Digital transformation in some sectors has been underway for over a decade, but there’s never been an accelerator like COVID-19. The immediate changes that were forced on people and businesses in 2020 have given proof to digital investment business cases that would have previously required extensive research and a reasonable acceptance of risk in order to implement.
Private networks based on 5G technology have revolutionised operations at large campuses such as ports, manufacturing plants and airports. With faster speeds and throughput rates, lower latency and extended coverage, 5G private networks have replaced WiFi in many of these environments and ushered in a new era of connected and automated machines.
The utilities sector has long been a pioneer when it comes to technology adoption, but recent developments in network connectivity and sensors have opened up a whole new world of opportunities. At the Integrated Transport Electricity Gas Research Laboratory (InTEGReL) we are exploring all of these opportunities, and within this environment my team at Invisible Systems is working with Northern Gas Networks on the development of a low-cost universal data capture device linked to sensors monitoring a variety of conditions across multiple gas, water and electricity networks.
Our sensors are a core part of the work at InTEGReL. Dotted around the 15-acre InTEGReL site, they are monitoring a range of conditions from network pressure to environmental data, including temperature, humidity and CO2 levels. These sensors transmit that data in real time to our centralised dashboard. From there the team keep track of the various metrics and can quickly identify and react to changes. Additionally, if pre-determined data thresholds are breached, real-time alerts are triggered and notifications are sent via text, email or in some cases, voice calls.
The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) has created a magnitude of new connected devices and in turn, a magnitude of entry points waiting to be breached. An even bigger issue is that many IoT devices are easier to target than conventional devices, making them the new endpoint of choice for cybercriminals everywhere.
For most people, 30 years seems far away, but it feels like next week to those of us working to meet the UK government's 2050 target for Net-Zero carbon emissions. Both for myself at Northern Gas Networks and for my colleagues in other utilities, the Integrated Transport Electricity Gas Research Laboratory (InTEGReL) facility is an important aid as we look to accelerate the pathway to decarbonisation, not just for a single utility, but from a whole-system perspective.
For utility companies, digital transformation has a unique complexity and urgency. With dispersed infrastructures, including network elements that may be decades or even centuries old, it's challenging for utilities to achieve business objectives and meet regulatory requirements, which in the UK include a net-zero carbon emission deadline of 2050. And as regulated entities, utilities don't set their own prices, so driving efficiencies is the only way to realising a profitable business.
By 2025 there will be 42 billion connected IoT devices generating almost 80 zettabytes of data. But what benefits are enterprises gaining from these connected devices and all of that data? As we enter into a new decade, Tom Gardner, Head of IoT & MVNO at CKHIOD outlines how IoT is making an impact in the retail, transport and utilities sectors.