IoT usually means “Internet of Things” and is often thought of as a separate niche that is off doing its own thing, without many implications for us in the mainstream. The projects I’ve been working on in payments and with other customers’ businesses, have highlighted the scale of the implications across the digital world which, let’s face it, these days is almost everything.
The pressure towards connected devices is immense and wide ranging: devices everywhere, wireless everywhere. This article on new systems for policing opens a really interesting window into just how connected devices and background systems can support an important and everyday effort of the kind that we all rely on. There is a strong sense that the move to connected and autonomous vehicles is now unstoppable. Not many would think of the UK Government being at the forefront here, but the range of initiatives, projects and funding being driven here, gives us another datapoint showing how much energy is going into this area, even by Gov.UK. This article from Forbes reports that there are already 20Bn connected devices and counting, and it starts to point to some of the trends that we all need to be thinking about.
If you’re a thinking decision-maker, what lies ahead for you in your Internet of Thinks?
For one thing, it looks as though there are lots of ambitious companies out there that are thinking now about how connected devices can be embedded into value propositions to create value and differentiation. Robots and AI to mechanise tasks, physical and intellectual, that previously required people; wearable devices to improve healthcare, enhance workforce efficiency, and add new avenues to strengthen our security. The question for boardrooms must be whether we’re doing enough to think through the implications and opportunities for our own organisations. Should we catch up with the leaders, work to become fast followers, or wait and watch hoping we can find a role for ourselves if and when we have to?
It’s a pretty obvious conclusion that today’s wireless networks – wifi and cellular – are simply not good enough to cope; some would say that they struggle today! It depends who you read, but estimates of the number of mobile phone users range around 5Bn, today, but it’s said that there are already four times that number of devices using the Internet. The number of users might double over time, but unless lots of people start using handfuls of devices, we’re not that far from saturation. Of course this is another reason why so many people are looking to connected devices for growth. So devices – the number of them, the range of things they will do, and the data they will exchange – is set to rise and rise. This means that all this pressure is pushing hard towards the adoption of 5G, because its technology is designed to support 1,000 times greater device density than 4G.
The pressure of devices drives two more strong trends – one of which will force 5G adoption, and one that comes as a result. Autonomous vehicles and several other device categories will require much lower latency than existing networks. Most of today’s networks operate at around 50ms or more. Just try this test of Azure, or this one of AWS. Human responses run at around 50ms, which is why this has been good enough so far. Devices will have to work much faster and with much greater immediacy, hence the other key design attribute of 5G, which is 1ms latency. So 5G is an essential technology underpinning connected devices, and that’s what’s driving its adoption, not people wanting to download movies more quickly.
The laws of physics mean that the only way to deliver this low latency is to move compute and store out to the edge, out to somewhere close to the device and, if the device moves, compute and store must move as well. This is another crucial networking attribute that is required to support this unstoppable trend towards connected devices, and it’s another integral design characteristic of 5G technology: it is able to deliver processing and storage at the edge. The Cloud created a move towards centralising processes, and this is now starting to go into reverse, with a change of tidal flow sending some processes back out to the edge. This will create architectural challenges, with some processes at the edge, and some in the centre, namely authentication, coordination and collation. This shift has significant implications for Cloud as a total solution – it won’t be. Centralisation of everything will not be a sensible strategy for many people for much longer, and a growing community has already moved on from this to take a more pragmatic approach.
Of course this is all driving along the road that is already being travelled towards mobile-first. Less and less interaction and data is happening around fixed devices: humans are much more mobile and becoming ever more likely to change location from one interaction to the next. That’s not to say all interactions will be mobile – they won’t – but the proportion is only going in one direction: up. More and more will be – must be thought out as – mobile first rather than mobile as well.
Lastly, the implications for payments is clear: connected devices will require viable ways of executing micro-payments. Whether it’s a car automatically paying for a car park or paying for insurance per mile, or smart metres beginning to realise their potential for dynamic energy pricing, automated micro-payments are heading this way, and there seem to be few technologies around that deal with this whole area effectively. Billions of small transactions, driven by devices without human interaction, won’t be using PayPal or a Worldpay account – this needs a whole new approach, and connected devices and pay-per-use require it.
The Internet of Thinks give us decision-makers some crucial Things to Think about:
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