Challenges and Solutions to Expanding the Internet of Things


Cities are getting bigger. Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), they’ll soon be getting smarter, too. 

Over the next 30 years, urban areas are expected to add an estimated 2.5 billion people on average worldwide. As these cities grow, police wearables, open data, smart trash collection, and tools that monitor traffic levels and crowds will help alleviate the pressure of increasing populations. 

However, there are challenges to introducing millions of IoT devices into cities. Among them, security is a major concern.

How Should Security Standards be Determined?

As a result of the rapid pace of IoT development, both lawmakers and industry leaders are having trouble deciding whether to introduce security standards as well as how best to do so. 

Only a handful of governments around the world have introduced or passed legislation to regulate IoT. In 2019, Australia unveiled the “Code of Practice: Securing the Internet of Things for Consumers,” which includes voluntary best-practices based on thirteen principles for IoT manufacturers. Among the top best practices: 1) passwords should be strong and unique and 2) public points of contact must be made available by service providers and app makers.

While the U.S. federal government has yet to pass regulation, California and Oregon have passed legislation that require IoT makers to include “reasonable security features.” In January, lawmakers in the U.K. proposed the country’s first IoT regulation. Similar to the California and Oregon legislation as well as some of the best practices outlined in the Australian principals, the U.K. proposal includes three mandates for device makers. They must:

  • Require unique passwords from users and are prohibited from resetting them to factory settings
  • Offer public points of contact for users to report issues
  • Clearly state the minimum amount of time it will take for devices to undergo security updates

Despite this progress, some experts fear governments and industry may never be able to move fast enough to keep a handle on the rapidly developing IoT landscape.

“The challenge of this market is that it’s moving so fast that no regulation is going to be able to keep pace with the devices that are being connected,” Forrester vice president and research director Merritt Maxim told Networkworld. “Regulations that are definitive are easy to enforce and helpful, but they’ll quickly become outdated.”

In the absence of universal standards, non-governmental organizations are stepping in. For example, the safety-testing not-for-profit Underwriters Laboratories offers a tiered system that ranks the security of IoT devices according to bronze, silver, gold, platinum, and diamond levels. 

Where Will IoT Devices Get Their Power?

Another big obstacle for IoT device makers is determining an inexpensive yet efficient way to keep devices sufficiently powered without relying on cumbersome batteries that need to be routinely charged. Electrical engineers from the University of California San Diego invented a new transmitter that might help solve this problem.

About the size of a grain of rice, the transmitter is an ultra-low-power Wi-Fi radio embedded in a chip to be used in IoT devices. Built around a low-energy method known as backscattering, the transmitter uses signals from other devices nearby. After altering and encoding unique data onto these signals, the transmitter then reflects the signals to a different device or access point via another Wi-Fi channel.

Featuring remarkable energy efficiency, the transmitter can send data up to 21 meters at a rate of 2 Mbps while using just 28 microwatts of energy, which is 5,000 times lower than what it takes to power the average Wi-Fi radio.

How Can Utility Companies Successfully Expand IoT on a Large Scale?

Utility companies and their customers stand to gain massive benefits from IoT. By the end of 2020, utilities across the globe will install over 1.37 billion IoT devices, up more than 17% from a year ago, according to Gartner. Many groups are already making large investments in smart meters, an IoT technology that helps consumers use energy more efficiently.

There are challenges, however, to rolling out smart meters on such a wide scale. According to a 2017 Cisco study, nearly three-quarters of IoT projects have been unsuccessful. One reason for this lack of success could be that companies are trying to expand the technology too quickly without taking the time to understand appropriate steps. In contrast, some utility companies are taking more calculated approaches. Portland General Electric (PGE), for example, piloted smart meters in specific neighborhoods to test their function, cost-effectiveness, and customer satisfaction. Following the initial stage, the company slowly expanded the program in phases–ultimately introducing 850,000 meters over the course of 18 months. To date, the program has saved PGE $18.2 million USD a year. 

Preparing for IoT

Get your technical staff up-to-date on the latest developments in the IoT, and begin preparing to integrate IoT technology into an organization’s operations.  The IEEE Guide to the Internet of Things is an eight-course program where participants learn about IOT-applications, challenges, and future opportunities. It is is designed for professionals working in engineering, IT, computer science, and related fields across all industries.

Connect with an IEEE Content Specialist to receive a custom quote for your organization today.

Interested in the course for yourself? Visit the IEEE Learning Network!


Loo, Tipton. (27 February 2020). Many internet of things projects fail — PGE’s approach could change that for utilities. Utility Dive.

Jones, Katie. (25 February 2020). How the Internet of Things is Building Smarter Cities. Visual Capitalists. 

Mohair, Pranjal. (23 February 2020). New Wi-Fi chip for the IoT devices consumes 5,000 times less energy. TechExplorist.

Gold, Jon. (10 February 2020). Who should lead the push for IoT security? NetworkWorld.

Fernandez, Angel. (30 January 2020). New IoT security regulations: what you need to know. allot.

Stilgherrian. (19 November 2019). Australia releases draft IoT cybersecurity code of practice. ZDNet.

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