The Internet of Things (IoT) has been a fast-growing trend — especially with the demand for connectivity, as people get more physically distanced during the current global pandemic.

According to IDC projections, IoT spending in the Asia Pacific will rebound in 2021 to reach US$288.6 billion and will grow at an average yearly rate of 11.7 per cent from 2020 to 2024.

The commercial and industrial application possibilities for IoT are endless. Technology has especially played a significant role in manufacturing and industrial settings — connecting machines to machines, and machines to online systems. IoT has also been widely adopted in industries like transportation, energy and healthcare.

The benefits of IoT for businesses, naturally, are abundant, ranging from increased cost savings to enhanced productivity. It has also become vital for automation and robotics in many logistic hubs and factory floors.

Among the big four technologies of today — artificial intelligence (AI), cloud infrastructure and big data and analytics — IoT is expected to have the biggest impact on the Industry 4.0 revolution worldwide, according to Statista.

Cybersecurity risks and IoT

Nonetheless, IoT adoption does come with its fair share of challenges. Chief among them is increased cybersecurity risks. The more connected devices in a network mean a larger surface area for cyber threat actors to launch their attacks.

Perhaps the most infamous IoT hacking incident was the Mirai Botnet attack, which took down parts of Amazon Web Services and its clients, including GitHub, Netflix, and Twitter.

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More recently, hackers have also breached security-camera data collected by Silicon Valley startup Verkada — gaining access to footage from hospitals, police departments, prisons, schools, as well as companies such as Tesla.

Cybersecurity requirements are best addressed as a whole. Businesses require a secure network infrastructure that supports all aspects of their operation, and these include IoT connectivity, policy management for users and devices, applications such as communication and collaboration, and workflow automation.

A robust cybersecurity strategy also reduces risks across Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, IoT, shadow IT and more.

New network technologies

Network performance is another key consideration in IoT planning. The hype in recent years is on 5G and Wi-Fi 6. 5G LTE is the latest mobile network technology— capable of carrying more information than ever before. It can also support communications in ultra-dense deployments due to higher and faster frequencies.

Wi-Fi 6, meanwhile, is the next-generation Wi-Fi standard known as 802.11ax. It is packed with newer technologies that allow connectivity to the Internet to be faster and more efficient.

Generally, 5G is ideal for large, outdoor environments that require longer-range connectivity. In smart transport IoT applications for instance, this can mean vehicle-to-vehicle or vehicle-to-road connectivity.

Wi-Fi 6 on the other hand, brings benefits like a lower cost for deployment and maintenance. Being a Wi-Fi network, it is also very scalable. This makes it optimised for most IoT strategies and means that it will continue to be the predominant technology for most campus and office environments.

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However, both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 developments are relatively new. Many cities and facility owners across the region are currently still putting in place the necessary infrastructure to support these technologies. Also, many businesses are operating in fast-changing environments that require operations to be agile and flexible.

One good example is the quick pivot many businesses had to undertake in transitioning office- and factory-based workers to a largely distributed work-from-home workforce. Selecting the right network for a business IoT setup may not always be as straightforward as it seems.

Many devices, much to consider

Business and IT leaders need to have a clear idea of how their IoT devices will bring value to the overall operations in the first place, especially considering the investment and expertise required.

This means finding out what success would look like. Consider questions like: which processes should it cut down (or eliminate)? How often will the devices be used? Which features will be used the most? What will the cost of upkeep look like?

That is not all. Leaders still need to consider what deployment would look like, while factoring in the need for security and reliability.

As mentioned, businesses must take a holistic view of cybersecurity. Mainly, they ought to ensure that the entire network is not compromised in the event of one cyber attack incident. This means virtually segmenting all infrastructure and networks so devices can only access certain services and are blocked from communicating with all other micro-segments of the network.

Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, for instance, has laid out a five-phase micro-segmentation strategy that can onboard IoT devices and keep them in their dedicated containers — helping to minimise security risks, without wreaking havoc on current processes.

Additionally, as businesses add more devices to their networks, they need to ensure that they have bandwidth and capacity ready to keep up with the demand.

Leaders must therefore look into robust network solutions that can address varied IoT deployment scenarios to simultaneously support multiple devices, sometimes of different makes and models, at once.

Connecting the dots

According to a McKinsey survey, the pandemic has brought about years of change in the way companies in all sectors and regions do business — accelerating their digitisation at a pace never seen before. This may just be the beginning, however.

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Ultimately, change is the only constant, and businesses need to be agile and nimble enough to embrace new technologies to build up resilience.

In essence, there is no denying that businesses will stand to benefit tremendously from adopting IoT. However, a great deal of thought and planning is required to ensure a smooth and secure transition.

A sound IoT strategy that is agile enough to allow for the businesses to pivot when required must be in place early in the process. Only then, will they be able to thrive in an efficient, safe, and secure connected environment.

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