The Internet of Things… Are We There Yet?



A common driver exists for the IoT, centered on knowledge and decisions.

There is a lot of chatter about the IoT these days, with tech companies, journalists, investors and consumers all trying to figure out what it is, what it will affect, and how to make money from it.

But what exactly is the IoT? What is its core value? And are we there yet? Considering that the IoT may have as much (or more) impact on society as computers and the Internet have had, these are important questions.

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What exactly is the IoT?

The name may be somewhat misleading, but probably the best way to describe the Internet of Things is as an application or as a service that uses information collected from sensors (the “things”), analyzes the data, and then does something with it (e.g., via actuators – more “things”).

The service, for instance, could be an electronic lifestyle coach, collecting data via a wristband, analyzing this data (trends) and coaching the wearer to live a healthier life. Or it can be an electronic security guard that analyzes data from motion sensors or cameras, and creates alerts. “Internet of Services” might be a more accurate description of the IoT value.

But whatever its best name may be, the IoT is typically a set of “things” connected via the cloud (Internet) to a server that stores and analyzes data (trends, alerts, etc.) and then communicates with a user via an application running on a computer, tablet, or a smartphone. So, it’s not the “things connected to the Internet” that create value. Rather, it’s the collecting, sending/receiving and interpreting data from the Internet that creates value: taking action based on data analytics, not the things themselves.

Why all the IoT hype now?

A cynic might attribute this to technology companies needing “something new” when the first signs emerged of a saturating smartphone market. But the reality is that a few fundamental things changed, creating momentum for new emerging applications that found a home under the umbrella of IoT—from Fitbits to thermostats, smart street lights to smart parking.

The first fundamental change was that the Internet became nearly ubiquitous. Initially connecting computers, the Internet now connects homes and buildings. And with the advent of wireless technology (Wi-Fi, LTE), access to the Internet changed from a technology into a commodity.

The second fundamental change was essentially Moore’s Law rolling along, with smaller, more powerful and lower cost devices being developed to collect data.

And finally, low-power communication technologies were developed that extended the battery life for these devices from days into years, connecting them permanently and maintenance-free to the Internet.

What is the real value of the IoT?

We live in a wonderfully interesting time, when amazing things happen. Consider that in the year 1820, 90% of the population lived in abject poverty. Today, some 200 years later, that percentage has shrunk to under 10%, despite that the population itself has multiplied several times. It is the miracle of the industrial revolution and many other things coming together. After World War II and the invention of the transistor, the industrial revolution seamlessly folded into the technology revolution, and we went from computers to smartphones, and from the internet to the IoT.

The common driver? It’s all about “making better decisions faster.” The industrial revolution was based on innovation and creativity, individual freedom and organization. Consider that the Hoover Dam, one of the wonders of the twentieth century, was designed with slide rulers, paper and pencils. Three decades later, we managed to get men on the moon using computers that had a fraction of the power of our smartphones.

The motivator of “making better decisions faster” drove computers into existence. Does anybody remember how to do bookkeeping without a computer? Or run a manufacturing plant? Making better decisions faster drove the Internet into existence. When was the last time you wrote a letter, instead of an email? What was the last edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica before Wikipedia’s real-time updates introduced it to obsolescence?

This making better decisions faster is driving the IoT into existence, too, and will make it the pivotal technology for the current decade. It will make our personal lives more comfortable, more safe and secure. We will waste less energy. The IoT will make the quality of our products better. Factories will be more efficient with raw materials and other resources. We will be able to better monitor our environment, and our impact on it. The IoT is not a break from the past, it is a natural progression in making better decisions faster, and a continuing engine for our economic growth and wealth creation – driving out poverty altogether.

Are there downsides to the IoT?

The industrial revolution and the subsequent invention of assembly line production certainly resulted in groups of winners and losers, and there was major upheaval and social unrest as we came to grips with all the changes. The technology revolution also contributed to upheaval and unrest. People were replaced by computers and lost their jobs.

To date, despite considerable pessimism about the loss of jobs to automation, overall employment has not appeared to decrease. Clearly, change has been very painful for those impacted. But overall, where jobs were lost, other jobs were created. And by economic law, jobs with low value-add disappeared and were replaced with jobs with high value-add—the “cleaning mechanism” through which economic growth and wealth creation were affected.

The IoT will follow the same pattern. It will redefine jobs and skills. It may even create unrest. There will be winners and losers. There will be people who will see opportunities. And there will be people who will fall victim because “better and faster” is not what they can absorb. In this sense, the IoT will be just the next example of the tradition of the industrial revolution – that more prosperity comes at a price.

The IoT’s network of connected devices will absorb many of the repetitive, drudge work tasks of today. And in much the same way as the post-industrial revolution period, while machines are doing the grunt work, humans will have more time to spend on solving bigger problems. Will it enable the next level of creative culture? A new generation of space explorers? A new enlightenment, perhaps?

So are we there yet?

As with many technologies, after a few years of high expectations, the IoT is slowly entering the Valley of Disillusionment phase of the “hype cycle,” that quiet phase where sobering reality starts kicking-in. Usually this is also the period where the fads and the wild ideas separate from the strong and more realistic groundswell of useful applications. The good news is that when we compare this to other technologies, we seem to have short memories of the “not quite right yet” years, when early adopters worked to help the technology through to success. The same will happen with the IoT.

The IoT is suffering today from a lack of understanding of its true value proposition; and at the same time, a plethora of proprietary and open communication standards inhibit interconnectivity, create confusion with consumers, and confusion among product builders themselves, keeping product prices high and delaying market growth. On top of all that, large companies seem determined to seek the holy grail by promoting their own ecosystems.

Even if we are currently in the Valley of Disillusionment, we should not be distracted. We still have a lot to learn (maybe less technology and more business models on maximizing the value-add), but we are in the middle of shaping a better world for the next generation. A world with less poverty, hopefully fewer wars. Maybe a new Golden Age, an Enlightened world? We have a long way to go, but we will see—because we can!


CeesLinks_WEBCees Links was the founder and CEO of GreenPeak Technologies, which is now part of Qorvo. Under his responsibility, the first wireless LANs were developed, ultimately becoming household technology integrated into PCs and notebooks. He also pioneered the development of access points, home networking routers, and hotspot base stations. He was involved in the establishment of the IEEE 802.11 standardization committee and the Wi-Fi Alliance. He was also instrumental in establishing the IEEE 802.15 standardization committee to become the basis for the ZigBee® sense and control networking. Since GreenPeak was acquired by Qorvo, Cees has become the General Manager of the Wireless Connectivity Business Unit in Qorvo. He was recently recognized as Wi-Fi pioneer with the Golden Mousetrap Lifetime Achievement award. For more information, please visit www.qorvo.com .

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