Last October, research firm IDC outlined the most outstanding Smart City Initiatives across Asia Pacific (excluding Japan) in its 2015 Smart City Evolution Index competition. Hong Kong’s Science Park took the top spot for the Smart Building category. Still, there are concerns that Hong Kong is lagging behind its rivals in the region in offering Smart City solutions.
Singapore emerged as the biggest winner topping four of 14 categories; while China trailed closely with three.
Over the last few years, we have seen the emergence of a megatrend that has swept across the world. Organizations – from enterprises to football teams – are increasingly connecting their most important assets, from assembly-line equipment to professional sportspeople, via the Internet to gain increased visibility, through a concept known as the “Internet of Things” (IoT).
The benefits of adopting IoT are plenty. Retailers are able to engage more intelligently with their customers; manufacturers are able to keep production lines running more efficiently; hospitals are able to track critically ill patients to increase the quality of treatment. The list goes on.
Here in Hong Kong, the development of a smart city is an example in which technology is used to improve city management, enhance efficiency, and provide traffic information and high-quality public services. Can Hong Kong become one of the world leaders in becoming a Smart City?
The answer is definitely positive, because barriers to entry are so few and the necessary steps are relatively easy. The basic criteria to adopt IoT is the ability to connect devices together. We see wireless technology as the backbone of IoT. And the good news is that Hong Kong is already leading at this area.
According to a report by Akamai Technologies in October 2015, Hong Kong ranked No. 2 globally in terms of peak connection speeds and average connection speed in the second quarter of 2015.
As enterprises look at how they can further develop their capabilities, or make their first step to adopt IoT, here are some areas to consider:
The first step is to standardize technology and scalability. At the core of IoT are millions of devices that transmit data to centralized systems. Connectivity plays a critical role in the success of bringing devices together, and the options today are plenty: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), RFID, NFC, just to name a few.
Determining which solution to adopt is dictated by several factors, including the environmental (i.e. presence of concrete, wood, metal), the density of sensors, desired range of connection, and speed. Amongst all, Wi-Fi has shown the highest success rate to provide connectivity for IoT – acting as the glue that brings devices together.
Second is a step to increase the speed to a level capable of addressing the increasing demand for coverage and capacity of connecting devices. It took six years for the industry to move from the earlier 802.11n standard to today’s 802.11ac networks. It may seem like eternity in technology, but it was well worth the wait.
The biggest benefit of the 802.11ac standard is its unprecedented speed on the 5 GHz band – “more than 10 times the speed that was previously standardized” , which improves wireless local area network (WLAN) user experience by many fold. On both 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, 802.11ac is also able to support up to 100 users each.
The 802.11ac standard enables more efficient spectrum use, high capacity, and reduced latency. This standard is particularly good for devices with limited antennas, such as smartphones or tablets. It is predicted that by 2018, 802.11ac access points will replace all legacy 802.11n systems.
The other move would be security and privacy protection. According to Juniper Research, IoT is estimated to reach approximately 38 billion “connected (autonomous) things” by 2020. But the sheer number of connections between/among devices means it is almost impossible for system administrators to keep an eye on every communication – increasing the vulnerability of malicious attacks.
In many industries that have started utilizing IoT, information is being transmitted without deliberate intervention. For example, in manufacturing, forklift operator data can be transferred to the server without requiring the driver to download the data after each shipment. This would demand that the endpoints and the network are both adequately protected and secured.
To protect the data, property and privacy of organizations, employees and guests, Wireless Intrusion Protection Systems (WIPS) play a critical role in detecting and defending networks from intrusion, and quickly remove any rouge devices on the network. IT managers should pay attention to how fast their security systems can respond, and the number of threats (or events) their chosen solution is able to handle in case of security breaches.
Talking about the future for wireless networks and IoT, a recent survey conducted by Zebra Technologies in conjunction with Forrester – aggregating results from retail, hospitality, and transportation and logistics (T&L) sectors in the United States and Europe – showed that more than 60 percent of them are in the process of expanding or planning to implement technology to tap into IoT.
Among them, more than 50 percent have recently refreshed their wireless infrastructure to prepare for new devices and services. Asian and Hong Kong companies will undoubtedly follow this path.
Looking at the upward demand for IoT, as well as the features and abilities of Wi-Fi, wireless is the glue that brings everything together. It is clear that Hong Kong can increase its chance of being an IoT world leader if we follow the steps outlined above and ensure that Wi-Fi can play its role and be instrumental to every connected part.
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