The predicted numbers vary, but they’re all massive, and the general thrust is that by 2020 as many as 50 billion things could be connected via the Internet. And that’s not just PCs, laptops, smartphones and tablets, but RFID tags, sensors and network-capable microcomputers as well.
Experts see the Internet of Things as the cornerstone of the fourth industrial revolution, a phenomenon that will transform all aspects of society and all areas of the economy, including factories, warehouse logistics, agriculture, homes, transport and traffic management, communications and medicine.
"The Internet of Things is a world changing technology like no other. We need it now more than ever. There are immeasurable economic benefits and the world needs economic benefits right now."
The Internet of Things is big news at the moment because its rapid growth – driven by the ever-increasing affordability of sensors, RFID tags and microcomputers – will do much more than just make many aspects of life simpler. It will also give rise to completely new business models and applications, which will be made possible by all-encompassing networks, high-speed data transport infrastructure and realtime data analysis capabilities. The IoT market is therefore expected to be colossal, with US analysts predicting that it will yield revenues of 19 trillion US dollars over the next ten years on the back of new applications in automated transport, global goods logistics and industrial manufacturing. These developments will also have a major effect on the labor market, with the 500,000 developers currently working on the Internet of Things worldwide expected to balloon out to around four million by 2020.
Experts commonly point to four main areas as being major beneficiaries of the Internet of Things and its rapid development.
The challenges facing the healthcare sector are similar worldwide: aging populations, greater incidence of chronic illnesses, and rising treatment costs. These are areas in which the Internet of Things offers promising solutions. For instance, by networking their equipment and processes, hospitals could increase the efficiency of the treatment and care they provide. Patient health data could be automatically collected, monitored and analyzed irrespective of patient whereabouts, with the result that medical professionals would only need to take action when the system detects a deterioration in their patients' condition.
The same technologies would also mean that older people could remain independent for longer by living in intelligent apartments and houses that are equipped with sensors.
The Internet of Things has already yielded numerous applications in the automotive industry. Drivers can already store their personal seat-adjustment and mirror-position settings on a chip in their ignition key so that both are automatically implemented each time they get into their car. This function will soon also be available on smartphones. Similarly, some vehicles already have a certain ability to "talk" to one another and share hazard warnings.
The next step along this development pathway will be to network vehicles with the surrounding transport and traffic infrastructure. Vehicles will then be able to report their status and position to control centers which, in turn, will be able to re-direct traffic flows and hence prevent costly traffic jams.
Urbanization is a megatrend that continues unabated. 57 percent of the world’s population already lives in cities, and this figure is expected to hit the 70-percent mark by as early as 2050. Rapidly growing megacities like Beijing, New Delhi, Los Angeles and Moscow are already grappling with the challenges of reducing their environmental footprint, maintaining mobility and essential services and enhancing security.
Intelligently interconnected mobile networks can help provide solutions to these seemingly insurmountable challenges and deliver improved traffic flows, more intelligent flows of goods, and reduced strain on people and the environment. Our cities will also gain serious IQ points from the use of the Internet of Things in buildings. Facilities that generate heat and power will be intelligently networked with devices that consume it, thereby significantly reducing overall consumption.
In tomorrow's factories, workpieces and products will leverage the Internet – using implanted microcomputers, for example – to control the machines that are manufacturing them while they’re manufacturing them. The result will be highly flexible, highly individualized production of very small lots – even one-off production – without sacrificing the benefits of scale.
This will be supported by fully digitized logistics chains that are networked with ERP systems and which ensure that products get exactly to where they’re supposed to go, quickly and reliably. Each package, pallet and individual product will have a network-capable memory that knows its destination. Each item will even be able to apply pre-programmed priority rules to autonomously make simple decisions and so make its own way to its destination.