At the Cambridge Wireless Connected Devices SIG event last week, the number and the calibre of people in the audience was a clear demonstration of how much serious interest there is in ‘connected devices’ for the Internet of Things (IoT) and, depending how you define the IoT, also machine to machine (M2M) connections.
There may be some debate about the IoT market growth expectations, there may be some debate about the nomenclature*, but there is no debating the excitement around how to realise a wide area network (or will it be networks, some wider than others?) of connected devices with forecast numbers between 10 and 50 billion devices.
The two main points I took away from the discussions: the need for a standard (and is it to be one or multiple?) wide area network, and the fact that the industry is now ready to talk about the services that the Internet of Things can and will enable. But I wonder if there’s more to this connection than meets the eye. Disparate networks using a range of incompatible technologies could provide some or all of these services, but less efficiently and less effectively.
From Services to Standards
Beecham Research has identified that 75% of M2M projects underway are all about driving new services, to improve differentiation. The Internet of Things will see a much more horizontal shift with many services delivered to one location. A recent article on TechWeek talks about the Internet of Things becoming the ‘Internet of Services’ since it will be the services provided on the back of the connected devices that will make the business models realistic.
But this highlights the other side of the equation – a standard: the devices running these services will become much more valuable and much more desirable when the user perceives that they can be used for multiple services – not just tied to one service provider or one ‘type’ of service. One presentation from the Cambridge Wireless event flagged that a wide area network standard (one being definitely preferred over multiple standards) for the IoT will bridge between the technology already available and capable, and the potential 10-50bn unit market.
But is it going to be that easy? There are plenty of technologies/standards ready and waiting to start connecting devices today – at least at short range, with the data then being routed over IP to provide online services. Bluetooth Smart (based on Bluetooth v4.0) does this today, even ANT+ does it to some extent in the fitness market. But my own prediction is that unless the bulk of the wireless and broader consumer electronics industry gets behind one single standard quickly (and that could be Weightless), this will not be as smooth and as joined-up as everyone would like it to be. Unlike a launch of a 4G network, I’m not sure we will really know if and when the IoT has really arrived: maybe it’s already here in some shape or form? Will we have to wait for IoT 2.0 to see a more standardised wide area network, where devices become truly connected and interoperable, and where the growth will become exponential?
*Wireless industry evangelist Nick Hunn‘s distinction of the terms used: M2M being the management of assets and something which has a return on investment. The Internet of Things on the other hands being a broad range of consumer applications, and fundamentally about being ‘cool’.