equipment into the IIoT and begin acting on data from this equipment almost immediately. This has lowered the time to value for IIoT applications to the point where companies can begin reaping financial benefits greater than the total cost for their IIoT application in a few short months. 

At this point, manufacturers who don’t have a plan to integrate the IIoT into their assets are, to put it bluntly, leaving money on the table – money their competitors will happily snap up with their own new connected industrial equipment offerings if they do not.

Like manufacturing companies, utilities will ramp up their use of the IIoT in 2021, as they seek to improve their operational efficiency, customer engagement, reliability, and sustainability. For example, utilities will increasingly use the IIoT to perform remote diagnostics and predictive maintenance on their grid infrastructure, reducing this equipment’s downtime while also lowering maintenance costs. In addition, a growing number of utilities will use the IIoT to collect and analyze data on their wind, solar and other renewable energy generation portfolios, allowing them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while still balancing energy supply and demand on the grid. 

Along with manufacturing and utilities, healthcare is the third market sector I expect to lead the way in adopting the IIoT in 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated to healthcare providers how connectivity – such as Internet-based telemedicine solutions -- can improve patient outcomes while reducing their costs. In 2021 they will increase their use of the IIoT, as they work to extend this connectivity to patient monitors, scanners and other medical devices. With the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), healthcare providers will be better able to prepare patient treatments, remotely monitor and respond to changes to their patients’ conditions, and generate health care treatment documents. 

Revolutionary Ultra-Reliable, Low-Latency 5G Applications Will Begin to Be Developed 

There is a lot of buzz regarding 5G New Radio (NR) in the IIoT market. However, having been designed to co-exist with 4G LTE, most of 5G NR’s impact in this market is still evolutionary, not revolutionary. Companies are beginning to adopt 5G to wring better performance out of their existing IIoT applications, or to future-proof their connectivity strategies. But they are doing this while continuing to use LTE, as well as Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) 5G technologies, like LTE-M and NB-IoT, for now. 

In 2021 however I think we will begin to see companies starting to develop revolutionary new IIoT application proof of concepts designed to take advantage of 5G NR’s Ultra-Reliable, Low-Latency Communications (URLLC) capabilities. These URLLC applications – including smart Automated Guided Vehicle (AGVs) for manufacturing, self-healing energy grids for utilities and remote surgery for health care – are simply not possible with existing wireless technologies. 

Thanks to its ability to deliver ultra-high reliability and latencies as low as one millisecond, 5G NR enables companies to finally build URLLC applications – especially when 5G NR is used in conjunction with new edge computing technologies.

It will be a long time before any of these URLLC application proof-of-concepts are commercialized. But as far as 5G Wave 5+, next year is when we will first begin seeing this wave forming out at sea. And when it does eventually reach shore, it will have a revolutionary impact on our connected economy.

Start with Sierra to learn more about how our comprehensive portfolio of IoT solutions use Cloud APIs, 5G NR, LPWA, edge computing and other technologies to help you accelerate your data-driven transformation.