The IoT (Internet of Things) is a modern-day buzzword with lofty expectations to have a profound impact on society. But what is it, how will we use it and what will that impact be?
Cees Links, General Manager of Qorvo Wireless Connectivity Business Unit, explains
August 25 2017: Let’s start with the name itself, since it can be a bit confusing. “Internet of Things” was originally used as a differentiator to the “Internet” as we know it today, sometimes also called the Internet of People. But because the Internet of Things is using the same network as the Internet of People, some companies preferred to use the phrase “Internet of Everything (IoE),” which is probably a more accurate description. But that name never caught on, possibly because “Everything” is just not specific enough.
It has become clear over the last few years that “Internet of Things” isn’t quite accurate – and may even be misleading. Probably the best way to describe the Internet of Things is as an application or as a service that uses information collected from sensors (the “things”), analyzes the data, and then does something with it (e.g., via actuators – more “things”).
The service, for instance, could be an electronic lifestyle coach, collecting data via a wristband, analyzing this data (trends) and coaching the wearer to live a healthier life. Or it can be an electronic security guard that analyzes data from motion sensors or cameras, and creates alerts. Or a butler, who turns off the lights and the heater or air-conditioning when a room is not used. Maybe Internet of Services would closer describe the IoT value.
But whatever its best name may be, the IoT is typically a set of “things” connected via the cloud (Internet) to a server that stores and analyzes data (trends, alerts, etc.) and then communicates with a user via an application running on a computer, tablet or a smartphone. So, it’s not the “things connected to the internet” that create value. Rather, it’s the collecting, sending and/or receiving data from the Internet that creates value. It’s the data analytics; not the things themselves.
The IoT Actually Predates the Internet!
When considered from this perspective – as a service that gathers, analyzes and transmits data – the IoT has been in existence for years or even decades. For example, in the early days of wireless telephones (long before the term
IoT started floating around), vending machines “called” a dispatch center when running out of a product, transmitting full inventory information at the same moment. The dispatcher then sent a refill order for that machine. Entirely more efficient than some guy in a truck just driving around
to every hotel or office building and manually checking
each vending machine.
Another “old” IoT application would be the ordinary home or building security system, with a set of motion sensors, wired to a patch panel, and from there connected to a phone line and an alarm service center. If the house is armed and a sensor is triggered, the alarm service center calls the house, the neighbors or the police. Note that this pure IoT application (in the sense of Internet of Services) is also fully wired. The IoT does not need to be wireless. This particular IoT application existed before the Internet, making ADT Security Services one of the older IoT companies existing today.
The IoT Breakthrough?
So then why has such an old concept like IoT been the center of so much hype in recent years? A cynic might attribute this to technology companies needing “something new” when the first signs emerged of a saturating smartphone market. But the reality is that a few fundamental things changed, creating momentum for new emerging applications that found a home under the umbrella of IoT – from Fitbits to thermostats, smart street
lights to smart parking.
The first fundamental change was that the Internet became nearly ubiquitous. Initially connecting computers, the Internet now connects homes and buildings. And with the advent of wireless technology (Wi-Fi, LTE), access to the Internet changed from a technology into a commodity – and, for some people, a number one ranking on Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
The second fundamental change was essentially Moore’s Law rolling along, with smaller, more powerful and lower cost devices being developed to collect data. And finally, low-power communication technologies were developed that extended the battery life for these devices from days into years, connecting them permanently
and maintenance-free to the Internet.
Unfortunately, the original “connecting computers to the Internet” paradigm has put many companies on the
wrong foot. In the way computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones connected the Internet, the illusion was that “connecting sentrollers (sensors/actuators/controllers) to the Internet” would create a similar momentum. The illusion and the misnomers of the IoT was born: sensors are not independent platforms, like computers or phones.
What is Holding the IoT Back Today?
As with many technologies, after a few years of high expectations, the IoT is slowly entering the Valley of Disillusionment, that quiet phase where sobering reality starts kicking-in. Usually this is also the period where the fads and the wild ideas separate from the strong and more realistic groundswell of useful applications. The good news is that when we compare this to other technologies, we seem to have short memories of the “not quite right yet” years, when early adopters worked to help the technology through to success. The same will happen with
The IoT is suffering today from a lack of understanding of its true value proposition; and at the same time, a plethora of proprietary and open communication standards inhibit interconnectivity, create confusion with consumers, and confusion among product builders themselves, keeping product prices high and delayingmarket growth. On top of all that, large companies seem determined to seek the holy grail (and promote theirown ecosystems).
And that, really, is the crux of the IoT illusion. “Things” sounds so simple. But the IoT is more complex than we anticipated. More complex, but also more promising. It is not a single application, or a handful of applications.
It is a fundamental technology that will influence all the facets of our lives. And it will be unstoppable, because it just makes sense.
What is the Core Value of the IoT?
How does it make sense? Well, do you ever wonder where economic growth comes from? We live in a wonderfully interesting time, when amazing things happen. Consider that
in the year 1820, 90% of the population lived in abject poverty, today, some 200
years later, that percentage has shrunk to under 10%, despite that the population itself has multiplied several times. It is the miracle of the industrial revolution and many other things coming together. After World War II and the invention of the transistor, the industrial revolution seamlessly folded into the technology revolution, and we went from computers to smartphones, and from the internet to the IoT.
But how does this economic growth drive out poverty, and what keeps the momentum of economic growth going? It’s all about “making better decisions faster.” The industrial revolution was based on innovation and creativity, individual freedom and organization. Consider that the Hoover Dam, one of the wonders of the twentieth century, was designed with slide rulers, paper and pencils. Three decades later, we managed to get men on the moon using computers
The motivator of “making better decisions faster” drove computers into existence. Does anybody remember how to do bookkeeping without a computer? Or run a manufacturing plant? Making better decisions faster drove the Internet into existence. When was the last time you wrote a letter, instead of an email? What was the last edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica before Wikipedia’s real-time updates introduced it to obsolescence?
And making better decisions faster is driving the IoT into existence, too. It will make our personal lives more comfortable, more safe and secure. We will waste less energy. The IoT will make the quality of our products better. Factories will be more efficient with raw materials and other resources. We will be able to better monitor our environment, and our impact on it. The IoT is not a break from the past, it is a natural progression in making better decisions faster, and a continuing engine for our economic growth and wealth creation – driving out
As we stay for a while in this sobering Valley of Disillusionment, we must not forget to recognize the core value of the IoT. Less mistakes, less waste, a healthier lifestyle, no more poverty. We have come a long way; we still have a long way to go. There is much more to achieve this century, and the IoT will be pivotal in those achievements.
You can read the full paper here
Cees Links was the founder and CEO of GreenPeak Technologies, which is now part of Qorvo.Under his responsibility, the first wireless LANs were developed, ultimately becoming household technology integrated into PCs and notebooks. He also pioneered the development of access points, home networking routers, and hotspot base stations. He was involved in the establishment of the IEEE 802.11 standardization committee and the Wi-Fi Alliance