The Internet of Things (IoT) is the merging of the physical and digital world, bringing intelligence to devices, without people, to collect and share data over the internet. The premise behind IoT is that it improves the way we make decisions, saving us time and money but also improving our quality of life.
A giant network of people and things, Cisco predicts that 250 devices will connect to the internet every second by the year 2020. It’s staggering.
IoT can include devices such as smart microwaves which cook food according to the weight gauged, and then deliver recipe suggestions, smart cars which detect maintenance issues, take corrective action and alert the automaker, cloud-connected mini bars which add to your hotel bill at the removal of an item, then order a replacement, and fitness devices which measure heart rate, step count, quality of sleep and more, and then use this information to suggest customized exercise plans.
On a larger scale, some locations around the world have become ‘smart cities’ where data relating to environment, traffic, water, waste management, power, security and even crowd control can be collected and analyzed to create a more efficient city. Smart city technologies and programs have so far been implemented in Singapore, Dubai, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Madrid, among many others.
Although IoT wasn’t officially named until 1999 and took some time to gain traction, in reality, it’s been with us for years. One of the first known examples of the technology was a Coca Cola machine in the early 1980s. Programmers from the Carnegie Melon University in Pittsburgh would connect to the machine via the Internet to check if there was a drink available and whether it was cold, before choosing to make the trip down to purchase it.
Today, IoT is becoming the norm and predicted to grow exponentially, driven largely by Greater China, North America and Western Europe (according to Gartner). Whilst the worldwide market spend on IoT is estimated to reach US$772 billion in 2018, IDC has already forecast the figure to grow five times, to $1.4 trillion by 2021.
The Only Way is Up
Electronics giant, Samsung, recently confirmed all of its products will be IoT-compatible by 2020. Ninety percent already are.
Some industries have embraced IoT technology faster than others. This year alone, the manufacturing sector is estimated to spend US$189 billion, transportation will invest $85 billion and utilities is likely to part with $73 billion.
Gartner predicts by 2020, there will be 20.4 billion connected things in use globally. In order to stay competitive and relevant, businesses need to consider where their products or services fit in a constantly-connected world.
Benefits to Business
When it comes to business and IoT, knowledge is power. The collection and pushing of data is driving efficiency, productivity and the customer experience.
With IoT, businesses can connect to consumers, suppliers, partners, customers and employees seamlessly. Processes can then be analyzed and automated to allow for greater success.
By applying IoT to factories, machinery and equipment for example, companies will receive real-time feedback, keep track of where products are and how they’re being used, manage warehouse stock levels or predict problems before they become real problems. Rolls-Royce uses IoT software in their aircraft, which allows the engines to communicate real-time data to ground staff so that risks can be mitigated accordingly.
IoT is also improving the customer experience. In collecting in-depth information on behaviors and habits, businesses are able to analyze both qualitative and quantitative data to make changes to their products and services to improve customer satisfaction, and gain repeat business.
The future won’t always be smooth sailing and new IoT-based technologies will encounter challenges, not the least of which, will be around cybersecurity.
For some consumers, IoT will be a concerning concept, with data being collected potentially without knowledge or consent. For others, they’ll embrace IoT to the extent that their entire home is connected, from lightbulbs, to garage doors to TVs and refrigerators. There are billions of devices connected, how can people truly protect their privacy if IoT technology is a part of their everyday life?
The Cambridge Analytica data scandal, where social media profile data of almost 90 million Facebook users was collected to allegedly influence voter opinion, highlighted the extent a company could go to harvest personal data for third party gain.
Organizations themselves are also open to security threats with the implementation of IoT technology, particularly as it doesn’t rely on human beings to operate.
Big four financial firm, Deloitte spruces IoT as creating more information and therefore more possibilities to create value. However, the organization also makes it clear that IoT innovation and cyber risk are inextricably linked and should be on equal footing.
On the flip side, some companies will fail to see how IoT can help their business or change their industry for the better, and will be slow to adopt. Having the right staffing and expertise within an organization is certainly an important factor to implementing any new technology (and doing so successfully).
The Future is Here
There’s no doubt that IoT, which has colloquially been referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0, is already changing the way we live our lives and conduct business.
The implementation of the fifth generation mobile network (5G) is, in itself, a huge shift in communications and the way IoT devices can work together. The 5G network will transmit data approximately 10 times faster than 4G. The speeds will certainly be needed as IoT devices learn more about their users, generating even more data.
For IoT, this means companies can utilize more devices without fear of overcrowding the network. On top of this, the cost of data transmission will be significantly lowered. Both of these point to increased efficiency, productivity and ultimately, performance.
Considered by many as the ‘backbone of the IoT revolution’, the 5G network is designed to be scalable, versatile, and energy smart, to cater to the hyper-connectivity of IoT. It needs to seamlessly link to fixed, mobile and wearable smart devices, creating a unified framework of connections.
As the 5G network becomes smarter and faster, devices will need to follow suit, as they will be able to act as networking nodes in addition to end-user terminals.
Data center operators can expect that IoT will drive considerably more incoming traffic and that they will need to reconsider the way they manage capacity.
Joe Skorupa, VP at Gartner, said: “Data center managers will need to deploy more forward-looking capacity management in [security, servers, storage and the network] to be able to proactively meet the business priorities associated with IoT.”
“The recent trend to centralize applications to reduce costs and increase security is incompatible with the IoT. Organizations will be forced to aggregate data in multiple distributed mini data centers where initial processing can occur. Relevant data will then be forwarded to a central site for additional processing,” Skorupa added.
IoT is well and truly here, and 5G is on its way to help drive it. There will be benefits and there will be challenges, but IoT has a critical role to play in the future. Watch this space.