IoT on the Edge: 5 Key Trends That Will Define 2021

As the internet of things (IoT) gathers pace toward mainstream adoption, the main challenge it faces is how to manage the production of vast amounts of complex, unstructured data. More businesses, users, and devices — growing exponentially — mean more zettabytes of data to be processed, managed, and analyzed. 

The need to prioritize precisely which data is fed to the cloud — and which processes can be done with IoT on the edge — is paramount to continued growth and development. Thankfully, edge computing offers a robust solution. Any early misgivings about IoT’s reliability, latency, and security have given over to optimism and excitement about innovative solutions to present problems. Edge computing stands ready to unleash IoT’s possibilities. 

2020 was a tumultuous year that altered our world in a manner that few predicted. Technology was harnessed in various ways to enable remote working and keep vital services up and running. IoT is well-positioned across several disciplines to further drive our response and adjustments to this challenging landscape. 

As we deal with and recover from COVID-19 disruptions, here is a look at the 5 key IoT trends made possible by edge computing that are set to define 2021 and beyond.

IoT in Healthcare

The heightened risk of viral contamination in hospitals and care homes will drive the adoption of connected healthcare. Monitoring devices can provide remote patient monitoring (RPM) to facilitate checking and communicating various points of patient well-being without the need for physical access. Adverse changes in behavior or readings can be related to the relevant bodies in real-time, allowing an immediate response or intervention when needed. US healthcare organization Guardian eHealth announced an RPM partnership with RWG in 2020. Expect more healthcare companies to follow suit.

Of course, it’s not just vulnerable groups shielding at home that stand to benefit from RPM. Elderly patients who require observation can be allowed an improved quality of life by staying in their comfortable and familiar surroundings for as long as possible. While care home supervision is necessary for some, it signals a reduction of independence and activity. Sensors, handheld devices, or wearable instruments will be at the forefront of a new kind of care that enables flexibility without compromising on safety. 

The healthcare data amassed by these devices will be detailed and varied, with exciting implications in areas beyond present patients. Edge computing will assist AI and machine learning to pull deep insights from this data. This will make predictive — and therefore, preventive — interventions possible.

Remote Working & Return-To-Work

Covid pressed fast forward on a trend that was already taking hold in many industries. Remote working, in 2020, may have constituted an enforced experiment for many employers. When vaccines become widely available in 2021, businesses will respond in two ways.

Remote Working

In one camp, many employers will look at the high costs of renting physical office space in central locations — and the associated ancillary costs — and struggle to justify these expenses. Expect a relinquishing or downsizing of these premises and a push toward remote working. This, as seen already in 2020 by certain firms, will open up an avenue for enhanced employee monitoring and efficiency tools and devices.

There is every reason to think that this culture shift will remain permanent in large portions of the information economy, so expect sophisticated tools that help with scheduling, virtual meetings, and work delegation powered and driven by IoT and AI. Additionally, this data will be used to understand workers and productivity further, enabling more efficient decision making and management.


In the second camp are employers who need to prepare offices for a post-Covid world. Automated monitoring of handwashing, safe distances between employees, and even temperature checks will be utilized to minimize the spread of infections.

Expect additional developments in industries that sought automated solutions to stay online during lockdowns. AI that monitors machine health and alerts engineers when assistance, refurbishment, or manual fixes are needed, has already proved effective. More automation and advanced application in employee safety monitoring are also expected.

Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Blended Reality

Another fast-growing area accelerated by Covid stay at home measures is the AR market. Initially seen by many as a tool for leisure, the retail industry has moved to utilize AR in an array of intriguing possibilities. For example, British holidaymaker Thomas Cook is offering a “Try Before You Buy” option.

Additionally, Walmart trained its employees for the hectic Black Friday influx of shoppers using VR to teach solutions to long lines and other likely problems. This highlights an increased application of VR to teach people about specific environments. Already popular in military fields, expect increased usage in construction, engineering, and production settings. Additionally, many holiday companies have started using VR and AR to promote holidays or resorts.

With uncertainty still swirling around education in 2021 and questions over the engagement of students learning over Zoom and other methods, VR or AR may offer institutions a solution. The flexibility afforded by VR can result in a more immersive learning experience, with some research suggesting an improvement in results when using VR. 

IoT In Retail

With internet shopping dominating the market, brick-and-mortar shops will continue to decline. Retailers will accommodate the stay at home market by providing a shopping experience through VR. Products, clothes, and devices can be viewed and experienced through a range of headsets.

On a more operational level, IoT will service fully automated supermarkets and fulfillment centers, reducing the cost of staff and lowering risks of the spread of contamination. RFID tags on smart shelves can be used to power and revolutionize supply chain and inventory management. The trend towards cashless or cashier-less shopping experiences will continue.
One of the more exciting applications and trends to consider is IoT’s role in both recording and influencing consumer behavior. These revenue-driving applications can make offers, alerts, targeted promotions, and so forth. The data collected can be brought to life and structured by AI to garner insights about what consumers want and what they respond to — making shopping a more personalized experience.

Smart Cities

More cities are expected to follow Shanghai’s lead and move to create safer, greener, more efficient cities. 5G for all should become a reality in many metropolises, powering an improvement in traffic management, safety, and citizen services. 

IoT sensors in pavements and inside street and traffic lights could have a transformative effect on not just how cities manage present traffic but also future plans. Sensors and other IoT devices will be used to amass and analyze data that can be applied across various public services and infrastructure. This incredible tranche of data presents us with a chance to truly understand and predict human behavior in ways that seemed unimaginable in the recent past. Building cities that work for their citizens, whether by detecting parking spots, improving transportation, or stimulating new economic opportunities, will be made possible by employing data from connected devices.

Reducing pollution and tackling energy and water inefficiency is another growth area expected throughout 2021. Increased urbanization has underlined the need for better and more efficient management on a city planning level. Energy metering can be made more efficient through a better understanding of demand, with smart grids able to supply what is needed in a more dynamic way than current models.

As more data is generated by IoT devices and innovation in the space continues to rise, the internet of things will only become more important. Organizations across a wide array of industries are still navigating the changes brought on by 2020; as we move into 2021, expect IoT to play a more pivotal and meaningful role, with broad application across healthcare, operations, retail, and beyond.

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