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Opinion Piece: The Internet of Things: Limited only by our imaginations

Opinion Piece: The Internet of Things: Limited only by our imaginations

The term ‘The Internet of Things’ (IoT) has emerged as an umbrella concept encompassing many different trends and innovations. However, amid all the hype, and the confusion, we are starting to see how the future of connected devices can be used to intelligently manage scarce resources, and capitalise on the flood of data that is being generated by machines, everywhere. 

From smart cities, to driverless cars, to new forms of wearable technology, the possibilities extend for as far as our imaginations can stretch.

Exactly what is the IoT? The most basic definition states that it is the connection of physical objects and devices such as consumer electronics and industrial equipment, for instance, to the Internet Protocol (IP) network. Software is then used to monitor and remotely manage the functioning of these devices, which ostensibly means they can ‘communicate’ with each other.

To take a step back, we place this in the context of the Internet’s evolution in general. We believe the Internet has evolved in five distinct phases. The first was all about research and academic usage and the second was the simple publishing of ‘one-way’, static, information.

Then, as we neared the late-1990s and hit growth curve of the dot com bubble, the Internet was characterised by business utilisation or eCommerce. This was the third wave. The fourth wave benefitted from the quickening pace of connectivity roll-out, and a reduction of costs.

This era was framed by new business-to-business (B2B) applications such as supply chains and partner enablement platforms. It also saw the rise of ‘online-only’ companies and services like Skype, eBay and Google as well as the start of the social media revolution.

At the same time, services were being ported to mobile environments, and the concept of mobility began to take hold. Therefore, the fifth wave moves on from this point. It is characterised by the interconnection of machines. The likes of Forrester and Gartner say that, at the moment, the number of connected devices is roughly equal to the number of connected humans (1:1), but that over the next six years, will change to a 1:6 ratio of human to machines.

With this in mind, we believe the next big area of opportunity lies in effectively using all the information that these billions of devices will be capturing (the concept of ‘Big Data’), to improve lives and transform the way we do business.

Think of examples such as a park bench that is smartly connected to solar panels, which automatically charges your phone when you sit down or sensors embedded in soil to send real-time data to farmers on issues such as moisture levels, nutrients, and forthcoming weather patterns.

In industry, the beginnings are already being felt. The IoT is evolving from closed-loop machine-to-machine (M2M) services in specific verticals like retail and transport and logistics

Connected cars are already on the road – sending alerts to dealerships when there is a maintenance problem, and giving drivers real-time traffic information. Within the home, we are starting to see plain old things like thermostats, geysers and fridges being transformed into intelligent devices capable of remote management and communication.

Whichever particular IoT example we refer to, the underlying point is that in coming time IoT is going to touch more and more aspects of our life and help us use resources more efficiently, such as electricity, and use data more productively.

Goldman Sachs points to three important economic trends that converge to bring the IOT to life: the cost of sensors coming down by about 50 percent in the past 10 years, the cost of connectivity dropping 40-fold in that time, and the cost of processing coming down by a factor of 60.

As these factors have helped to bring us to the point where we are today, the next big area of focus required to reach the IoT dream, is the widespread migration from IPv4 to IPv6. It is only via the evolved IPv6 protocol that we will be able to handle the massive increase in devices and data that all these connected devices will be transmitting.

Essentially, the migration to IPv6 is essential to ensure organisations are able to accommodate an infinite number of IP address whereas IPv4 only allows for 4.3 billion unique addresses. IPv6 is critical for the successful development of the IoT in the future.

With IoT there is certainly a lot to consider: how will you be evolving your networks and your devices, to capitalise on the new possibilities? How will you manage the IPv6 migration? What new efficiencies and solutions will connected devices enable? What applications will you use to make sense of this flood of Big Data? How will IoT contribute to your business transformation strategies?

These are the kinds of questions that companies around the world are grappling with. Finding those truly transformative applications for IoT in your business requires the right technology, the right partnerships, and a great deal of imagination.