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The Internet of Things (IoT) has been quietly making waves in a number of key sectors for years but as digital transformation projects continue to gather pace the impact of IoT will be realised on an even wider scale. Gartner expects there will be 25 billion IoT devices by the end of 2021.
By connecting physical things such as sensors, machines and vehicles, IoT creates a network where data easily flows between these assets, allowing for seamless communications between machines. When combined with powerful data analysis, IoT presents a myriad of opportunities for automation, improved customer experiences and employee safety, intelligent planning and increased efficiencies and control, not to mention improved sustainability.
Five sectors – retail, smart cities, smart homes, utilities and transport – are already embracing the many advantages of IoT integration, and are showcasing the many ways in which IoT can transform enterprises, cities and even our homes.
IoT in the retail sector
The IoT market opportunity in retail is predicted to grow to $35.5 billion in 2025, from $14.5 billion in 2020, according to Globe News Wire. As online shopping grows ever more popular, there's a real impetus for retailers to reinvent the in-store experience. Technologies like IoT are driving many of the innovations we're seeing in the retail sector.
Retail outlets in the near future will be leaner and more interactive. Lift-and-learn applications will present personalised information on digital screens as customers pick up relevant products. These same screens will deliver personalised offers or discounts to customers, and retailers will be able to use purchasing history and mobility data to create up-selling opportunities.
Retailers will be able to monitor their products as they make their way through the logistics network and in doing so plan better for their own internal purposes and provide accurate, up-to-date information to customers.
IoT will also help retailers to improve the overall in-store experience by adding e-payment stations throughout the store that will speed up the checkout function. Customers will be able to complete their purchase at these standalone, unstaffed payment kiosks, reducing waiting times and increasing customer satisfaction.
IoT developments in retail aren't just focused on the customer-facing side, we're also going to see the transformation of the supply chain. Retailers will be able to monitor their products as they make their way through the logistics network and in doing so plan better for their own internal purposes and provide accurate, up-to-date information to customers.
IoT in the utilities sector
The IoT market in the utilities sector is expected to increase from $28.6 billion in 2019 to $53.8 billion by 2024, according to MarketsandMarkets. The use of IoT in global power grids has been well documented as energy firms around the world embrace renewal energy sources. But behind the scenes IoT has other key applications for utilities companies as they look to streamline and safeguard their operations.
Large utility campuses are using IoT to gain complete visibility of their key assets. From asset tracking to monitoring equipment performance IoT is providing utility firms with granular insight into how their equipment is performing. These insights allow for a more proactive approach to mission critical assets, reducing potential downtime with predictive maintenance.
IoT is also proving instrumental in heightening safety at utility plants. Sensors can provide real-time warnings when certain parameters change, such as a rise in CO2 levels or other more dangerous chemicals, alerting workers to potentially unsafe conditions.
IoT making the smart home possible
For utilities companies, the application of IoT has also migrated to the consumer side of the business with the introduction of smart meters. According to Business Insider Intelligence, utility companies will save $157 billion by 2035 by using smart meters.
Today's homes are more connected than ever thanks to in-home smart speakers, smart TVs and smart refrigerators. Less sexy, but arguably more useful, are the smart meters that monitor the different utilities going into a house.
Smart water management has become a hot topic in the face of accelerating climate change. Smart water sensors or meters can track water usage, quality and pressure, and can pinpoint leaks. These meters communicate the information to the utilities companies who can then share the data with consumers.
In-home displays mean consumers can get real-time insight into their energy usage. They can easily identify where they may be wasting energy and can see if their energy savings efforts are working. This data, gathered by IoT sensors and delivered in a user-friendly format, puts the power into the hands of the customer, who can make informed decisions about how they use power in their home.
IoT powering smart cities
As the smartest city in the world, Singapore is a showcase of how IoT can be used to transform congested cities into people-centric places with a keen emphasis on sustainability. A transport planning trial using open data gathered from 5,000 buses reduced the rate of over-crowded buses by 92%. The potential for IoT to transform cities into usable, efficient and eco-friendly places cannot be over-hyped.
Intelligent sensors situated throughout a city can identify vacant e-car charging points and can communicate with specific electric vehicles to alert drivers to their closest point. Smart street lights equipped with sensors can monitor everything from traffic flow and pedestrian footfall to atmospheric changes. This information is invaluable to today's city planners who are charged with making cities more people-friendly and environmentally sustainable.
IoT driving the transport industry
Using IoT technology these connected vehicles will be able to communicate with everything from signs and traffic lights to other vehicles. This connected network will lead to a smoother traffic flow through congested cities.
Mobility data and sensors combine to inform transport planners as they develop smarter bus or tram routes and their stop locations. As planners move towards eliminating cars from city centres this data will prove critical. While cars and other vehicles are still a feature in cities, smart traffic lights and signage can help to reduce congestion by redirecting traffic and alerting drivers to accidents and road closures.
As autonomous vehicles become more prevalent, IoT will play an even larger role. Using IoT technology these connected vehicles will be able to communicate with everything from signs and traffic lights to other vehicles. This connected network will lead to a smoother traffic flow through congested cities.