The Internet of Things has been widely discussed for years, but for many casual observers it remains a futuristic trend seen mainly in sci-fi movies. The truth is, the Internet of Things, or rather, the Internet of Everything, is happening right now. But what does this mean for your business?
In 2010 12.5 billion devices were connected to the internet, in 2015 Cisco expects that to jump to 15 billion and by 2020 it will be 50 billion. And these devices are not just smartphones and tablets, they’re everything – from cars, buses and household appliances to manufacturing machinery, medical devices and even animals. Let’s take a look at some examples:
Smart cities for savvy citizens
Today, we don’t need to go too far to see the IoT in action. Smart cities, including Dublin, now feature digital bus timetables at bus stops telling commuters when the next bus will be arriving. This data is coming from a GPS sensor on each bus which is transmitted via the internet to a system that can see how far the bus is from the next bus stop, calculate the expected arrival time and send that data directly to a screen at the bus stop.
Smart factories for leaner businesses
The manufacturing sector was one of the earliest adopters of the IoT. Using sensors and actuators embedded in machines which are linked by a network via the internet, manufacturers have been able to create ‘smart factories’.
Sensors within devices indicate the health of each machine, while the actuators can be triggered to implement necessary changes, for example, a heat sensor shows that a certain part is in danger of over-heating, this information is sent to a central hub, which analyses it and triggers an automated command to the actuator to initiate a cooling down of the relevant part.
Smart homes and healthcare for better wellbeing
Home automation is also becoming a reality; we’re already seeing products like Nest, a smart thermostat that adapts to a user’s preferences. And who can miss the wearable technology, like Fitbit, that’s allowing us to capture and analyse our own activity including exercise and sleep.
These aren’t the only industries making use of the IoT: the agriculture sector is using it to keep track of livestock; insurance firms are using telematics to monitor drivers’ behaviour for car insurance; in the retail sector, take the Egg Minder, a smart egg tray that tells you when you’re low on eggs; in the hospitality sector we’re seeing some hotels using ‘electronic keys’ that are sent directly to a customer’s smartphone. The possibilities are endless and for many sectors the IoT will likely have a completely transformative effect.
What’s driving the Internet of Things?
It’s not a new concept but only now have the necessary conditions converged to make the IoT a reality. The declining cost and size of devices and the mainstream adoption of RFID – a chip connected to an antenna to transfer data wirelessly – has opened opportunities for companies to embed smaller, common items with RFID chips and sensors. The prevalence of IP networks is also a major factor, as are moves by industry and government to regulate technologies leading to accepted standards across industries.
Embracing the Internet of Things
It’s important to take a measured approach to IoT now. Research your market and industry to identify the opportunities for implementing the technology.Then, look inwards at your business – what areas could benefit from an intelligent network of things communicating with each other to deliver real-time, accurate datathat could add value to your bottom line, customer satisfaction and other significant KPIs? Once a plan is framed, you need to ensure you have the right infrastructure in place to support the growing volume of connectivity and resulting data.
Robust network lays the foundation
As the IoT becomes more ingrained in your business (because, make no mistake, this will happen), your reliance on a robust network grows. Ultimately, the IoT isn’t about the things but the data, applications and services that it enables. Most importantly, it’s about the underlying network infrastructure that allows it all to happen through scalability, flexibility, reliability and intelligence. The impact on data storage demand goes without saying but the ability to scale the network up and down as needed without affecting availability or latency is vital to cope with the traffic.
The importance of security best practice
In this hyper-connected world, security threats will grow exponentially. The more devices you connect to the internet, the higher your exposure to the risk of malicious cyber-attacks. To deal effectively with this increased risk, you will need to put a model in place to address what Cisco calls the “attack continuum” – before, during and after an attack. Your network partner will be able to help you develop a robust security plan.
eir Business Solutions NI is at the forefront of network advances. Our layer 3 IPVPN with its MPLS core is an intelligent, resilient network that supports the adoption of advanced technology like the Internet of Things. We’re already working with companies in Northern Ireland to provide a platform for the future including Wrightbus, who is currently piloting an RFID strategy.
Shane Haslem is Head of Network Enabled Design, eir Business Solutions NI. Contact Shane at uk.linkedin.com/in/shanehaslem