The 10 Biggest IoT News Stories Of 2020 (So Far)

CRN reviews the most significant happenings in the IoT world of 2020 so far, from a new Cisco acquisition to a halt in sales for one major application by IBM, Microsoft and Amazon.

IoT Moves Forward In The Midst Of The Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has shaken up expectations for how the IoT market will play out in 2020, but while the crisis has created some volatility in the short term, there has been no shortage of news, whether it's new products, partnerships, vulnerabilities or other events.

While the current economic slowdown is expected to impact IoT demand this year, multiple executives have told CRN that they expect big opportunities to emerge as governments begin to take control of the pandemic and identify ways to limit its spread.

[Related: The 10 Hottest IoT Startups Of 2020 (So Far)]

"We don't know exactly what the world is going to look like when this is over, but we all know it's going to be very different," Intel IoT sales executive Brad Haczynski said in an interview with CRN last month. "And we can all see that we're heading down a path where social distancing and how we manage crowds is all going to be viewed differently in the future. And when that happens, new opportunities for technology will emerge, new disruptive use cases will emerge."

As a way to sum up the most significant industry happenings for the first half of the year, here are the 10 biggest IoT news stories of 2020 so far.

10. SAP And Honeywell Partner For Building Management Offering

SAP and Honeywell are looking to take building management to the next level with a new joint cloud-based offering. The partnership, unveiled in June, is bringing together the capabilities of the SAP Cloud Platform with the Honeywell Forge enterprise performance management platform to help building owners and facility managers use artificial intelligence to uncover cost savings and efficiencies in how their buildings are managed, for everything from energy performance and security to maintenance and regulations. For instances, the companies said, Honeywell Forge's AI capabilities can help buildings save up to 23 in energy costs for HVAC systems alone.

9. Cisco Acquires Wireless IoT Specialist Fluidmesh Networks

Cisco Systems is expanding its IoT offerings with its plan to acquire wireless backhaul systems provider Fluidmesh Networks. The San Jose, Calif.-based company said the deal, which is expected to close in the fourth quarter, will build on Cisco's industrial IoT strategy with the addition of Fluidmesh's wireless technology that can reach critical, on-the-move IoT applications. Fluidmesh's technology will extend Cisco’s industrial wireless offerings to industries that rely heavily on backhaul for their IoT applications, such as high-speed rail and subway transit, as well as large-scale distributed sites such as ports and urban settings where signal strength can be challenging.

8. Microsoft Launches Azure Sphere To Secure IoT Devices

Microsoft expanded its IoT ambitions with the launch of its Azure Sphere offering that aims to secure a pervasive class of power-constrained connected devices controlled by microcontroller units. The Redmond, Wash.-based company announced the general availability of Azure Sphere in February, saying that it would consist of three technology components: Azure-certified MCU chips that go into every device and provide a hardware root of trust among other advanced security measures; the Linux-based Azure Sphere operating system that will be continually upgraded with new protections; and the cloud-based Azure Sphere Security Service that monitors for threads and brokers device communication.

7. Microsoft Acquires CyberX For A Reported $165 Million

In another sign of Microsoft's interest in expanding beyond traditional IT, the company in June confirmed that it has acquired industrial IoT security startup CyberX, with reports pegging the deal's value at approximately $165 million. The Waltham, Mass.-based company was founded in 2013 and provides continuous monitoring and vulnerability management for industrial control systems. CyberX counts two of the top five U.S. energy providers, a top five global pharmaceutical company, a top five U.S. chemical company, and national electric and gas utility providers across Europe and Asia-Pacific among its base of customers. Microsoft has made a handful of pure-play security buys over the years, adding security orchestration and automation provider Hexadite in June 2017 for a reported $100 million to help companies investigate and respond to alerts.

6. Forescout Sues After $1.9 Billion Private Equity Deal Comes To A Halt

Fourscout, a major provider of IoT security software, said in May that it is suing Advent International after the private equity firm pulled out of a deal to acquire the publicly traded vendor for $1.9 billion. According to the San Jose, Calif.-based company, Advent informed Forescout that it wouldn't close the acquisition because of a "material adverse effect," causing the deal to fall short of a required closing condition. However, Forescout said its agreement with Advent explicitly called out the risk of any impacts from the coronavirus pandemic and that therefore no material adverse effect had taken place. Advent, in June, then alleged Forescout and channel partner Merlin International had engaged in a "channel stuffing" scheme, which both firms have denied.

5. New Arm, Nvidia Chips For IoT

Arm and Nvidia both revealed new chips this year meant to accelerate artificial intelligence for IoT and edge devices. Arm's new chips, the Cortex-M55 and Ethos-U55, were revealed in February as new advancements in accelerating machine-learning workloads in small power-constrained devices. The British chipmaker called the Cortex-M55 its most AI-capable Cortex-M processors to date, improving machine-learning performance by up to 15 times and digital signal processing performance by five times compared with previous Cortex-M generations. Nvidia, on the other hand, revealed the GPU-based EGX A100 system-on-chip as a heavy hitter for accelerating inference on data collected by sensors at the edge. Thanks to its on-board Mellanox network card, the EGX A100 can receive up to 200 Gbps of data and route it directly to the GPU memory for AI or 5G signal processing, which Nvidia said makes it the "ultimate AI and 5G platform" for intelligent real-time decision-making, from retail stores to hospitals.

4. Insight Partners Buys IoT Security Startup Armis

Armis, one of the hottest IoT security startups over the past few years, was acquired by private equity firm Insight Partners in a deal worth $1.1 billion. The deal, which included a $100 million investment from Google-backed venture capital fund CapitalG, came after the Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup had raised $112 million across four funding rounds since it was founded in 2015. At the time of the announcement, Armis said that it would continue to operate independently under its existing executive team and that the deal will strengthen its position in the market for device behavior tracking and incident response software.

3. Vendors Push Pause On Facial Recognition

Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and IBM halted sales of facial recognition software to police departments, or altogether in the case of the latter, in June over concerns that the technology, a major use case for IoT, can be used for mass surveillance, racial profiling and violating human rights. The concerns, while long held by activists and groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, were reignited in the midst of nationwide protests calling for police reform or abolition and justice for African-Americans, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, whose deaths "remind us that the fight against racism is as urgent as ever," IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said when saying that the company would permanently stop selling facial recognition software. Microsoft, meanwhile, said it would halt sales of facial recognition software to police departments until federal regulations are put in place. AWS said it would ban the use of such technology by police for one year in the hope that federal regulations will be passed.

2. COVID-19 Impacts IoT Demand

While the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the world in a multitude of ways, it has had more of a direct economic impact on the demand for IoT applications because of multiple verticals, such as retail and manufacturing, hitting pause on digital transformation projects. This was reflected in Intel's first-quarter earnings, which reported a 3 percent year-over-year decline in sales for the company's IoT group. At the same time, however, software companies like PTC have been able to withstand the fluctuation in demand thanks to the subscription business model for its IoT software. But while the volatility is expected to continue for some time, many vendors expect long-term demand for IoT offerings to increase to fuel growing automation and compliance needs.

1. Ripple20 Vulnerabilities Have Wide Impact On IoT Devices

Researchers uncovered a set of new vulnerabilities, collectively referred to as Ripple20, that is estimated to impact hundreds of millions of IoT devices. The 19 vulnerabilities, uncovered by Israeli consulting firm JSOF, impact a low-level TCP/IP software library developed by Treck Inc. that can allow hackers to gain access from outside a network and hide malicious code on devices to steal data or change the device's behavior. The firm said Ripple20 impacts devices made by a wide range of vendors, including HP, Schneider Electric, Rockwell Automation, Caterpillar and Intel.