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The technology industry is preparing for the Internet of things (IOT), a type of computing characterized by small, often dumb, usually unseen computers attached to objects. These devices sense and transmit data about the environment or offer new means of controlling it. For more than a decade technologists have predicted and argued about the onslaught of these ubiquitous devices. According to David Blaauw, University of Michigan faculty, there is lot of quibbling about what to call it, but there’s little doubt that is seen in the inklings of a new class of computer. And according to Luke D’Arcy, the director of SigFox’s operations, regular mobile networks are jammed with traffic from phone calls and people downloading videos. But for the Internet of things to become a reality, similar capabilities will need to be extended to billions of objects, many of them embedded in the environment and powered by small batteries, and if you want to get to billions of connections like that, you require a completely new type of network.
Since many of us have harbored for the longest time of science-fictional and futuristic dreams of using smart homes and offices and the freedom of living and working from anywhere irrespective of location or for that matter doing any work from virtually anywhere, technology to enable that did not exist. Today the availability of the following technology solutions is helping to make IOT a reality. Things such as capability to perform business and data analytics to give insights into the information received from the IOT environment, and the emergence of mobile technologies and apps that provide instant access to data and actionable events to users via personal mobile devices.
The Internet of things is especially important for companies that sell network equipment; companies such as Cisco Systems. Cisco has been enthusiastically predicting that 50 billion Things could be connected to communications networks within six years, up from around 10 billion mobile phones and PCs today. Another beneficiary is the $300 billion semiconductor industry. And every time there has been a new class of computing, the total revenue for that class was larger than the previous ones. If that trend holds, it means the Internet of things will be bigger yet again.
The Impacts of Internet of Things on Businesses, Economy and Society
The proliferation of connected devices from 1 per person today to say 10 devices per person in future, will open up a lot of new opportunities for startups and can create an ecosystem around the IOT area. Once the business value of the IOT domain is understood, new products, services and revenue models will emerge which will attract investments and therefore create jobs in the IOT area. The large number of devices, coupled with the high volume, velocity and structure of IOT data, can create opportunities especially in the areas of security, data, storage management, servers and the data center network, data analytics.
This means skills such as knowledge of business analysis, maths and statistics, creative design for end user visualization, big data frameworks, programming and architecture of large scalable systems and knowledge of devices used in the IOT ecosystems will be in demand in addition to understanding business specific usage patterns, customer behaviors and innovative marketing techniques.
But there are certain concerns that might be of inexplicable risks and privacy. Smart meters improve energy usage by monitoring movements or presence of inhabitants in a house and shut down energy-consuming devices when no one is at home or in unoccupied rooms. However, if such records of our movements or absence in the house fall into the wrong hands, security could be compromised. Similarly monitoring the activities of patients or the elderly could be seen as intrusion on their private lives. Such intrusive monitoring of persons could also lead to unwanted social implications and change in behavioral patterns. Then there are concerns about the privacy of the information being gathered, who has access to it and how it will be used.
But every shift promises pain, too. Large companies like Intel are already reeling from the rapid emergence of smartphones. Intel, with its powerful, power-hungry chips, was shut out of phones. So was Microsoft. Now both these companies, and many others, are groping to find the winning combination of software, interfaces, and processors for whatever comes next. And it’s not just technology companies that must stay alert this time around. According to Marshall Van Alstyne, a professor at Boston University, the reason is that as ordinary products become connected, their manufacturers may enter information businesses whose economics are alien to them. It’s one thing to manufacture shoes, but what about a shoe that communicates? Products could turn out to be valuable mainly as the basis for new services, and Mr. Van Alstyne observes that one might find the data to be more valuable than the shoe.