The Internet of Things

Friday August 28, 2015 Masrur Alam Khan

Recently there has been a lot of attention on the Internet of Things (IoT) and how it will revolutionize our lives.  The IoT more or less involves connecting every day ‘dumb’ household devices like air conditioners and garage doors to the internet using a built-in integrated chip and a modem.  The idea is that once these devices ‘go online’ they will be able to transmit data back to their manufacturers and communicate with each other to make decisions based on ‘environmental’ conditions; a process known as machine to machine learning in tech jargon.  The term itself has been around for a long time and was coined back in 1999 by British researcher/tech entrepreneur Kevin Ashton.


More specifically, the number of connected devices on the internet is expected to rise to 50 billion while world population is expected to rise to 7.6 billion by 2020 according to a 2011 report produced by the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG). This implies that there will be over 6.5 devices per person by the year 2020.  Furthermore the graph below indicates that the first part of the IoT more or less began with the advent of smart phones and to a lesser extent smart TVs as the number of devices connected to the internet doubled between 2010 and 2015.  




The IoT has the potential to be a game changer when it comes to the way goods & services are produced, marketed and sold.  More specifically the technology will allow producers to understand their consumers better and manage their production process more efficiently by enabling them to receive data directly from their products in real-time throughout the production & distribution process.  For example, the technology may assist manufacturers to quickly identify faulty products that have already been sold or solve software related issues like forgotten electronic passwords remotely.


The availability of information at this detailed level may reduce supply costs for firms which in turn could spur competition across many industries and lead to lower prices for consumers.  It may also create business opportunities for new and established information technology firms around the world to manage the new data.  


On the end-user side, the IoT things will make life easier as it will allow people to control appliances   like air conditioners, lights, garage doors and TVs using one ‘remote’ – most likely an app on their phone or iPAD –­ rather than multiple ones.  It may also help reduce costs for the average person as it has the potential to assist them in monitoring their utility use more efficiently.


Currently the IoT faces two main challenges.


The first involves setting up a common platform – including both a hardware and software system – to allow ‘chipped’ devices produced by different companies to connect to the internet and communicate with each other as currently Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), WLAN, Near Field Communication (NFC), Bluetooth and Zigbee are all currently jostling to be the industry standard.


While the second has to do with concerns around data security as some of the world’s most secure networks have been infiltrated by hackers at some point in time. 


However it is worth noting that large firms like Intel and Cisco are working to solve these two challenges and if the internet’s history is any predictor of what is likely to happen then the IoT will continue to grow on a daily basis even if these challenges haven’t been entirely addressed.