The Internet Of Things: What's It And Why It Matters
What is the Internet of Things (IoT) — how will we use it and what will that impact be? These are important questions, especially when you consider that IoT may have as great an impact on society as computers and the Internet have had. Maybe even more.
The Internet of Things is Not of Things!
Let’s start with the name itself, since it can be a bit confusing. “Internet of Things” was originally used as a differentiator to the “Internet” as we know it today, sometimes also called the Internet of People. But because the Internet of Things is using the same network as the Internet of People, some companies preferred to use the phrase “Internet of Everything (IoE),” which is probably a more accurate description. But that name never caught on, possibly because “Everything” is just not specific enough.
It has become clear over the last few years that “Internet of Things” isn’t quite accurate – and may even be misleading. Probably the best way to describe the Internet of Things is as an application or as a service that uses information collected from sensors (the “things”), analyzes the data, and then does something with it (e.g., via actuators – more “things”).
The service, for instance, could be an electronic lifestyle coach, collecting data via a wristband, analyzing this data, extracting the trends and coaching the wearer to live a healthier life. Or it can be an electronic security guard that analyzes data from motion sensors or cameras, and creates alerts. Or a butler, who turns off the lights and the heater or air-conditioning when a room is not used. Maybe Internet of Services would closer describe the IoT value.
But whatever its best name may be, the IoT is typically a set of “things” connected via the cloud (Internet) to a server that stores and analyzes data (trends, alerts, etc.) and then communicates with a user via an application running on a computer, tablet or a smartphone. So, it’s not the “things connected to the internet” that create value. Rather, it’s the collecting, interpreting and translating of data into alert or action that creates value. It’s the data analytics; not the things themselves.
The IoT Actually Predates the Internet!
When considered from this perspective – as a service that gathers, analyzes and transmits data – the IoT has been in existence for years or even decades. For example, in the early days of wireless telephones (long before the term IoT started floating around), vending machines “called” a dispatch center when running out of a product, transmitting full inventory information at the same moment. The dispatcher then sent a refill order for that machine. Entirely more efficient than some guy in a truck just driving around to every hotel or office building and manually checking each vending machine.
Another “old” IoT application would be the ordinary home or building security system, with a set of motion sensors, wired to a patch panel, and from there connected to a phone line and an alarm service center. If the house is armed and a sensor is triggered, the alarm service center calls the house, the neighbors or the police. Note that this pure IoT application (in the sense of Internet of Services) is also fully wired. The IoT does not necessarily need to be wireless. The IoT Breakthrough?
So then why has such an old concept like IoT been the center of so much hype in recent years? A cynic might attribute this to technology companies needing “something new” when the first signs emerged of a saturating smartphone market. But the reality is that a few fundamental things changed, creating momentum for new emerging applications that found a home under the umbrella of IoT – from fitbits to thermostats, smart street lights to smart parking.
The first fundamental change was that the Internet became nearly ubiquitous. Initially connecting computers, the Internet now connects homes and buildings. And with the advent of wireless technology (Wi-Fi, LTE), access to the Internet changed from a technology into a commodity.
The second fundamental change was essentially Moore’s Law rolling along, with smaller, more powerful and lower cost devices being developed to collect data. And finally, low-power communication technologies were developed that extended the battery life for these devices from days into years, connecting them permanently and maintenance-free to the Internet.
Unfortunately, the original “connecting computers to the Internet” paradigm has put many companies on the wrong foot. In the way computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones connected the Internet, the illusion was that “connecting sentrollers (sensors/actuators/controllers) to the Internet” would create a similar momentum. Both the illusion and the misnomers of the IoT is based on the fact that sensors are not independent platforms, like computers or phones.
What is Holding the IoT Back Today?
As with many technologies, after a few years of high expectations, the IoT is slowly crossing the “Valley of Disillusionment,” that quiet phase where sobering reality starts kicking-in. Usually this is also the period where the fads and the wild ideas separate from the strong and more realistic groundswell of useful applications. The good news is that when we compare this to other technologies, we seem to have short memories of the “not quite right yet” years, when early adopters worked hard to help the technology through to success. The same will happen with the IoT.
The IoT is suffering today from a lack of understanding of its true value proposition; and at the same time, a plethora of proprietary and open communication standards inhibit interconnectivity, create confusion with consumers, and even confusion among product builders themselves, keeping product prices high and delaying market growth. On top of all that, large companies seem determined to seek the holy grail (and promote their own ecosystems).
And that, really, is the crux of the IoT confusion. “Things” sounds so simple. But the IoT is more complex than we anticipated. More complex, but also more promising. It is not a single application, or a handful of applications. It is a fundamental technology that will influence all the facets of our lives.
The Impact of the IoT
So where are we with the IoT? Hopefully a few things are becoming clear rapidly. The IoT is more than a smart meter or the like. It is a complete new wave of automation that includes everything from omni-sensing to artificial intelligence, from smartphones to smart homes, and from smart industries to smart cities. It is all about being better informed, about being able to make faster and better-qualified decisions. It is also about losing certain jobs and finding new ones. It is about economic growth and wealth creation based on better decision making.
Even if we are currently in the Valley of Disillusionment, we should not be distracted. We still have a lot to learn (maybe less technology and more business models on maximizing the value-add), but we are in the middle of shaping a better world for the next generation.
[The author is the General Manager of Qorvo Wireless Connectivity Business Unit and Formerly Founder & CEO of GreenPeak Technologies]
[Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Trivone Media Network's or that of CXOToday's.]
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