The ‘Internet of Things’ is one of those catchphrases that has been doing the rounds a lot lately, along with ‘wearable tech’ and ‘crypto-currency’. And for good reason; the Internet of Things is predicted to grow to 26 billion devices (excluding PCs, smartphones and tablets) by the year 2020. That’s a thirty-fold increase from just 0.9 billion units in 2009, according to Gartner.
But there are some serious kinks to be ironed out before the ‘IoT’ can fulfil its $1.9 trillion potential. As Matt Asay at ReadWrite points out: “Unfortunately, a lack of standards threatens to slow the market’s maturation as vendors are forced to build the devices, sensor networks and services that run on top of them.”
In a recent article entitled ‘Hurdles to the Internet of Things prove more social than technical’, Andy Oram outlined a series of obstacles, from the abstract, potentially problematic implications for personal privacy and autonomy, to the wide range of practical concerns when it comes to standardisation. “How do we persuade manufacturers to build standard communication protocols into everyday objects?” Oram asks. “For those manufacturers using proprietary protocols and keeping the data generated by the objects on private servers, how can we offer them business models than makes sharing data more appealing than hoarding it?”
“Where there’s money to be made, standards will emerge – likely driven by vendors,” asserts Asay. “Bosch, for example, is already building out services based on its own sensors but also those from rival sensor manufacturers. It’s why the company spends so much time talking about business models, not merely machines… No hardware company can depend on its sensors alone. Even a massively successful hardware like Apple ultimately gives way to an open, services-based alternative like Google’s Android.”
The key to standardisation, then, is collaboration. And communities like the AllSeen Alliance are leading the way. The AllSeen Alliance is a non-profit dedicated to “enabling the Internet of Everything” by promoting the widespread adoption of products and services and providing an open, universal development framework.
“In reality, there probably won’t be a big breakout moment for the Internet of Things in 2014,” wrote Brian Proffitt in December 2013. “Unlike the actual Internet, where standards of communication were hashed out by academicians and technicians… where the military and university complexes were working towards a common cause… today it’s every company for itself.”
So, no, the Internet of Things is not going to happen overnight. But it might not hurt to take some inspiration from the open, collaborative world of the early internet.