Monday, October 13, 2014

The Internet of Things is More Than Just “Things”

It has been 15 years ago since Kevin Ashton popularized the term the Internet of Things.  How could we have known then what that would come to mean and the huge impact that it would have on our lives?  Cisco projects that 50 Billion things (or devices) will be connected to the Internet by 2020; or, the equivalent of 6 devices for every person on the planet. This exponential growth of connected devices is fundamentally impacting both society and the economy—changing our lives forever.

However, with all of our focus and media attention on the Internet of Things, we are really missing the fundamental technology revolutions that are re-shaping our world.  Radical advances in processing, storage, wireless technologies and new ways of delivering technology are reshaping our world - all at a much faster speed and drastically reduced price. 

In my view, the Internet of Things is really a short-hand for the four technology pillars that are shaping a revolutionary new, connected world.

1.    Wireless – High speed, licensed and unlicensed, networks mean that people and devices no longer need to be tethered by a wire.  We can now collect and transmit information from things that are moving (e.g., automobiles, trains); things that are remote (e.g., oil wells, agriculture), or things that are too costly to wire up (e.g., city parking spots). 

2.    Big Data – The billions of applications, sensors and devices connected to the Internet will create zettabytes of data (1021 bytes, or 1 billion terabytes).  But, while the volume of data is just astounding, what is truly revolutionary is the ability to put that data to work.  Advanced data analytics is now capable of managing vast amounts of disparate data to reveal amazing relationships and insights, and drastically improve our predictive capabilities.  As a result, machines will be able to intelligently interact with machines, with limited, or no human intervention.
3.    Cloud – Not only does the cloud provide an efficient and cost-effective means to process and store all of the data created by the IoT, but it is essentially the “glue” that holds the Internet of Things together.  Cloud computing allows all of the sensors to communicate with the applications, and the control and monitor devices, across multiple networks, anytime and anywhere. 

4.    Devices (Things)Of course, the devices, or things, in the Internet of Things are important.  Inexpensive devices and sensors that focus on specific tasks (e.g., temperature, carbon monoxide levels, heart rate) can now be made that are also economical on power consumption, or can tap into alternative sources of power.  And, they are all connected – to a network, the cloud and each other.  Through compelling and easy to use applications, we can access and control these devices through powerful, personal devices such as smartphones, tablets and PCs.

None of these technologies can ever truly revolutionize the world without another key technology – a fifth technology pillar:
5.    Security – The recent high profile Internet security breaches and data thefts highlighted in the media reinforce the importance of security and guaranteeing user online privacy.  Security is paramount to the growth and adoption of IoE.  We have to be able to assure users that their connected car and home will not be taken over by hackers.  Or, that the extremely personal data collected from medical devices is safe from prying eyes.  Businesses and cities will need similar assurances that the sensors that they have deployed and the data that they generate are 100 percent secure.
So, next time you see, or hear, the Internet of Things don’t think of it in the literal sense.  Rather, think of it as a short-hand for the Four + One technology pillars that are truly changing the world.  It is the radical innovation and combination of these five critical technologies that are really delivering the promise of the Internet of Things – reshaping businesses, economies and the way that we work, live, play, and learn.

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