The hype that surrounds the Internet of Things (IoT) has ballooned to unprecedented levels; pundits were already pointing it out last year, and yet the fervor has only grown stronger. Beneath the surface, however, the questions to ask here are, “Is all the attention being showered upon the IoT justified,” and, “How large do we make our bet that the IoT will meet its prophesied impact, and do so sustainably?”
To answer these questions confidently, we need first to understand what the IoT is. Even this is not without its challenge. If you were to ask an industry stakeholder, a technology analyst, an associated media professional, and a bystander on the street what the Internet of Things is, you’d likely get four different definitions. Some might say it is “any natural or man-made object that can be assigned an IP address and imbued with the ability to transfer data over a network.” Others may tell you it is, “a network of physical objects embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity to enable them to achieve greater value and service by exchanging data with the manufacturer, operator and other connected devices.” Still others might take it further to say it is a, “phenomena where anything that can be connected, will be connected.”
The differences in understanding are subtle, typically measured in the degrees by which people believe the IoT has taken over, or will take over, the technology landscape. What tends to get lost in the discussion is the IoT’s fundamental building block, Machine-to-Machine communication, or M2M. Most people may not be able to tell you where M2M fits into the picture, or even what it is. Would they simply deem it synonymous with IoT?
Some likely still do believe that M2M and IoT are the same; but in fact, they are not. Yes, the waters do get murky as one starts to dissect all the features that differentiate these two monikers and what makes each unique, but let us attempt here to set the record straight.
The wheel – a befitting metaphor
It’s argued that the most significant invention of all-time was the wheel. Simple, elegant, yet with game-changing utility. In keeping, we’ll use a wheel to explain how M2M and IoT diverge, and come together to accomplish more.
It starts in the middle
Every wheel starts with a hub. The hub harnesses energy from the axle and delivers it outward. It acts as a connection for the entire machine. In the IoT/M2M discussion, connectivity is similarly critical to the entire operation. Without a means for devices to talk to one another, there is no IoT. And while there are a growing number of useful connectivity options, from cellular to WiFi, satellite, Bluetooth, Zigbee and LPWA, the central tenet remains constant: Connectivity is what enables an interconnected world of “things” to become real. It is the hub.
We now arrive at the spokes, each of which aligns in an outward flow to tie the hub to the rim. The spokes provide both structural strength and a means to transfer energy to the road, and propel the vehicle along. This is where we find M2M in our analogy. Individual M2M applications each act like a wheel’s spokes, delivering connectivity outward to provide value to the marketplace.
M2M asserts itself most visibly in specific, vertically-focused markets such as automotive, healthcare, energy, utilities, environmental and industrial monitoring and physical security. These touchpoints of value combine to give structure and shape to the overall evolution of the IoT and drive it forward, just as a wheel’s spokes do for the machine.
Connecting the dots
There’s a lot that goes on before a wheel’s rim finds its place in the equation, but indeed this is where the benefits of the machine get realized as a whole. We will therefore liken the IoT to the rim. Not only does it tie the spokes to the tire, where the real work gets done, but it also ties the spokes to one another. In terms of our analogy, the IoT is the place where individual M2M applications can begin to interact among themselves and create even greater value.
Which brings us, full circle (see what I did there?), to the questions posed at the beginning: “Is all the attention being showered upon the IoT justified,” and, “How large do we make our bet that the IoT will meet its prophesied impact, and do so sustainably?”
Indeed, the full providence of the IoT is still coming into focus within the overall “connected” ecosystem, but the sheer number of ways it can be envisioned to make everyday lives run much more easily, smoothly, and productively would tend to support the hype. Look at the soon-to-release Apple Homekit, for example, which brings together thermostats, lighting, power usage monitoring and ingress/egress tracking in a single connected platform for the home. This is a product that is rightly classified as an expression of the IoT. But at its base, it is a series of many M2M applications bound together, where individual connected “machines” (light dimmers, door and window sensors, on/off switches and thermostats) communicate with the Homekit server, which then, in turn, communicates with your iOS phone or watch. Hub, to spoke, to rim.
Moreover, as we’ve just explored, there are myriad new connected health devices coming online, wearable and otherwise, that are changing the game for healthcare delivery and a person’s ability to control his or her own wellness. Again, these are all contingent on a sensor or data collection device communicating to a server, and then to a medical professional back to a personal Smartphone.
What begins to emerge, then, is that the IoT is not only about devices communicating with each other, but also being able to bridge the gaps between specific verticals. As we see it, this is the path to new value (E.g. security systems working with HVAC in ways that benefit a building owner or occupant). Developing synchronicity here will open doors to tremendous new possibilities, and it’s where IoT utility can really rise to astronomical levels.
For these reasons, we are certainly on board with many of the connected device forecasts thrown about in the media. But, as with the wheel, all is dependent on making wise use of foundational components: connectivity (the hub) and M2M (the spokes). And that is precisely where we at KORE will make our mark on this quickly growing landscape, guiding developers and practitioners through that matrix.