Earlier this week it was announced that sites went live in ten cities around the UK for the Arqiva and SIGFOX Internet of Things (IoT) network. We’ve already written about how the Internet of Things will change everything, but the announcement highlights just how prevalent IoT is expected to become this decade as new devices, networks and standards have blossomed.
Nationwide Internet of Things network now live
Arqiva specialises in communications infrastructure and media services, and they have joined with SIGFOX to launch the first sites in their nationwide IoT network in ten of the largest cities in the UK. According to Arqiva, the network will make it simple and affordable to connect millions of “things”, whilst also helping cities and businesses to improve services and reduce costs.
But what are these “things” that we keep hearing so much about?
The Internet of Things has become a buzzword for connecting all manner of devices together that form a network of interconnected machine-to-machine services. That may include such mundane objects as fridges, waste bins and drinks vending machines, but also lots of tiny devices around the home (or wearable devices that you carry around with you) that typically rely on low power networks and ad-hoc connectivity.
But the Internet of Things is quite a broad term that encompasses a vast array devices, using lots of different ways to connect and exchange information.
As an example, suppose your home thermostat is connected wirelessly to your heating system – of course it could already control the temperature of the house based on sensors dispersed around the whole. But what if it could also learn your habits and location from other devices, such as your mobile phone. Your whereabouts could be relayed over the Internet to the thermostat, which combines that information with its knowledge of your habits and movements.
To a degree, that kind of functionality is offered by devices like the Nest Learning Thermostat, but the creation of dedicated IoT networks will open up new possibilities especially for businesses and governments, who will be able to connect many more devices and services to IoT networks, turning our cities into more intelligent and adaptive places to live.
In part, that’s the aim of the Arqiva network. According to Wendy McMillan, Managing Director of Smart Metering and Machine-to-Machine solutions at Arqiva, “Our network is truly unlocking the promise of the Internet of Things. Together with existing connectivity, such as street-level WiFi, these cities are becoming hubs for digital innovation. A whole host of smart city and intelligent building applications can now deliver strong benefits – from smart parking and waste level monitoring through to connected smoke alarms.”
The initiative holds a lot of promise, and the benefits appear most immediately apparent to city councils. The Royal borough of Greenwich is one of the country’s first sites to go live in the new scheme, which will support a pilot of driverless cars.
Greenwich recognises that all the UK’s leading cities are engaged in a global competition and that cities with a clear vision for the digital economy will be in a stronger position. This kind of technology will bring benefits to all our residents right across the whole of our borough and in time will really help enhance how we deliver services. This technology will help cities tackle economic and social challenges and will help solves issues like traffic congestion as well as enhancing security, and making heating and lighting more efficient.
Rodolphe Baronnet-Frugès of SIGFOX says that the IoT network will help to eliminate the cost and energy-use barriers to widespread adoption of the IoT by UK municipalities and companies. But besides London, the other cities taking part in the scheme initially are Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield. If the initiative finds success, no doubt it will be rolled out further across the UK. Is this just the start of a truly national network of millions of intelligent, wired devices and services?
When will the Internet of Things will become mainstream?
The Arqiva and SIGFOX efforts signify just how wide ranging the Internet of Things really is – covering consumer products such as smart thermostats and intelligent street lighting. The potential for all these connected objects is almost limitless, as more devices get connected and are able to exchange and communicate information not only to users, but to other machines.
Gartner predicts that the Internet of Things will become mainstream by 2020, in terms of the number of connected devices – expected to reach 25.01 billion, a huge increase of over 16 billion devices from now. But the technologies and standards required to support that many things is still evolving and growing; wireless standards like Bluetooth for example have defined low energy modes that reduce the power consumption required to transmit tiny packets of information from devices that are powered by a watch battery. Let’s not forget developers too, who need effective tools to create the next generation of smart software if all these machines are expected to talk to each other efficiently and seamlessly.
Intel unveils its IoT strategy
Besides Arqiva and SIGFOX, major electronics and services companies have already woken up to the potential of the IoT. Also this week, in what is surely just one of the many IoT announcements that we can expect at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in the U.S. in January, Intel has announced its IoT Platform to help companies build entire ecosystems for IoT devices and services.
Intel’s platform is intended to simplify connectivity and improve security of the data transferred between IoT devices – these are two areas that really do need improving before commercial services can achieve widespread adoption. Security and privacy are also key requirements that must not be overlooked if consumers are to trust the new wave of always-on, always connected devices.
As part of its offering, Intel has a new range of low power and inexpensive processors dubbed Quark, positioning the company well to take advantage of the IoT market in the face of competition from companies like Qualcomm. As part of Intel’s strategy, Wind River (which Intel acquired in 2009) will provide functionality that handles device configuration, management and data analysis, while McAfee (which it purchased in 2011) will focus on security for the gateways that IoT devices talk to. Additionally, a whole suite of APIs and tools to build services will be offered through Intel Mashery – good news for developers.
It’s interesting that Intel, a stalwart in the PC chip manufacturing business, is now positioning itself as a hardware and software vendor rather than just a chipmaker, but with its traditional business being eroded by the surge in mobile processors used in smartphones and tablets (chip designers like ARM and Qualcomm, and fabricators such as Samsung), Intel badly needs to gain traction in the IoT space given that Qualcomm’s AllJoyn open source platform was released last year and is being promoted by more than 70 companies such as Cisco, Sony, and Microsoft.
The Internet of Things has arguably moved from being ‘the next big thing’ to being a reality for many of us. The Arqiva and SIGFOX announcement, and the likes of Intel joining the fray, signifies that IoT is expected to offer real benefits across many different industries. Businesses, governments and individuals will become increasingly exposed to IoT devices and services, in many cases even without realising.
One thing is for sure – the Internet of Things is here to stay…
As always we love to hear your comments and opinions. How will the Internet of Things change the way we work and play in future? Are we approaching a golden age where technology fades into the background and becomes more seamless? Let us know in the comments section.