Internet of Things (IoT) has become a trending topic from few years, Industry Experts inside and outside of tech understand that it is a transformational concept with more exciting advancements like electric vehicles, mobility, and widespread sustainable energy advancements.
Internet of Things is one of the most important technology concepts since the internet itself that would change the way people and businesses interact with technology.
Recently, Gartner predicted that by 2020 there would be 25 billion connected devices, three for every human on the planet and Cisco predicting that number would be double. Industry analysts are predicting the market opportunity for IoT to explode into the trillions in the same period.
GE’s Jeff Immelt said of IoT, “A locomotive today is a rolling data center. An aircraft engine is a flying data center. This is producing terabytes of data every day. This data can be used to give back to customers, to drive fuel-efficiency, better performance, better environmental performance. We can take the same technology and do it in our plants. So every investor of an industrial company ought to understand what their internet strategy is.”
But there are key questions to both the internet and the technology that need to be answered before the IoT promise can be fulfilled. Here are four areas that need to be addressed before the IoT revolution can begin in earnest.
The question of privacy
Surveys point out that one of the worries is the concern for privacy. How can personal information be kept private? George Orwell’s fear of ‘Big Brother is watching’ at home, at the workplace and in public places is a very real and big fear. The list of potential privacy breaches is long and getting wide scale acceptance of connected devices will not be easy.
The threat to security
The bigger question is to do with safety and security. How can attacks from interconnected devices be prevented? Will personal and public safety be compromised? Will an already unsafe world be prone to more terrorist attacks? Will Big Data Analytics reliably predict security threats with accuracy in high threat environments such as airports?
Unique IP address
Identification of all the connected devices is going to pose immense challenges. Unique IP addresses are crucial for cyber security, preventing crime and terror and also for measuring or optimizing the performance of the devices. Connectivity will need to be ensured. The task will be huge. Unless the capacity required is provided, IoT will be mired with delays, speed issues, unreliability and other bottlenecks.
Monitoring and tracking the devices
Tracking these devices and monitoring them to ensure that they are working well will require organizations of a different kind. Managing the billion IP addresses, the networks routing the data, generating real-time alerts for power outages, terror attacks or health related issues will be a huge challenge.
Connecting mobile phones has posed major connectivity challenges to the service providers. With money and time, the problem will be eventually resolved. However, for IoT the requirements will be very sophisticated and stricter in terms of the latency and bandwidth of the networks.
Getting billions of different devices from different providers to talk to each other is going to be a challenge that industry leaders have to resolve. The huge untapped opportunity should persuade business leaders to talk to one another. Until interoperability issues are solved, more than half the IoT opportunity will not be realized.
Maintenance and updates
How will devices be maintained? How will bugs be managed? Many internet components for industrial, healthcare, security and other applications will need to address the requirements of maintenance and updates. These need to have backward and forward compatibility or else soon a mess of thousands of redundant systems that do not work with or talk to one another will build up. Companies will find it impossible to maintain billions of such products worldwide.
IoT infrastructure will require platforms that have flexibility inbuilt into them. Investments will be huge and these will have to be made continuously over the years. How does one adapt to changes in the future? The only sensible way forward is to design open, integrated solutions that scale up and are flexible.
The ecosystem in which the IoT companies operate will be very challenging and uncertain in the initial years. Consumer acceptance or resistance, unclear or nonexistent Government rules and regulations, environmental issues, extreme competition, requirements of creating and managing scale will lead to a lot of business turbulence. A few companies will survive after consolidation; others will die a quick and premature death. What will be the consequence of such turbulence on employment, work practices, heath?
Let’s assume that all the data that IoT generates in future can be collected and stored. The problem we will face is what to do with all that data. With our current limitations, we cannot decipher such huge volumes of data and draw conclusions from it.
Power for the billions
How are we going to reliably power all the billions of connected devices? Existing electrical and battery solutions just cannot cope up. Nor can we hardwire so many devices.
What will be the environmental impact of the production, use and end-of-life disposal of all these devices? Will the heavy metals and chemicals used in their manufacture contaminate landfills, dump yards and lead to chronic health issues on a massive scale? The fear is that with accelerated replacement cycles of routine devices, there could be a ten-fold increase in waste requiring disposal.
The plethora of concerns raised need serious discussion. Not all the problems can be fixed immediately. But agreement on an overall blueprint should emerge quickly and should not be left to chance.
All in all, the variety of challenges that need to be addressed will ensure continuous discussion and debate into the near future.