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The Broader Impact of the Internet of Things

Alain Louchez

The Internet of Things (IoT), which is concisely defined by the International Telecommunication Union as a "global infrastructure for the information society" where things of all forms and sizes, whether physical or virtual (think for example of e-tickets), are interconnected either between them or to people, is increasingly seen as a significant source of innovation, impelling the creation of new markets.

As far as the US goes, IoT is even viewed as possibly triggering a new period of economic growth. This would undoubtedly be fueled by what new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Tom Wheeler calls "the fourth great network revolution -- the marriage of computing and connectivity," a revolution, he added in his first policy address on December 2, 2013, at The Ohio State University, that would result in "an explosion in individual opportunity -- a re-birth of the entrepreneurial dynamism that characterized the pre-industrial era of our nation."

Illustrating the beginning of a new digital era, it was submitted at a recent Gartner Inc. symposium that concluded, much in the same vein, "digital changes the IT market in a big way through the Internet of Things."

To be fair, for sure, other high-tech experts and industry observers are more cautious about IoT's potential since "progress does not seem to match the glowing predictions" -- see The Internet of Things: Look, It Must Work, by Jean-Louis Gassée -- and there is still "the question of exactly how value is created and captured," states Ben Rooney in this Wall Street Journal blog.

However, should IoT's ascent to dominant prominence materialize, the integration of things into societies' economic fiber is bound to have a dramatic impact on consumers and producers alike. Libelium's website, with its rich list of "sensor applications for a smarter world," as well as the well documented Center for Data Innovation IoT report (November 18, 2013), which "showcases the diversity of devices that make up the Internet of Things today," highlight the broad permeating relevance of related technologies.

One of the consequences of the IoT advance is the requirement for a supporting service industry that caters to the enduring needs of IoT-powered devices. "Things," especially previously inert or unreachable objects (such as nanoscale components), which have been endowed with intelligent functionalities, will require a flexible array of services readily available to customers. While IoT technologies will directly be generating new services, such as remote monitoring and control of any type, they in turn will necessitate a "supporting cast" of additional non-core services.

Such a substantial derived demand must be integrated when evaluating the overall IoT impact. Meeting that demand will add credibility and sustainability to IoT's value proposition.

IoT value-added services
One of the characteristics of the IoT ecosystem, presently most apparent in the business-to-business (B2B) market (also known as machine-to-machine communications or M2M), is the lifecycle of the installed sensing/actuating equipment. Such devices -- sensors inserted in a variety of structures or buildings, for instance -- could be embedded for a very long time, possibly 10 to 30 years or even longer.

The business-to-consumer (B2C) market, with the inclusion of nanosensors and nanoactuators deployed inside the human body, might increasingly generate the same type of concerns. Note that in reference to IoT, it has been argued that "the inevitable end point is the internet of nanothings." (See Trash talk signals mobile future by Professor Ian Akyildiz.)

The lifetime of the IoT device might outlast the existence of the initial manufacturing company. As a result, it would make sense that maintenance contracts (including patching, repairs, upgrades and any type of service routinely provided in a warranty) could be bought from third parties not necessarily tied to the manufacturer. This should be welcomed by the manufacturers. It would not only strengthen their product lifecycle management (PLM), but also contribute to enhancing confidence among their customers who could otherwise run the risk of being left in the lurch if manufacturing support becomes unavailable.

If open access is granted to third parties, new applications can be offered on top of the original ones. Other services could include, for example, the insertion of a cost-effective power source not available at the beginning. Over the years, it is likely that technological improvements in that domain, such as energy harvesting, will significantly alter the cost equation.

Of course, IoT devices will become a formidable source of data, which could be made available to all kinds of information-centered companies. Submarkets could take off, consisting of data collectors, brokers, scientists, and other providers who are expert in big data analytics, data storage, and cloud computing with offerings markedly different from the product's primary purpose.

IoT devices will transform into new marketing touchpoints. Why waste time in querying customers with fleeting memories and emotions when direct access can be provided to "objective things" that relentless record a vast number of data points? Businesses might use intelligent devices to relay promotions and other benefits to customers. Context-aware marketing will rest on IoT technologies.

One can very well imagine security companies proposing novel data protection solutions by plugging in some type of security interface not originally included in the smart device.

And quite naturally, regulatory, consulting, educational, and training services can be expected to be developed to enable and grow the whole ecosystem.

Looking ahead
The Internet of Things is about to shatter the boundaries of the past. At the root of the paradigmatic transformation are everyday objects that can potentially be identified and become communication actors on par with humans. A wide range of things, which heretofore were not "in play," are now in. Much like cars, computers, phones, and planes (to name a few) have induced giant complementary and supporting industries, IoT will also give rise to a host of critical activities whose outline we can barely, if at all, discern today.

Interoperability standards are indispensable for this vision to come to fruition and new associated industries to flourish. At the same time, manufacturing needs to be forward-looking to allow the enablement of future capabilities yet to be conceived. The strategic importance of the design, form factor, and software content cannot be overstated.

While IoT is wasting no time in ushering in the era of software-defined-anything, it is nevertheless going to take time for things of all shape to be effectively "brought on board." Both technological and societal hurdles, such as security and privacy, must still be overcome. However, they eventually will be, as IoT fuses with the Internet of People to become an "Internet of Everything" that propels innovation and economic growth.

— Alain Louchez, Managing Director of the Center for the Development and Application of Internet of Things Technologies (CDAIT), Georgia Institute of Technology

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User Rank: Light Sabre
2/23/2014 | 9:57:12 AM
make or break
> The lifetime of the IoT device might outlast the existence of the initial
> manufacturing company. As a result, it would make sense that maintenance
> contracts (including patching, repairs, upgrades and any type of service routinely
> provided in a warranty) could be bought from third parties not necessarily tied to
> the manufacturer.

Thats such an insightful piece of advice. I am working on a few M2M projects and this one caution can be make or break in the projects.
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/17/2013 | 9:43:45 AM
Re: The other side of the coin
Every major innovation brings with it fundamental changes in the way we humans live. Every power failure is a stark reminder of that. We no longer have to draw water from a well and transport it on foot to our homes, entertain ourselves by playing a harmonica or singing a capella, or churn our own butter. So as much as I want to resist the digitalization of the real world, I know that resistance is futile. But to your point, the IoT will not be immune to problems/mischief/acts of digital terrorism, and there's no way to make it 100% safe and reliable.
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/17/2013 | 7:38:27 AM
Re: The other side of the coin
You're absolutely right about power consumption. The cable/dvr box on top of one's TV set is one of the biggest energy pigs out there.

And how many people do you see coming into a hotspot looking for outlets? A number of years ago, we took a power "brick" (nine outlets) on an Amtrak train and we were treated like royalty by other passengers. Amtrak has since added outlets, but the search for power is almost constant among those who work remotely.
User Rank: Blogger
12/17/2013 | 4:22:28 AM
Re: The other side of the coin
Well, there's a reason those devices were called 'Crackberries'....

I wsa thinking less of the impact on the human psyche than the impact on human understanding of the way the world works and 'how' things are done. If IoT works as promised then there's no doubt there will be great efficiencies and opportunities, but it then removes human experience one step further away from day-to-day life -- how much understanding will individuals have of the way the world works around them and what impact will that have on their perception of the world and their interaction with each other?

And when things go wrong/don't work/the airwaves are jammed in a security threat and all of a sudden the IoT grinds to a halt (this script is being written already, right?) then will large swathes of the 'connected' population be able to react/function in a positive way? 

That's a more societal view - from a tech view, power consumption and security appear t be the major hurdles currently.
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/16/2013 | 9:11:48 PM
The other side of the coin
While the Internet of Things might have a lot of advantages, it will also make it more difficult to just disconnect from the grid for a while. There's a lot to be said, in my humble opion, for being disconnected from time to time.

It wouldn't surprise me if in a few years we don't start seeing something like "too connected syndrome" being treated by health professionals.
User Rank: Blogger
12/16/2013 | 9:27:44 AM
Two sides to every coin
It seems inevitable that new business opportunities will be created to support the Internet of Things -- and I'm sure the likes of Ericsson, Accenture, Atos Origin and other managed services suppliers are examining the prospects.

But what might the negative impacts of the emergence of the IoT be?  
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