Cars, Cities & Pet Trackers: IoT in 2015

Dan Jones
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor

Here's the thing about the Internet of Things: It may already be well hyped, but we're still right at the beginning of a world where every kind of device or appliance in a home, city or business could be on the network and talking to other machines.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is not a new concept. Kevin Ashton is generally credited with coming up with the idea of a world where everything from household appliances to water meters are networked and sending out data back in 1999.

It is only really in the last year, however, in the communications space, that we have started to see carriers making initial forays into IoT devices and applications. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), for instance, says that it added 800,000 cars with 3G and 4G connections onboard in the fourth quarter of 2014. Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) said it made an annual revenue of $585 million from its IoT and telematics business, which centers on the tracking of vehicle fleets and goods. (See AT&T Highlights Mexican Ambitions.)

Connected vehicles and related services and applications appear to be the largest addressable market opening up for carriers and vendors in the comms space right now. Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM)'s CTO, Matt Grob, told me in January that he expects that to be the most important individual IoT market for his company in 2015. (See Verizon Vehicle Races to Catch Up to OnStar.)

There are reasons for this. Firstly, operators, vendors and car makers have been working towards connected cars for years now. An automobile or a truck is also an easier object to embed a radio in than, say, pet trackers or smart sensors, and the power and battery life concerns are less in a vehicle. Of course, once you get beyond simple connectivity and applications, designing operating systems and apps for safe driving in cars becomes an art in itself. (See CES Pics: Cars, Drones & Lines, Oh My!)

But the IoT concept goes way beyond cars and is starting to spread like The Blob into all kinds of sectors. Fitness monitors and pet trackers are already on the scene, with plenty of startups exploring security and monitoring options for "smart home" scenarios.

Expect further networked options to become more common for healthcare applications, smart cities, and factory and agriculture automation. Indeed, you can already see networked trash bins on the streets of New York and other cities around the world. (See NYC: Inside the Internet of Bins.)

To facilitate that expansion, the industry needs standards to define how devices communicate with networks -- and in some cases -- each other. Battles over specifications and standards between vendors and carriers are likely to rage throughout 2015. I suspect we'll end up with multiple standards that address different areas of IoT. How your fridge talks to the network is unlikely to be in the same language as elements of an automated production line in a pharmaceuticals factory. (See AllSeen Tries to Streamline IoT Standards.)

Security is another big issue. Obviously you don't want hackers taking control of your home or your car remotely via networked devices. (See Could Hackers Take Over Your Home?)

Additional privacy concerns could also arise. Fitness and mHealth devices can track extremely private data, for one.

Advances in power efficiency and battery life will probably make IoT implementations easier too. Some devices, like smart power meters, could be installed for decades in the field so the lowest current draw possible for longer battery life is desirable.

How much of the Internet of Everything actually needs to be connected will eventually become a question too. Does a toaster need to talk to a fridge, for instance? Although we're not at the point where this is a pressing issue yet.

Despite such issues, though, there's little doubt that 2015 is the year the connected car will start to lead us further down the road to a fully fledged Internet of Things.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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