This article was authored by John C. Tanner, and was originally posted on telecomasia.net.
Some people will tell you that one of the most overhyped technology trends of 2014 is the Internet of Things. And they’re probably right. That said, there’s admittedly a lot to get excited about - at least if you’re a fan of science-fiction gadgetry like me.
I admit, I’m not immune to the industry buzz about IoT or the various possibilities lurking therein. I was given a healthy dose of IoT mania during a recent event in Stockholm hosted by Ericsson, where various people spoke about and gave demonstrations of a myriad of IoT applications and scenarios.
For example, there’s this tree.
It’s connected to a device that turns the tree into an electromagnetic sensor that detects motion. The sensor is in turn connected to a laptop. Somewhere in there is an analytics engine that translates the sensor data into a reaction. For example: touch the tree and it expresses delight. Move away and it expresses loneliness. And it does all that on Twitter. (Really. Search the hashtag #ectree on Twitter. Notice how the tree seems to spend a lot of time on BrainyQuote.)
Why connect a tree? Well, there are practical applications such as monitoring crops to make sure they’re getting enough sunlight, or checking soil for moisture levels. Similar IoT solutions have been developed for pigs, cows and fish.
Another example of IoT giddiness: connected roads. Ericsson (and others) envisions networks of road sensors that will not only help automated cars navigate the road, but also generate data to warn other drivers of everything from road congestion to icy conditions to a deer that’s about to jump in front of your car.
Meanwhile, road sensors are one element we’ll see in so-called smart cities - i.e. cities that leverage ICT and big data and ubiquitous connectivity to develop smart e-services to help citizens monitor electricity usage, water quality and use public transport more efficiently, among other things. In the near future, according to research from Ericsson, smart cities will also support healthcare concepts like heart-rate monitoring rings, posture sensors and a digital health network of medical data accessible by physicians.
The list goes on. And when you get immersed in proof-of-concept scenarios, IoT looks pretty cool.
The hard part, of course, will be getting it all to actually work seamlessly.
It’s one thing to build an IoT service for, say, home networks, smart grids, smart vehicles, etc. It’s quite another to get them all to work together, which is where the real value in IoT lies. Siloed IoT apps will spur growth, but consumers will only use so many of them before it becomes inconvenient to use more of them.
Granted, there is plenty of work happening on the IoT standards front. On the other hand, there are something like a dozen standards fronts. Google alone has at least three separate standards projects (Thread, the Physical Web and the recently announced Open Web of Things, whatever that is).
The good news is that IoT is developing regardless, and on more practical levels, especially in this region. According to Charles Reed Anderson at IDC, 2014 was actually not a bad year for IoT in Asia-Pacific, thanks to a burst of new IoT-related solutions (namely consumer wearables, smart home products and industrial IoT solutions) and an overall maturing of the wider IoT technology vendor ecosystem. That will set the stage for a more practical-minded approach to IoT in 2015 as the hype wears off, Anderson says.
But the upshot is that IoT is a reality now. It may not live up to the hype, but big deal - no technology ever does. In fact, one fascinating aspect of all this is that the underlying technologies enable innovation and empower customers to the point where IoT could evolve in all kinds of unexpected ways.
So I suggest enjoying the visionary hyped-up IoT scenarios for what they are - interesting thought experiments intended to inspire everyone in the ecosystem to think up useful ways to connect everything. Even trees.
This article first appeared on Telecom Asia December / January 2015 edition