Technology Time Machine 2016 - IoT

Benefits of IoT. Credit: Wikimedia Smart Cities

An interesting panel discussed the future of IoT, Internet of Things. The first point touched upon was the meaning of IoT. Quite clear at first glance, it gets muddy as soon as one looks closely. The reason is the variety subsumed by the word “Thing” and the type of interconnection it may have with the Internet. One panelist from NIST actually proposed a name change, from IoT to NoT, with N standing for “Network”.

A “Thing” to be part of the IoT set should have, according to a panelist, four properties: 


  • Sensing
  • Communication
  • Computation
  • Actuation

As a matter of fact this is what another panelist characterized as IoT 1.0, leaving open the door to IoT 0.5 –characterized by sensing and communication or actuation and communication, and IoT 0.9 characterized by sensing, communication and computation.

At this point what would be IoT 2.0? Well, I can offer a Thing that creates a communication space and it is able to manage other Things, from a communication point of view, on its created network.
 Why stop with 2.0? A 3.0 IoT can be one that can create other “Things”, according to a Industry 4.0 paradigm.

Actually, I would consider a broader definition for IoT to include in the set also data, or data cluster, associated to processing and I/O, what I call Soft IoT.

The “communication” characteristics is seen differently by the telecommunication and the computer world. The former would consider as valid communication only the one that is directly established between the IoT and the network, wirelessly or wired does not matter. On the other hand, the computer world will accept as a valid communication whatever means, synchronous, asynchronous, direct, mediated as long as there is an identity associated with the “Thing”. Hence, an accelerometer embedded in a smart phone is not considered as an IoT by the former but it is considered an IoT by the latter. Similarly a sensor deployed in a field that can communicate only when a tractor happens to be nearby to establish a local communication.

Ericsson foresees 1.5 billion IoT equipped with a SIM by 2021

This may be correct but if we look forward to 2030 I feel implausible to have SIMs around… 

Whatever the definition of IoT, it is a given that they will outnumber the cell phones and their communications needs will span from few bytes a day to several TB a day. The number of transactions will also show a broad range, from  few per year to billions a day.

It is therefore clear that managing their communication needs may strain the current network and new connectivity paradigms might be needed.

This is where all panelists agreed: 5G can be the answer to the broad range of communication needs of IoT, because it is a cluster of communication paradigms, protocols and networks/gateways. It embeds the idea that the future of communication infrastructure is a network of networks under multiple ownership domains.

This network of networks will be flexible and will be used and configured from the edges by the IoT (or applications) themselves. This thanks to the progressive softwarization/virtualization of network resources.

The impact of IoT will mostly be felt on the wireless network that will have to negotiate and support the access.

As last point the impact of IoT on Society was discussed. IoT are the enabler for increasing automation, are providing ambient –an people- monitoring. 

It is not clear at all how we will solve technology induced problems in our Society.

The presence of the Society on Social Implication of Technology in all Future Direction Committee Initiatives is a response to this unchartered space.

(Too) few words were spent on the aspect of security, something I feel will dominate the landscape of IoT in the next decade. Take some time to read Jeffery Deaver's "The Steel Kiss" and you'll see the dangers connected to the IoT and the elusive security threat in this area, elusive in the sense that grasping them all is extremely difficult given the number of players involved and the different agendas and interest they have.

At EIT Digital we are addressing the IoT management in the Active High Impact Initiative. Providing a secure and effective environment for IoT exploitation is tremendously difficult and requires focussed cooperation of as many parties as possible.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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