A Detailed Breakdown of the IoT Platform Space

Written BY

Isaac Brown

March 31, 2016

Written by Special Guest Blogger Isaac Brown, Lux Research

Today, most people are already familiar with enterprise adoption of wearable devices like Google Glass and the Apple Watch. However, while enterprise wearables are one of the interfaces between workers and the Internet of Things (IoT), many still lack a deep understanding of how the IoT platforms behind them work, let alone the crowded IoT platform space and the new startups looking to enter enterprise wearables. While slicing things up into discrete categories is always imperfect (is a platypus really a mammal?), it is useful to break the IoT platform space down into four categories. Many of the platforms offer functionalities across the various categories, but the following categorization is valuable for understanding this confusing space.

Device Management Platforms

These companies offer IoT platforms that provide deep functionality and control over the processing and communications hardware in IoT devices — they either sell embedded boards themselves, or have established partnerships with major semiconductor manufacturers who ship boards with their software stack on them. The major features include device provisioning, over the air firmware updates, remote control capabilities, and deeper visibility into the activity of the IoT devices. For example, Eurotech’s IoT platform, the Everyware Device Cloud, is a solution for connecting devices to a cloud management portal to supplement Eurotech’s wrist-mounted mini PCs. Other companies in this category include Ayla Networks, Electric Imp, and Arrayent. All of these companies also provide some level of Application Enablement (see below) but are more often categorized as Device Management. Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure both offer IoT platforms with some level of Device Management capabilities.

Connectivity Management Platforms

This group focuses on visibility into device connectivity, ensuring that devices maintain their connections, and at reasonable prices. Most of them focus on cellular and have established relationships with global mobile network operators (MNOs) so that they can resell cellular connectivity throughout the globe (making them mobile virtual network operators, MVNOs). These companies provide subscriber identity module (SIM) provisioning and management, often with the capabilities of switching between carriers to maintain optimal/cheap coverage. They allow users to set rules for data charges and they automatically stop devices from “going rogue” and costing too much. For example, Aeris partners with MNOs to provide a large cellular network in North America to manage connectivity for fleet management, healthcare and medical devices, smart grid and smart metering, and point-of-sale. One of its wearable use cases is real-time location tracking for patient care using the SmartSoles developed by GTX Corp. Other companies in this group also include Jasper, Wyless, Telit, and KORE.

Application Enablement Platforms

These providers offer users application development environments for building IoT apps. These environments (often referred to as platform-as-a-service, PaaS, which is a somewhat loaded term) establish much of the middleware that developers need to deal with when they build and deploy apps, which saves developers a lot of time. Typically, these platforms have adapters for streaming incoming data from a variety of devices and communications protocols. The development environment tends to be graphical, with drag-and-drop, pluggable features. Often there is something resembling an app store, with pre-built components for dashboards, visualization tools, and open APIs for plugging into other enterprise systems. These platforms tend to include some IoT Analytics (see below) tools and engines. For example, Carriots provides an application hosting and development platform, and its product is used by Zerintia to develop applications for various enterprise smart glasses. Other major developers include ThingWorx (a PTC subsidiary), Cumulocity, Xively, and 2lemetry, which was acquired by Amazon last year. GE Predix is also quite broad, and it certainly has Application Enablement capabilities. Some of these platforms offer modest levels of Device Management.

IoT Analytics Platforms

While most of the above companies offer some level of analytics, there are many startups that offer IoT Analytics as a standalone service. IoT Analytics platforms focus on things like asset management, supply chain optimization, and other tangible applications (tangible compared to other analytics, like financial and retail analytics). For example, Space-Time Insight’s analytics tool is used to serve regional emergency responder training like firefighters and water management in combination with VR headsets. Relevant companies include Coldlight (a PTC subsidiary), Mnubo, Concirrus, Predikto, Maana, Uptake, Predixion, and Parstream (recently acquired by Cisco). IoT Analytics providers that focus on specific industries and applications tend to have stronger offerings than horizontal IoT Analytics providers.

The categorization is largely accurate, but the following should be noted: Nearly all of the providers above offer some level of Application Enablement capabilities. Meanwhile the Application Enablement companies tend to have a modest level of Device Management capabilities. Overall, a successful IoT deployment typically requires all four of the major functionalities outlined above, along with at least a modest level of systems integration. Organizations with powerful information technology (IT) and development capabilities can get away with building some of these functionalities in-house and deploying without outside assistance. Organizations with modest IT capabilities will likely need to buy most of these functionalities and may be able to perform some of the systems integration capabilities without hiring a third-party integrator. However, organizations that do not have multiple IT personnel to spare will likely need to buy all of the functionalities above and hire a systems integrator to design and deploy the solution.

Isaac Brown is an Analyst on Lux Research’s Industrial Internet of Things team. Lux Research provides strategic advice and ongoing intelligence for emerging technologies. Leaders in business, finance and government rely on Lux to help them make informed strategic decisions. Through their unique research approach focused on primary research and their extensive global network, they deliver insight, connections and competitive advantage to their clients.

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