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Internet of Things: Full Connection Just a Decade Away

Internet of Things: Full Connection Just a Decade Away

By Michael McEnaney - December 16, 2014

If you’ve been wondering when your refrigerator will start talking to your smartphone, or when your tablet will begin chatting with your toaster, a recent study claims they all will become one big happy, connected family by around 2025.

The Pew Research Center has released a very detailed overview based on the thoughts of some 1,600 experts regarding when the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) and “wearable tech” will begin having a major impact on the global community. Their conclusion: about a decade from now.

For the less tech savvy, the notion behind the IoT is that all the devices in consumers’ lives will not only be connected to the Internet, but also to one another. Pew actually defines the Internet of Things in the report as "a global, immersive, invisible, ambient networked computing environment built through the continued proliferation of smart sensors, cameras, software, databases, and massive data centers in a world-spanning information fabric."

That’s a mouthful, but it’s fitting. As various reports continue to surface about the estimated value of the IoT market in the coming years, one thing is clear -- this market will be massive. Cisco Systems recently announced that it will invest $150 million over the next few years in order to better fund early-stage companies within the IoT space. Cisco said its plan is to invest across a mix of technologies and businesses over the next 10 years, stating that “will actively engage with investment partners and start-ups to mentor and develop new [IoT] leaders and innovators.”  

And Apple is reportedly toying with developing a standard for smart-home automation based around its operating system (iOS). Apple’s HomeKit software platform is aimed at making it easier for smart-home app developers to integrate their new apps’ functionality with iOS devices -- meaning your future home automation devices can be controlled by your iPhone and iPad.

What’s in IoT for You?

Perhaps the best way to explain what the IoT is and what it will mean to our everyday lives is to look at the Internet itself -- a web of interconnected networks that allows us to communicate info to others. The plan for the IoT is take that interconnected network model and place it in just about everything we own and/or come in contact with on a daily basis. 

If the notion of having your refrigerator tell you when you’re out of milk doesn’t thrill you, think instead of what having this smart technology in your car will do when the vehicle is able alert the driver of an impending collision, when a tire might blow or when the brakes may be about to fail. (We already have smart bikes, used by ride-sharing services and unlocked via a smartphone app.)

Within the health care space we are already seeing devices that are worn every day (think Apple’s iWatch) that monitor blood pressure, pulse, weight gain, and then instantly upload this data to the cloud.

As with any new technology, the impact of the IoT will take time and much of it will be invisible to the consumer. However, when the end game involves safer, healthier and more productive lives, what’s not to get excited about?

Bandwidth Issues

With regard to the enormous potential size of the IoT market, a report from IB Intelligence asserts that because the IoT will include such a dense layer of consumer devices constantly inter-communicating, it will account for an increasingly large number of connections.

This explosion in what were once inert objects becoming connected devices will create a flood of data that many feel will make the familiar client-server systems in use today obsolete.

“In the coming decade, the IoT will cause the bandwidth gap to balloon out of control,” Deepak Kumar, chief technology officer and founder of IT systems provider Adaptiva, explained in an article on the website Network Computing. “Enterprises will see enormous amounts of traffic coming from a massive number of sources. In addition to more bandwidth, enterprises need to plan for bandwidth optimization and stricter traffic management.”

Kumar added that security issues will also become an even bigger concern as the IoT market expands and entirely new types of endpoints are introduced to IT systems.

The IB report notes there are already some 1.9 billion devices in place and that number will grow to over 9 billion by 2018, eclipsing the total number of smartphones, smart TVs, tablets, wearable devices and PCs combined.

China Takes the Lead

According to another recent study, this one by GSMA, China now accounts for over a quarter of the world’s machine-to-machine (M2M) connections (with more than 50 million).

The GSMA report says that China’s leading IoT position in the world is due in large part to the country’s strong government support: The Chinese plan to invest more than $600 billion in IoT through the year 2020.

“China is a rapidly developing country that is investing in communications technologies that will make its cities smarter and provide a better quality of life for its citizens,” stated Alex Sinclair, chief technology officer at GSMA (an association of mobile telephone system operators). “Proactive government support has benefited China and its mobile operators, whereas in many global markets, regulatory uncertainty has held back the deployment of M2M solutions. The addressable market and the opportunity for further growth is immense, especially when one considers the sheer number of ‘things’ such as cars or domestic appliances that could potentially be connected by mobile.”

The GSMA report also points out that Asia is currently the largest regional IoT market, accounting for 40 percent of the world’s 189 million M2M connections (as of the end of 2013).

While the experts involved in the Pew study disagreed about the IoT potential ramifications, one conclusion they all agreed upon was this:

“By 2025 there will be a global, immersive, invisible, ambient networked computing environment built through the continued proliferation of smart sensors, cameras, software, databases, and massive data centers in a world-spanning information fabric known as the Internet of Things,”  the report concluded.

Michael McEnaney has been a technology journalist for over 20 years covering consumer electronics and imaging tech as well as launching, editing/writing content, selling and marketing a variety of tech publications and websites during that time.

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