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21 August 2015

Findings from IoT intelligence survey raise more questions than answers

A recent survey of around 900 professionals from industries looking to monetize the IoT shows that not only is there a lot of work to be done, but a lot more organizations are falling behind than we initially thought.

The 24-page IoT Outlook 2015 report, from Telecoms Intelligence, gives an interesting account on several key topics in the IoT, via the views of those who it could affect most; operators, consultants, cloud service providers and chipset manufacturers – but the findings from the survey aren’t without their inconsistencies and contradictions.

As headlines of IoT security issues have spread into mass media recently, it’s hardly surprising that this was a key topic of focus in the survey. What is surprising, however, is that only 78% of respondents believe that security is “very important.” This seems to imply that around 200 people (possibly from 200 different organizations) are not prioritizing IoT security – despite the incessant wave of news that proves that IoT security is very much troubled.

Furthermore, despite the majority of respondents citing IoT security as “very important,” only 42.4% believe “security challenges” are the biggest inhibitor to the development of the IoT, and 37.2% deem the biggest inhibitor to be “platform standardization issues.” “Poor cellular coverage/spectrum capacity” was acknowledged as the least inhibitive of the IoT’s development – but we’ll come to that later.

Some 89.8% of respondents were upfront, reporting that they don’t believe their organizations are in a position to deliver a fully secured IoT network infrastructure just yet. However, they didn’t exactly pin the blame on themselves; 47% of 651 developers and IT professionals believe that the “immaturity of industry standards” is the main obstacle for their organization in using a cloud development platform to deliver IoT cloud services and 28% said the main obstacle is “undeveloped consumer awareness.”

Given the amount of zero-day exploits and apparent developer laziness we see in the security news, trying to blame external factors when companies routinely ship devices with default passwords and no encryption is worrying.

On the topic of shifting the blame, 53.5% agree that security is an afterthought for vendors. As previously mentioned, a lot of work is needed before organizations can monetize from the IoT and 70% admitted that their organizations need to hire more IT personnel to help develop IoT services.

Furthermore, 56% of respondents felt their development teams already have the required skills and resources to develop IoT services, despite 22.4% of these confessing that they “don’t know how to secure IoT platforms.”

When asked, “as a service provider, do you feel you’re ready to monetize IoT?”16.7% responded with “Yes”, but hold on, didn’t only 10.2% believe their organizations are capable of delivering a fully secured IoT network? – following the recent trend of releasing products prematurely without thorough security testing. Moreover, 24.9% believe they’ll be ready by 2016 and the less ambitious 20.8% by 2020.

To add further confusion, when asked what the participants considered to be the biggest network challenge for the IoT, “information security concerns” received the majority vote, closely followed by “standardized IoT platforms” and then “monetization of IoT traffic.”

In summary, the respondents of the survey clearly acknowledge that security is an enormous issue, challenge and potential inhibitor for the development of the IoT but they simply don’t believe that it’s currently a priority for their organizations – quite an aggravating contradiction, and one that is ripe for future lawsuits.

One of the most intriguing questions asked was, “can the IoT exist without a radio infrastructure managed by telecoms operators?” Obviously, a large majority responded “no.” However, this left 38% of respondents that have faith in WiFi, Bluetooth and other short-range wireless connectivity technologies that are MNO-independent – which raises an even more interesting question, of whether the IoT can live without mobile networks.

The findings have a slight suggestion of operator bias. For example, when asked what the most important IoT enabling feature is, “cellular coverage and signal strength” came out on top, with “cost efficiency” in second spot and “security” lagging in third.

The discrepancies continue, referring back to inhibitors to the IoT, out of seven options, “poor cellular coverage/spectrum capacity” received 16.9% of the votes, the lowest of seven options. Some 62% clearly envisage an IoT world running on telecoms services, yet have total confidence in ubiquitous and reliable cellular coverage.

The survey also probed on specific threats to security, understandably, the majority identified “cloud-based applications and services” as the most vulnerable parts of a service provider network. Although it still seems surprising that only 35% said their organizations are researching the role of the cloud in IoT.

Further findings show that 47.1% agree that “to successfully manage potential risks of traffic spoofing on an IoT network, implementing a cloud-based DDoS mitigation architecture and solution is essential.” In addition, 47.4% believe “introduction of IPv6 will give service providers more opportunity to successfully mitigate the risk of DDoS attacks and spoofed addresses”.

Despite the majority of respondents principally associating the IoT with home automation and connected cars, a 22.4% majority believe utilities firms are the best positioned to benefit from the industrial IoT (IIoT) with telecoms in second place with 18.1%. Only 2.6% of respondents believe that the financial sector will benefit from the IoT – something we think the insurance market might want to make more noise about.

Specifically within the IIoT, respondents believe that the biggest revenue generator is sensors (23.6%) and cloud & big data (22.2%). Although, it was the combination of enterprise facing services which generated nearly one third of responses in total. Some 18.7% of respondents believe professional enterprise IoT services will be the most profitable, while 15.9% believe revenues will instead be driven by workforce mobility services through the interconnection of devices and wearables.