Is 2016 the year the Internet of Things will truly take over?

The Internet of Things has long been the next big thing in the technology industry, but what exactly is it? Simply put, the Internet of Things refers to the ability to connect two or more machine devices with an internet connection and enable them to communicate with one another efficiently and effectively.

The Internet of Things is the latest big thing to be embraced by our connected modern world. It describes a network of devices connected via the internet that have the potential to dramatically impact how we work and live.

From monitoring our health, to changing the way we undertake everyday tasks such as driving and cooking, to heating our homes more efficiently, all kinds of machine-to-machine (M2M) link-ups are made possible thanks to the Internet of Things.

Consumers and businesses alike can benefit from this new way of living – from small scale computer connectivity at home, to large scale mobile sensors dispersed across cities, the Internet of Things has the capacity to revolutionise how we live.

IoT in the business world

In business-to-business, the world of IoT is growing at a rapid pace. Back in 2006, Intel estimated that there were approximately 2 billion smart objects on the market. By 2020, this figure is projected to reach a staggering 200 billion devices – which would equate to roughly 26 smart objects for every single human on the planet.

Even if we haven’t quite reached that ratio yet, there are still a vast number of smart devices being used by people all over the world, and yet, the Internet of Things doesn’t seem to be firmly embedded in the public consciousness. But why is the case? The fact is that as it stands, most smart devices are being used in businesses, healthcare and factories. According to Intel, 40.2 per cent of the Internet of Things is found in business and manufacturing, 30.3 per cent is found in healthcare, 8.3 per cent in retail and 7.7 per cent in security.

Manufacturers are introducing smart devices to the engineering world to improve the way things work and boost productivity. From real-time analytics of supply chains and equipment, to robotic machinery and portable maintenance, smart products are changing the way that manufacturing businesses work from office level to shop floor.

The healthcare sector has seen numerous benefits born from the introduction and integration of smart products within the system. In many different phases of healthcare, smart device use is being integrated with patient care and will play an ever increasing role within the healthcare system. Electronic recordkeeping and pharmaceutical safeguards have not only helped medical staff work more efficiently, they have also helped keep patients safer.

When it comes to retail, it doesn’t take long to see how the whole sector has evolved alongside the popularity and growth of smart devices at both a customer and retailer level. Online shopping no longer refers simply to computer-based browsing, but now incorporates smartphone and tablet shopping and purchasing at the tap of a finger. Inventory tracking and analytics of consumer shopping have also enabled retailers to sell smarter.

Biometric and facial recognition locks, remote sensors and touch-screen security are just some examples of how security has advanced with the help of smart-devices. Yet, although people all over are benefiting from it, it seems that the Internet of Things has not consciously been used by the general public to the same extent as is used in services and businesses. Why is this and will it change in 2016?

IoT in the public consciousness

While the Internet of Things as a notion doesn’t appear to be as prominent on the consumer radar, it is possible that it has simply undergone a social rebrand and is now posing under the name ‘smart home’ instead. The concept, however, remains the same.

‘Smart home’ is a term that resonates with many of us and encompasses a vision of things to come. At present, many of us live in a ‘connected home’ full of modern-day gadgets – from Bluetooth lightbulbs, to multi-room audio systems – but these gadgets need to interact with each other seamlessly before we can claim to live in a smart home. The smart home uses the same principle as the Internet of Things to change the domestic way of life. From organising washing, to doing our weekly shop, optimising our heating and maintaining our security systems, the smart home connects all of our gadgets to work in accordance with each other for a more efficient way of life.

However, with this huge increase in the number of devices being used comes an increase in the number of potential challenges to overcome, such as: security, enterprise, consumer privacy, data flow, bandwidth capacity, storage management, server technologies and data centre network.

The main facet of the Internet of Things is the passive interaction between devices that see data sent to and from a number of machines without the need for human involvement. On the one hand, this can be a great opportunity for a more efficient way of living, but on the other it also presents a potential minefield of technological issues. Far more data will be sent, received and stored, and networks need to be able to cope with this. It also raises the question of ethics surrounding data privacy, which is a concern that needs to be met with stronger, trustworthy security.

Business-only connectivity via high-speed MPLS / fibre networks, combined with 4G and eventually 5G mobile networks, offer the opportunity for businesses to start integrating the IoT today to ensure they are at the front line to take advantage of the retail world of tomorrow.

What is the future of the IoT?

According to Cisco, only 0.06 per cent of things that could be connected to the internet currently are, which means that the future is full of unlocked potential. It is predicted that the Internet of Things market will soon surpass the PC/tablet/phone market, possibly in 2016, and by 2017, 82 per cent of businesses will be IoT connected in some way, shape or form.

Going even further into the future, 90 per cent of cars could be connected to the internet by 2020 – compared to just 10 per cent in 2012 – a phenomenal increase, and one that will place huge demands on networks as the Internet of Things shapes the way we travel.

This plethora of connected devices will increase internet traffic, and the additional data generated will inherently have a disruptive effect on networks, data centres and smart connected products, making the value of business-only networks greater than ever before.

Whether businesses are already exploring the opportunities presented by the Internet of things, or not, it is crucial than plans are put in place for the extra data demands on the network that are coming over between 2016 and 2020.

This does not always mean that businesses need to overhaul their entire network with expensive communications framework, but it does mean that they need to ensure their network infrastructure prepared for the Internet of Things in terms of its structure, capacity and resilience.

Stewart Yates, CEO of TFM Networks

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