The role of mobile services in the evolution of IoT
Along with Big Data, the Internet of Things (IoT) has been one of the most heavily hyped broad technology trends because it will touch just about every sector of society and commerce. As it happens, these two great trends will overlap and reinforce each other, while sharing some of the same constraints and concerns as they develop their full potential over the coming five to ten years.
Analyst group Gartner has identified a clear life cycle for such major technology trends, beginning with a discovery that triggers early innovation, which then generates hype followed by an inevitable period of disillusionment when the initial over-stoked expectations are not met. Some technologies die in this trough, but others emerge at the other side into Gartner’s "slope of enlightenment", where they gain adoption before reaching a plateau of maturity occupied now by the ICT sector as a whole.
IoT according to Gartner is destined for eventual success along the slope of enlightenment, but first has to descend into the trough of disillusionment, as highlighted in Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2015. A key point to note though is that Gartner is talking about the greater promise of IoT bringing together different domains into a single connected whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. IoT is already proven in specific sectors where it has either skipped over or passed through the disillusionment phase. This includes the connected car, which is already proving successful at the high end of the market, and wearables, with millions of people now monitoring their fitness, heart rate and sleep patterns via devices like the Fitbit.
The rise of B2C IoT
We are also seeing a number of major players converging on the B2C IoT sector in the context of the smart home, which itself is a heavily hyped concept. On the one hand we have retailers like Staples aiming to capitalize on the IoT primarily to "sell more stuff". Then we have energy utility companies such as British Gas with wider ambitions starting with adding value to their traditional home monitoring products and services, before extending into other smart home sectors like security. Naturally the big Internet companies are all there too in B2C, with Google’s Nest making a play for the digital home by launching a developer program that could open up the intelligent thermostats to other gadgets and services. Of course Google wants to make Nest the hub of the home, but at the same time it has opened the door for other vendors to compete to be the home’s IoT guardian.
Judging where IoT is on its lifecycle comes down partly to definition. Some analysts regard the IoT era as having started a generation ago with the first RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Devices) deployments in warehouses, factories and retail premises in the 1980s. However, while itself directly led onto wider IoT services, being a local radio technology largely confined to closed loop applications, it did introduce the idea of embedded processing and communications and therefore,in a sense, represent the first phase of IoT. The second phase then emerged gradually with the addition of wide area connectivity, firstly via fixed broadband and then through more flexible mobile networks. This opened the field up to Telcos, MNOs, retailers, security firms and others, as well as enabling new sectors to arise such as the connected car, remote healthcare and wearables. B2C IoT applications also came along and some of these could be regarded as long distance extensions to RFID tracking -- in the fleet management field for example.
The third phase is then what the likes of Google have been getting excited about, when IoT really does connect up different islands of automation. For the foreseeable future we are still talking about distinct sectors of IoT such as the connected car and remote healthcare, but over time we can envisage cross over between them. After all a driver in a car might want to turn up the heating at home half an hour before getting back, or it might be valuable to connect a fitness band to a remote healthcare service to monitor progress of people recovering from a stroke or heart attack. The possibilities are endless, and that is why there is rightly mounting excitement over the IoT.
Harnessing the power of Big Data
This is where Big Data will increasingly feature. Much of the value of integrated IoT will come from the data exchanged between different sectors, services and devices and a lot of that will be personal. For this reason a possible constraint over growth in IoT will be the concerns over privacy and reluctance by individuals to opt in for data sharing.
However, experience of smart phone apps, and for that matter social media, would suggest that when push comes to shove, most consumers will sacrifice a bit of privacy for the perceived benefits they derive. The privacy angle does though suggest there will be opportunities for trusted mobile service providers to exploit both their brand and technical capability to capitalize on the IoT. Such providers will also be able to harness their knowledge of different national regulatory regimes to ensure compliance as IoT becomes increasingly global. We can already see this happening with the connected car, especially in Europe, as well as wearables.
So as IoT gets beyond hype into the realm of real deployments, providers of components, apps and services will be looking for technology partners that have already proven they can underpin mobile networks on a global basis if necessary.
Anders Påls is Vice President of Business Development at Globetouch, which offers access to a cloud-based global ecosystem for mobile devices.