The Internet of Things, IoT is one of the big talking points in the electronics industry these days. With predictions of huge numbers of connected devices. Ericsson recently predicted there will be 26 billion connected devices by 2020, although this is significantly fewer than the 50 billion predicted in 2009.
Whatever the prediction, and by whom, what is certain is that there is going to be a huge market for connected devices of all forms. This indicates that manufacturers must be ready for it, of be left behind. Before long, there will be an expectation of seamless connectivity for virtually everything.
The penalties for not recognising the trend, or being late in introducing he technology will be huge. Car manufacturers, for example are steadily increasing he level of electronics in all vehicles and a growing element of this is connectivity. Not just the Bluetooth connection for the phone, but almost every area of the vehicle will be subject to wire-less connections. Wire-less saves cost as it does not require expensive wiring looms to be installed - that is provided the wireless link can be made to work and not shielded by the car itself, although with more synthetic materials being used that is less of an issue.
So too with other areas. Connected homes, smart cities and the like. There are many products that are increasing their levels of connectivity - look at the humble television that is now routinely Internet enabled.
However there are a few fundamental requirements for IoT devices if they are to be successful. Whilst the IoT will make many companies, it will also break a large number too.
It will be necessary to look at some of the very basic requirements for any IoT devices and systems that are being developed.
The first is to find whether there is really any demand. Often technologists can get carried away with what can be done, rather than what is needed. The issue of timing is also important because the market may not be ready for a particular product. But at the end of the day, the market must be there. In the past there have been too many cases of new products or technologies being launched because they can be done rather than because they are needed. Care will be needed with IoT not to fall into this trap, making sure the technology is there to meet a need at the right time.
Security is another huge issue for the IoT. With stories of major hacks occurring ever more frequently, this trend is only likely to increase. If organisations such as major US government agencies succumbing to attacks, the IoT is bound to be an issue. Effective security will need to be built in right at the very beginning of any development. There should be no possibility of users being able to have the default password for example. Security should not added as an afterthought, otherwise systems will soon fail as hackers see and opportunity to disable systems and cause havoc for whatever reason.
Seamless connectivity and use will also be another key issue. Many IoT applications will be for use by individuals: home automation; personal health monitoring and the like, and the Apps along with the remote nodes will all need to operate out of the box. No fiddling around getting everything to talk. It must all work under all conditions otherwise this will make the product a failure and if IoT gets a name for difficulties in setup then people will be less willing to use it.
Also it is unlikely that one radio bearer will be applicable for all, but too many variants will also be a disadvantage. Cellular operators would like the majority of the traffic to be carried over their networks, but cellular protocols and modulation schemes are complex and nodes using them are likely to be more current hungry than is compatible with battery lifetimes measured in terms of years. They are also designed for high data rates, and not the low data burst every hour or every day. That said their coverage is good, and where power is not an issue they may be ideal.
Where wide area coverage is needed, systems like LoRa, SIGFOX and Weightless are now starting to be deployed in many areas. Where local links only are needed, standards including Bluetooth, Zigbee and many more are available.
While there is room for a variety of standards, some rationalisation will undoubtedly be need and will occur if true seamless integration is to be possible across many platforms and also to gain the economies of scale.
With IoT growing rapidly, issues like security, seamless connectivity, usability, reliability and cost effectiveness will all need to be incorporated along with ensuring that the right products are introduced at the right time.