Transform 2021: The evolution of edge and IoT pre- and post-COVID

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“IoT is connecting things — and connecting things gives you a lot of power,” said Ludovico Vassati, head of IoT at Vodafone Americas, during a Transform 2021 fireside chat, Big Trends in Edge AI & IoT.

5G increases the number of connections that are possible at once, creating situations where connected things can talk to each other and make decisions simultaneously, with a huge amount of data processing. And with MEC, or multi-access edge computing — keeping data and computing at the edge — the edge has become smarter, making decisions without sending data to the cloud and back. That shortens latency and reduces the cost of sending data up and down to the internet.

“It’s been fascinating to see all these technologies coming to life together and maturing together,” Vassati says. “Now the opportunities are massive in every industry.”

All of this data is going to be out at the edge of the network because of 5G, said Reed Peterson, SVP, telecom strategy and engagement at DataStax, so it’s important for there to be a separation of compute and storage. And as digital transformation continues within companies, so much of what they’re doing is looking at driving more and more data to the edge, and having access to that data, which is a critical piece of so many IoT use cases.

“One reason I joined DataStax was because of the inherent nature of the way this architecture works, intelligently replicating that data all the way from core to edge,” he said. “And so for us it’s critical to have access to data across any domain of that network that you need, and especially to push that all the way to the edge where the people are, where that interaction is happening, to be able to drive some of these AI and IoT solutions.”

But one of the challenges in machine learning and AI that pushes out to I0T is that the data is not being gathered from every aspect of the network, Vassatti said.

“What ends up happening is you only have small pieces of data being collected and pushed out,” he said. “Having access to all that data is critical, and having that data in real time is critical as you look at autonomous driving or new IoT services. And 5G will play a huge role there.”

The conversation turned to the Vodafone satellite I0T solution, which the company launched to help its customers connect that final tiny percent of their devices that they couldn’t reach before 5G technology — and in a similar way, he noted, it also launched low power technologies like nanoband IoT to get more penetration into buildings or even under the surface of water.

“We look at how to help customers connect everything, to reach out to all of their devices,” he said. “Satellite is needed in the middle of nowhere if you’re monitoring cattle or maybe fish farms and so on. We partner with Inmarsat and other players to add that piece of coverage, almost like a roaming agreement for us, where we roam on Inmarsat’s satellite network to reach that final five percent that we can’t reach with our cellular network.”

The social impact of data, both from an ethical perspective and in how we can use data to help people, is to connect the unconnected and get intelligent insights and data to people all over the world — that last three or four percent, Peterson added. And the Vodafone America foundation does a lot of work for the social good, particularly around ethics and social impact of data.

The Vodafone America foundation is part of the broader Vodafone foundation, a group of foundations linked together with a broad variety of missions, including equal opportunity, the green economy and protecting the earth, and more, Vassati said.

Recently during the COVID pandemic, thanks to I0T, the company was able to help manage some of the logistics around vaccinations, including tracking deliveries of vaccine doses and ensuring on-time delivery, as well as monitoring the temperatures of those doses during transport.

“COVID completely changed the world,” Peterson noted, “and it’s amazing to see the response, both in terms of the vaccines that came out, but also the vaccine rollout, seeing how people responded. Clearly so much of this couldn’t have been done without fleet telematics and all of the IoT services and AI that went into all of these different pieces.”

Many other use cases have been accelerated through COVID that will now be used in everyday life going forward. Vassatti pointed to the acceleration of remote health care and remote patient monitoring, as well as monitoring solutions for elderly people or people in assisted living.

“Technology needs to help everyone, not only the elite,” said Vassatti, “from ensuring students coming out of schools find the right jobs, to how to distribute vaccines into poorer areas, and more.”

“We should dedicate a certain percentage of all the projects we do, all the profit we generate, to making sure we bring up every part of society, every part of the world that’s struggling, that doesn’t have access to all these crazy technologies that are creating the future,” he said.


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