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  • Writer's pictureDean Anthony Gratton

Revisited: What is this Internet of Things, thing?

It’s been a year! Yes, a whole year has passed since I wrote my first piece for – I know what you’re thinking, “He hasn’t aged a day!” Yep, I know, I just put it down to good genes and large quantities of ‘red’.

A sense of purpose

Whilst we’re on the subject of ageing, I thought I’d take a look back at how the industry has matured over the past twelve months and jot down my reflections as an anniversary piece. Let’s not forget that this is an industry with a tendency to overhype any prospective newbie-technology by exaggerating its attributes to the point of airbrushed absurdity. But then there’s nothing wrong with dreaming is there? I recall reading an article that claimed the Internet of Things (IoT) would ‘cure cancer’. On this occasion I found myself forgiving rather than rolling my eyes at yet more propaganda. Okay, I admit, it’s a somewhat embroidered perspective but, nonetheless, a sentiment that’s founded in a belief that there is an eagerness to stretch the technology beyond its inherent remit.

As dear old Cilla would say, there’s been a “LoRa, LoRa” speculation about deciding upon an IoT standard; an issue that has received considerable attention across the industry. I dare say we might be close to a consensus with the LoRa standard being unveiled at CES at the start of the year to support Low Power Wide Area Networking (LPWAN) technology. This prompts me to ask “Are the unsteady IoT waters finally calming?” The answer seems to be ‘Yes!’ Finally, a standard is in sight that might take the drama out of the hype and perhaps more realistically cornerstone the technology into establishing a sense of purpose.

It’s coming into focus

So, let’s take a peek at what’s been going on over the last year and it seems that the IoT is infiltrating every aspect of our lives, from a smartphone connected water bottle to a blanket that tells you when it’s warm enough to climb inside. Sorry, but have we lost the ability to see and think for ourselves? Where’s the simplicity that all this technology was supposed to bring? It seems instead that technology itself has, to some extent, complicated the very fabric of our lives, making our ears prick up and our tempers further fray at each unnecessary beep (or Lord help us) tune that identifies a never ending app list of alerts. Just going through them and turning them off is my equivalent of a weekly workout.

Back in 2014 I talked about smart objects and ‘hallelujah’ these have proven themselves to be the backbone of much of the IoTs developments. Home automation has seen leaps forward with EnOcean among many forward thinking and energy focused organisations who have embraced and ambassadored the IoT as their way forward to an energy-centric future.

Looking back, I can see that this all-encompassing need for total connectivity has paved the way towards making the IoT a pervasive part of everyday life. In 2014, I also recall talking about it lacking a personality, but now I’m seeing it strut its stuff with all the candour of a young Jack Nicholson; confident, presumptuous and just a little bit scary. What’s been touted by many in the industry as the natural evolution of the Internet is well and truly upon us, bringing new opportunities in terms of ‘big data’ and turning innovators into their own spin doctors. The value proposition that just a year ago was still blurred is now coming into focus and, oh yes, those objects in the distance are indeed the cash cows we hoped they were, grazing on the expectations and possibilities of the modern consumer. But please, let’s just get it right!

The price of true connectivity

“With great power comes great responsibility” said Superman’s dad and, like a concerned father, the security aspects of all this big data still worry me. If indeed the IoT is the superhero it so desperately wants to be then security needs to be the ‘S’ (that’s ‘S’ for hope) imprinted on its chest.

The price of true total connectivity means that everything is out there and, whilst the possibilities for good are breath-taking, in the wrong hands the value it offers could well become its own Kryptonite.

But DC comic analogies aside, the industry needs to remain focused on the core element behind the true value of the IoT and that, of course is us, the people whose lives around which it will impact. We’ve seen the likes of Amazon understand and embrace this synergy, seamlessly weaving it into their company infrastructure in a way that make sense to the consumer but, in order for the IoT to truly flourish, big businesses will need to work together, embracing open standards and protecting against threats to privacy, data hacks and viruses.

The plumber wasn’t expecting that!

Passive anonymity is seen by many as the key to opening further IoT opportunities, using big data in much the same way as the big mobile operators. By instigating the flow of passive anonymous geolocation or network insights, data can be used to constructively monitor population movement, enabling services to be delivered in a predictable and dependable way.  For me, it’s all about balance! We need to give in order to get, but there’s a fine line between collaboration and control and we need to ensure that we are ultimately the masters of our own IoTs and not the other way around. In the same way that the colours red, white, and blue stand for freedom and democracy until you see them flashing behind you, it’s all about perception.

Sadly, I don’t have all the answers I was hoping to find when I started my journey this time last year. Will the IoT find it’s true sense of purpose? I really hope so; I so want it to – a technology that has a sense of purpose is a technology we shouldn’t ordinarily have to think about. You know, it’s there, no matter what – it aids, but we’re not sure how and more importantly, we shouldn’t care. My wife recently said to our plumber when he tried to explain the problem with our water flow “I just want to turn on the tap and get water, I don’t want to know where it comes from!” And this is how the IoT ultimately needs to evolve for today’s consumer.

Until next time…

Well I suppose that’s it: I’m all IoT’d out! I really feel it will take several more years to source a supposition that will succinctly capture the technology and afford it a sense of purpose. It will need to add real value whilst feeding those hungry cash cows, so let’s make a real difference this time, can we ever-so please?

For now, this is where a wondrous Dr G signs off.

Originally published in Telecoms.


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a technology influencer, analyst & futurist 

I dispel the rumours, gossip and hype surrounding new technology

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