The Internet of Things is already well and truly here with heady expectations abound as to what we can expect in the coming decade.
It being a relatively new concept albeit being built on tried and trusted foundations, that of the world of embedded.
There is still plenty to learn about what it is, how much it is worth, and how drastically it will change the world in which we live in today and for the next decade at least.
1. What is it?
It’s a general term used to describe the growing network of objects that can communicate with each other and complete tasks without any human involvement having to take place.
IoT, which is intricately linked to the concept of M2M (machine to machine) is gradually coming to market and in the coming decade or so, tens billions of devices around the home, cars and even the trees on our streets will communicate with each other.
It is made up of three major components that are the things themselves, the networks connecting them together, and the analytics that make use of the data flowing from one device to another.
Insights drawn from the data collected, fuel the behemoth that is big data, which is something that brings a whole new facet to the IoT.
2. It is different from the Internet of Everything
Contrary to what some might think, the Internet of Things is actually a different concept to the Internet of Everything, a term loosely associated with Cisco and Qualcomm, although there are some similarities.
The IoT is a term used to describe the physical-first objects around the world today that are then connected together before being exposed to digital applications. The IoE, meanwhile, is focused more on the data sets presented at the end of this and the way that they are merged together and analysed in order to present insights.
ABI Research summed it up well by explaining that the IoE has three subsystems: IoT, the Internet of Humans (human input to machines in any form) and the Internet of Digital (generating data and communicating it on for further use). The IoE might be considered the end goal, but it wouldn’t be possible without the IoT kicking things off.
3. All about the small "things"
The reason that so much enthusiasm is surrounding the Internet of Things is the sheer size of it. In November 2014 Gartner pointed out that there will already be 4.9 billion connected "things" in use by the end of 2015, which is already a 30% increase on 2014.
That is on track to hit 26 billion by 2020 and the consumer sector will make up some 13 billion of those devices with business and automotive making up the remainder. The amount of new devices led analyst firm IDC to estimate the sector as a whole will grow by over $5 trillion, between 2014 and 2020, to hit $7.1 trillion. Another huge nod for that smart home we keeping hearing so much about.
Before the Internet of Things was mentioned, the smart home of the future was anything but a reality. Now it is the biggest part of the IoT with Gartner estimating that, by 2017, about 40% of the 2.6 billion things connected within smart cities will be inside smart homes.
The smart home will be able to track everything we do on a daily basis, lock and unlock the front door, automatically order the groceries once the fridge is bare and a whole lot more besides. With devices like the Microsoft HoloLens also looking to feed into this, a future that involves a smart home at its centre is a mighty exciting one.
4. Regulators are already waking up to security
One of the major concerns coming from consumers about having billions of devices collecting data at all times is the security and privacy that will come with it.
The IoT has already had teething problems when it comes to leaking data with the case of the smart LED bulb that gave up Wi-Fi passwords a fine example and if healthcare adoption starts to catch on as many think it will, the potential disasters just don’t bear thinking about. Handling the rollout correctly from the outset is the best way to make sure there are no horror stories and regulators are already waking up to this.
In the US, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has given huge thought to the security and privacy issues that accompany the IoT and to that end it produced a report in January 2015.
At its heart is the belief security and safeguarding privacy have to be integrated "into devices at the outset rather than as an afterthought". It went on to make recommendations on data minimisation, which would prevent firms keeping any data beyond what they need, proper network security, and data on individuals should be anonymised so it cannot be linked back.
Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, has admitted it will look at the security of the IoT at some point in the near future, however, it has yet to make any bold public assertions like the US FTC beyond saying it sees the IPv6 protocol as crucial to make sure there’s enough space for the new devices.
Intel and ARM have also already unveiled security measures to cover new devices and, even though this is all a good start, there’s still plenty of work to be done to fully safeguard the security and privacy surrounding the new devices.
5. 5G has a huge role to play
All of these connected devices need the space to live and breath, and connectivity is the biggest part of all of this. 5G is being called the smartest network ever and will act as the catalyst for all these sophisticated devices.
Some of the conjecture surrounding 5G has gotten people very excited and for good reason. Estimates on the speed expect it to run at an average of 10Gb/s with a maximum speed as high as 800Gb/s.
There are also claims that it won’t "break" like current 3G/4G networks underlining why it is suitable for connected "things", especially driverless cars that must remain connected at all times.
The concept of the smart city stands to benefit more than most from the implementation of 5G. Projects in the same category as Glasgow’s scheme to put sensors on streetlights and traffic lights that integrate with CCTV are among those in line to benefit from the role 5G will undoubtedly play in the IoT in the decades to come.
6. All the big players want a piece
Google and Apple are just two of the companies betting on the success of automation and you only need look at the billions Google spent on Nest to realise how serious it is and Apple’s development of the HomeKit SDK for its mobile devices shows its readiness to embrace it wholeheartedly.
Microsoft threw its hat in the ring by beefing up Azure ready for the Internet of Things ahead of the release of Windows 10 showing that any company not taking it seriously will be left behind. Samsung, meanwhile, has huge plans for the IoT and this is before you even consider what the likes of IBM are already doing with the huge data sets on offer.
Nest is an interesting example to look at. The small device that started life as a smart thermostat before being bought by Google and is piling on the partnerships through the ‘works with Nest’ program that plans to eventually take over the entire home.
It already has deals in place for the Nest app to control the August Smart Lock, Philips Hue lights, LG smart appliances, the Withings Aura sleep system, and they are a part of 15 such devices in the range.
Apple, meanwhile, has began to use the IoT to advance medical research using a handful of specialised apps designed for smartphones that plug into its HealthKit SDK and improve the future of medical care by using Apple devices to collect huge reams of data.