The Other Show

IoT Comes to the Fore at Embedded World 2018

For anyone in the tech arena, especially those close to the enormous mobile phone, mobile operator or mobile network industries, February is dominated by the run-up to Mobile World Congress and the event itself in Barcelona. The conference attracts more than 100,000 people and is characterised by huge, glitzy stands showing off the latest products and services. CCS Insight is sending a small army of analysts to the trade show, and you can read our expectations for it here.

Less well known, but just as important for the areas it serves, is Embedded World in Nuremberg, which is taking place in the same week, from 27 February 2018.

Embedded World covers technologies that run the operations of power stations, aircraft, trains, production lines, cars, traffic lights, industrial robots and so on. The show has been around for a long time, is attended by about 35,000 people, and recent technology trends have led it to become the premier event for the industrial Internet of things (IoT). That’s why I’m going to Nuremberg, not Barcelona, this time around.

Embedded World is very different from Mobile World Congress. Its focus is more on the “trade” rather than the “show”, and the stands are normally filled with people who are actively involved in buying or researching products for their industrial projects. In 2017, for example, I bumped into someone from Beijing Airport’s technical team. There’s less attention to hype and buzzwords, and it offers a much more down-to-earth technical atmosphere. Most of the stands highlight this by showing off little circuit boards of their industrial controllers — something you never see in Barcelona.

Of course, Embedded World sees a huge presence from German industrial leaders such as Beckhoff, Bosch and Software AG. It’s also important for major chipset players that live or are building up their presence in the market for embedded computing, which include Intel, Nordic Semiconductor, NXP, Nvidia, Qualcomm and STMicroelectronics. The event draws a large number of specialist software providers and systems integrators that serve the markets, as well as a rising number of mainstream computing and cloud companies as their products establish a growing role in the market. The latter group includes Canonical for Ubuntu, Microsoft for Azure and Azure IoT, and Dell for its industrial gateways and initiatives in edge computing.

Last year at Mobile World Congress, a huge number of stands carried headlines proclaiming the artificial intelligence credentials of the companies exhibiting. The massive level of hype was clear, because there aren’t enough data scientists in the world for all of these claims to have been true. In contrast, at Embedded World, there was little evidence of that, and the event’s central themes focused on the security of industrial protocols and how to perform software updates in a well-managed way.

This year, in addition to foundational technologies such as security and connectivity, we’re expecting much greater emphasis on how to get good value from data that industrial IoT systems collect. This will include topics such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, processing at the network edge, cloud storage, distributed computing and digital twins.

We also expect lots of discussion about the tension between working with specialist providers, who historically have built industrial systems and relied on a large amount of customisation to fit the operations of customers, and working with technology providers in horizontal markets, such as Dell, Intel and Microsoft, who bring economies of scale as well as modern software and cloud practices.

As we turn embedded computing into industrial IoT, it’s clear that software and cloud practices will disrupt the way things have been done in industrial settings. But this will also cut prices, lead to large efficiencies and speed up product cycles — things that management teams in customer organisations want to achieve.

The deep technical nature of Embedded World belies the commercial significance of the subjects it deals with.