Experts estimate that there will be a whopping 50 million connected devices by 2020. Many of these devices will leverage M2M communication to provide information and data to businesses and consumers alike. The Internet of Things (IoT) has significant potential to transform the way the world does business. With items from cars and furniture, to even the clothing we wear every day slated to be ‘smart’ in the near future, an enormous amount of data will be created. The IoT currently includes a wide range of projects. Intrepid companies are dabbling in IoT practices using pattern tracking, resource monitoring and scheduled goods delivery.
IoT’s infrastructure is being built by companies and governments today. We can already see a few industries leveraging IoT with smart appliances and smart vehicles already gracing our homes and streets. Xerox Research Centre Europe has already developed a system for managing the Los Angeles traffic grid and provides dynamic pricing at parking meters. The company deployed 7,000 sensors around the city to detect if a parking meter was occupied and adjusted pricing dynamically to ensure a certain number of parking spaces were always available.
More specifically, military branches in many countries are already utilising M2M and, more broadly, IoT in their operations. “Here, satellite based M2M allows soldiers in the field to communicate data from chemical sensors via smartphones and tablets back to a central platform and automatically trigger an alert to other soldiers within a radius of the detected threat,” explains Tim Grant, CEO, Track24, “It also means that military vehicles can be reprogrammed while on the go, instead of having to return to base to do so.”
Another industry that stands to leverage IoT is healthcare. Already we can see pace-makers and other medical devices that can trigger alert systems to hospitals when a patient is in distress. For the healthcare industry, and almost every industry vertical imaginable, this kind of M2M communication made possible by IoT is just the beginning.
In the near future, we will be able to see all manner of everyday objects smartened up. Though we cannot predict with certainty exactly what will be ready to become a part of the IoT in the future, experts can make educated guesses. “We expect the connectivity to start from the devices that provide maximum productivity benefits. That is typically our home network,” predicts Vimal Sethi, Managing Director, Synechron Middle East.
As such, the sorts of objects enabled by IoT will be largely determined by consumers. It may well be that purchasers of home appliances don’t care to have their refrigerators alert the local grocery store that milk needs to be delivered. Conversely, the need for vehicles to contact local authorities and rescue teams that there has been a collision could save lives.
“As the data grows, the software of these products becomes far more valuable than their associated hardware,” explains Euan Davis, Senior Director, Centre for the Future of Work, EMEA, Cognizant. “For example, with a smart toothbrush, the physical tool itself is a commodity, while brushing habits, dental hygiene history and health needs create a data field that is of premium value.” Thus, the cost of microchips, and the value of the data they provide, will also have an effect on the rate in which IoT is adopted into the mainstream. As the cost of chips decreases, the likelihood that items like shoes and chairs will come equipped with IoT ready sensors will increase. If chips are inexpensive, there will be no reason not to include one with items that can provide valuable data to manufacturers.
The benefits that IoT could bring to the lives of end-users are countless. A totally connected life would be completely transformative. As data is created, and transmitted into the cloud, the transactions and interactions of end-users are set to be more streamlined and efficient. “The Internet of Things interconnects devices, assets, processes and systems to improve business models and profits, increase efficiency and optimise the use of resources,” says Sherry Zameer, Vice President Telecommunication Solutions for Middle East & Africa, Gemalto. “Objects and assets have the potential to create value when they are connected, and when they have sensors and processing capability.”
The ways that most end-users may not be aware of, however, could have the greatest impact. For example, a manufacturer of smart connectors and instrumentation for monitoring control in the US has changed the way food is processed in large scale operations. The technology the company provides can sense the environment in various ways, such as monitoring temperature, pressure, viscosity and geo-positioning. IoT allows the system access to less expensive wireless technology to move monitoring data to the cloud.
However, the creation of all this data may seem like an overwhelming future for some. We are already in the era of Big Data, with a veritable tsunami of information created every day by Internet-enabled devices. One of the biggest issues that businesses who utilise IoT will face is how to analyse the massive amounts of information that will be created, gathered and stored by IoT. The issue will not be mining through data, as new, better and faster tools are bound to be created. The issue will be how to ensure that the business does not waste time on analysing data that is not useful, while missing out on data that could be beneficial. “Focusing on the type of data based on priority would be the way businesses mitigate the risk, ensuring better and accurate results,” explains Sethi, “Certain businesses will derive benefit from analysing the structured data which is collected by the devices. However, in certain cases unstructured data may yield some positive benefit. Just making the right decisions on what type of data to focus on first will be the key.”
An issue that all end-users will face when devices are equipped with smart capabilities is that of privacy and personal autonomy. Users may go about unaware what data they are creating, let alone what information is being transferred and to whom. “If it is personal data and it is healthcare related, then I would argue there is a huge dark side to data and you can really see it that way. This dark side is much darker than normal. What if my data gets compromised, or even worse, hacked?” asks Davis. This question is being posed by experts and potential end users as IoT communication takes off and is standardised. The answer to potential privacy issues that may arise with the transfer of data, says Zameer, is going to be an increased level of security precautions. “Security solutions have to be put in place at different levels: security at the core, to protect the data itself and the confidential information it can reveal through encryption for instance if the data is sensitive; and security at the edge to secure access to the data through a strong authentication of the user,” she explains.
If and when standardisation and security measures are in place, IoT stands to benefit both businesses and end-users, according to Diego Arrabal, Regional Director, F5 Networks. “All in all, IoT is a technology promising compelling benefits in our personal lives and business environments. Back-end technology will need to keep pace with these developments and become increasingly sophisticated to ensure all the potential benefits are fully and effectively unlocked.”