Internet of Things (IoT) platforms are becoming a hub for connecting devices, sensors, networks, and services as well as providing a range of organizations with crucial data so they can drive more cash flow and stay ahead of competition.
Industries like manufacturing, agriculture, automotive, logistics, energy, healthcare, and transportation are relying on data gathered by IoT platforms to design more efficient products, improve business models, and increase productivity.
IoT platforms are sometimes called “middleware” because they handle everything in-between an end device and the application that’s built on top of it, which becomes difficult when you have millions of devices and applications, said Steve Hilton, co-founder and president of analyst firm MachNation.
Many of these IoT platforms are considered application enablement platforms (AEPs). According to Hilton, AEPs are a combination of data management platforms and device management platforms.
Data management platforms handle all of the data and analytics coming in from connected devices. Device management platforms focus on the lifecycle management of connected devices, so it makes sense that these two are often paired together. There are also connected device platforms (CDPs), which primarily manage the connectivity of the device.
“When it comes to picking an IoT platform, it’s like the Wild West,” said Strategy Analytics Analyst Chris Ambrosio. “It all depends on what the customer needs, and each platform can be applied to different use cases.”
The IoT platform space is highly fragmented. In fact, some estimates indicate there are more than 350 different dedicated IoT platforms across different industry verticals. SDxCentral has narrowed its list to these 10 companies and platforms that we think are making the most inroads in IoT right now.
1. AT&T IoT Platform
AT&T was an early champion of IoT and first started talking about connected devices when it became the main cellular provider tied to the Amazon Kindle e-reader device.
AT&T has since grown its IoT business and launched an IoT Platform that provides connectivity between devices, cloud services, existing systems, and third-party services. The company says it has connected more than 30 million IoT devices on its network, spanning more than 200 countries and territories.
The company says its IoT platform can not only manage a high volume of devices, but it also has flexibility and scale so potential users can experiment with different types of devices, networks, applications, application program interfaces (APIs) and cloud environments without redesigning the entire core IoT platform every time it makes a change.
AT&T’s IoT Platform includes two components: AT&T Flow and M2X Data Service. Flow is a web-based development environment for developers to design and deploy applications. M2X Data Service is a managed service for developers that lets users build services and share connected device data. It comes with developer tools, API access, testing tools, and SIMs.
In addition to being able to connect and organize thousands of individual devices, AT&T’s platform offers secure storage, load balancing, and data visualizations.
2. AWS IoT
Launched in 2015, AWS IoT is a managed cloud platform within Amazon Web Services (AWS) that lets connected devices securely interact with cloud applications and other devices. The goal is to make it easier for hardware developers to link their products into AWS’ processing capabilities.
For example, AWS IoT makes it more simple to use AWS services like AWS Lambda, Amazon S3, Amazon Kinesis, Amazon Machine Learnings, and Amazon CloudWatch to build IoT applications that can gather, process, and analyze data in a managed infrastructure.
Services like Kinesis handle data-stream processing and can be interpreted through functions created on Lambda.
AWS IoT also includes a software developer kit (SDK) for devices to connect them to the cloud. Security is then handled either by X509 certificates generated by Amazon or the by the customer.
3. Azure IoT Suite
The Microsoft Azure IoT suite functions very similarly to other AEPs, particularly those from Amazon and Google. Its main function is to act as a gateway to the cloud and other Azure IoT Suite services.
These services include providing analytics from the various devices connected to the cloud. The IoT suite can process incoming telemetry, aggregate data, and detect events. It can process informational messages that contain data or command responses from devices.
For example, within the IoT suite is Azure’s Connected Factory, which is targeted at manufacturers who want to connect Object Linking and Embedding for Process Control (OPC) on-premises devices to Azure.
The cloud provider has partnered with multiple OPC companies like Unified Automation, Softing, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) to streamline the Connected Factory Platform.
4. Bosch’s IoT Suite
Bosch’s IoT platform-as-a-service (PaaS), called IoT Suite, is based on open source standards and provides all of the middleware capabilities to build IoT applications.
The company says it manages more than 5 million IoT devices around the world. In addition, Bosch says it has around 4,000 software engineers focused solely on the Internet of Things.
To continue to innovate with open source and to encourage more interoperability, Bosch is working with the Eclipse Foundation, an open source software community that has several open source projects around device connectivity.
Bosch also teamed up with GE to increase the interoperability of their IoT platforms. By working with GE, Bosch hopes to reduce the fragmentation of IoT core technology. GE also provides Bosch with real-time analytics capabilities.
5. Cisco Jasper
Cisco‘s February 2016 purchase IoT startup Jasper Technologies for $1.4 billion set the stage for the company’s IoT strategy. The acquisition included Jasper’s 3,500 enterprise customers that were using Jasper’s platform to connect cars, jet engines, pacemakers, and more running over mostly mobile networks.
By February 2017, Cisco Jasper’s business had grown from 3,500 enterprise customers to 9,000. And Cisco is hoping to grow that even more by extending the reach of Jasper beyond cellular networks to other connectivity options including WiFi or low-power wide area (LoRa) so that customers can use other networks but still have the same interface.
In addition to being a connected device platform, Cisco Jasper’s platform also has monitoring capabilities. Specifically, it can manage and monitor device connectivity and data usage. Providing real-time visibility into usage will allow enterprises to better predict their telecom bills, for example.
6. GE Predix
Predix was originally created to connect General Electric’s own IoT applications. However the company quickly realized that others might benefit from its IoT toolkit and is now marketing the platform to other companies through its GE Digital subsidiary.
Since it was first launched, GE has been bulking its platform through acquisitions. In November, the company bought a pair of AI startups to boost Predix. For example, Bit Stew focuses on processing data in real time, which could apply to IoT systems where data is constantly being fed into an application. Wise.io applies machine learning to large sets of data and developed a tool that can interpret customer questions to speed up resolution times.
7. GCP IoT Core
Google Cloud IoT Core is a managed service that helps enterprises capitalize on the data from sensors connected to their industrial devices. Cloud IoT Core allows businesses to connect their globally distributed devices to GCP to be centrally managed. Customers can also build applications and integrate them with Google’s data analytics services.
“Many enterprises that rely on industry devices such as sensors, conveyor belts, farming equipment, medical equipment and pumps — particularly, globally distributed ones — are struggling to monitor and manage those devices,” wrote Indranil Chakraborty, a Google Cloud product manager, in a blog post.
8. IBM Watson
IBM’s Watson IoT business is focused on creating IoT services for a slew of customers — from autonomous vehicles to manufacturing to healthcare. More than 6,000 customers rely on Watson for cognitive security, analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI).
IBM’s IoT headquarters in Munich, Germany, has about 1,000 researchers, engineers, developers, and business managers working on IoT. In addition, it has a series of cognitive IoT labs, where clients and partners will be able to work on these initiatives.
For example, Shaeffler is a German automotive and industrial supplier that will use Watson’s connectivity and analytics platform to optimize equipment. Aerialtronics is a Netherlands-based drone designer that will use Watson to process data from its drones monitoring traffic patterns, wind turbines, oil rigs, and cell towers.
9. Siemens MindSphere
Siemens’ IoT platform, MindSphere, is often thought to be an equivalent to GE’s Predix IoT platform because both focus on the industrial IoT.
MindSphere is an open, cloud-based IoT PaaS that lets users connect machines, devices, third-party applications and services, and physical infrastructure to the platform. A customer can integrate with Siemens or with third-party providers to get predictive maintenance services and energy data management. MindSphere also provides life-cycle management software.
Siemens’ MindSphere platform is primarily being used by manufacturing customers that want to collect and analyze operational technology data.
For example, using pre-packaged data models from MindSphere, a turbine manufacturer was able to have a deeper understanding of how its tools worked and how its customers used its products. This led the company to a new revenue model.
10. Verizon ThingSpace
Verizon’s IoT platform, ThingSpace, offers everything from connectivity to IoT applications. ThingSpace first launched in 2015 and Verizon says that at the end of 2016, the company’s IoT business generated nearly $1 billion in revenue. There are 16,000 developers working on the platform and Verizon works with about 1,000 IoT channel partners.
Verizon has grown ThingSpace through internal development and acquisitions. For example, Verizon’s $2.4 billion acquisition of Fleetmatics’ GPS tracking system lets fleet operators monitor things like vehicle location, fuel usage, speed, and mileage.
Similarly, last year Verizon acquired private LED lighting company Sensity Systems to help grow its smart communities offering.
All of these acquisitions have led Verizon to focus on five various markets in the IoT space including smart communities, transportation, smart grids, Intelligent Track and Trace, and drone operations.
The ThingSpace platform has been designed to work within the company’s LTE network but is also interoperable with WiFi, Zigbee, and Bluetooth.