Over one-third of organisations are now using the Internet of Things (IoT), according to mobile communications provider, Vodafone.

The company’s annual IoT Barometer, published this week, reveals a five percent year-on-year increase in IoT systems adoption, from 29 percent of organisations to 34 percent.

Vodafone interviewed 1,430 business and IT decision-makers across different regions, industries, company sizes, and roles. The company also surveyed 328 in-depth IoT adopters in order to establish the priorities, challenges, and drivers in those organisations.

According to the report, many corporate users are buying off-the-shelf IoT solutions rather than building their own from scratch. Nearly three-quarters of adopters (74 percent) believe that within five years, companies that haven’t deployed IoT technologies will have fallen behind their competition.

Vodafone’s report states that 86 percent of adopters in the automotive industry are using, or plan to use, IoT systems to increase revenue and differentiate their products from the competition. Meanwhile, the IoT is enabling transport and logistics companies to track the location of vehicles, cargo, and assets in real time. This helps to cut fuel use, avoid delays, and trace problems more quickly.

Allied with big data analysis and other ‘Industry 4.0’ technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, digital twins, and enterprise asset management (EAM), there are already numerous examples of organisations in industries such as manufacturing, engineering, and energy using connected systems for predictive maintenance.

One example not mentioned in the report is scientific research organisation CERN in Geneva, home of the biggest machine in history, particle accelerator the Large Hadron Collider.

Running in a 27km loop under the border between Switzerland and France, the LHC could easily be put out of action by equipment failures, leaving dozens of international science programmes offline while faults are traced and fixed. As a result, CERN uses predictive maintenance, digital twins, and EAM to forecast component failures and plan obsolescence, scheduling replacements with minimum disruption.

Another industry being transformed by the IoT is insurance. According to Vodafone, 84 percent of adopters in that sector say their business strategy has changed as a result of the IoT.

In the US, for example, there have been early examples of insurance providers, such as John Hancock, linking policies with fitness tracking and wearable sensors in order to reduce their own risk – as well as to improve policyholders’ lifestyles.

However, this remains a controversial area that could be seen as invading personal privacy and choice, as a form of enforced fitness and corporate surveillance, or even as a means of denying services to people whose health challenges prevent them from participating in the schemes. In an insurance-based health service, this could exclude some patients from care.

Last year, responsible innovation campaigning group The Internet of Things Privacy Forum, published a 150-page report suggesting that the IoT could undermine the concept of personal privacy, arguing that “the very notion of an offline world may begin to decline”.

Overall, Vodafone reports that 60 percent of IoT adopters across all sectors say that connected systems will have completely disrupted their industry in five years’ time, while 76 percent of adopters describe their IoT projects as mission critical – with one in 12 saying that their “entire business” now depends on the IoT.

According to the Barometer, the IoT’s benefits come in many forms, including: reduced operating costs (cited by 53 percent of respondents), improved data collection (48 percent), and increased revenue from existing streams (42 percent).

Where adopters reported a reduction in costs from IoT deployments, the average was 18 percent, and where they reported an increase in revenue, it averaged 19 percent.

As a Vodafone research document, it’s no surprise that the report zooms in on connectivity. It claims that the most commonly used option for IoT systems is cellular (including 4G and 4G+). This is followed by Wi-Fi (69 percent), fixed-line connections (33 percent), and low-power, wide-area networks (LPWANs, 25 percent).

It’s not clear from the report whether or not the survey base is made up of Vodafone customers.

However, the most sophisticated organisations are using all of these options, says Vodafone, “because they understand that different IoT projects can have different requirements”. Over half (52 percent) of current adopters are considering using 5G, adds the report.

But what about the security of IoT devices – something that has been called into question by a number of recent surveys? For example, last year reports by the Consumers Association/Which?, among others, found security failings in a range of popular IoT products.

That organisation also reported that smart home surveillance, in which technology vendors and their partners gather data covertly from connected devices, had hit “staggering levels”.

According to Vodafone’s report, however, 84 percent of IoT adopters say security is something to be tackled, rather than a reason to reject the technology out of hand. Adopters are taking a range of measures to protect their devices, including testing during development (40 percent), recruiting IoT security specialists (39 percent), and having devices certified (37 percent).

Ninety-six percent of the most sophisticated adopters are confident that their suppliers have the skills to manage IoT security risks effectively, says Vodafone.

Be part of a discussion and connect with like-minded leaders in your sector at our forthcoming trade event – The Sensor Show – next year.