Pervasive, ubiquitous computing is a trend that is catalysing technologists worldwide to realise this vision. In order for this vision to become to full fruition a number of underlying technologies need to work in harmony. Consider this quote:
The number of devices connected to and by the Internet is expected to range between 16 and 50 billion in 2020, depending on the definition of ‘device’ that is retained. Fleet and freight management, security/surveillance, transport and mobility, vending/payment terminals, smart metering and grids, industrial processes, etc. are all areas where connected devices will help to improve standards of living and provide new solutions for enabling the enterprise of tomorrow and for addressing global challenges.
Building the Internet of Things
As I mentioned in my last post, startup Neul is pushing ahead with M2M communications, enabling connectivity between devices over cellular or satellite networks with a new, open M2M communications standard entitled “Weightless” to harmonise connectivity of devices. M2M communication is essentially a subset of IoT, where active communication devices are set to transmit data over a network. The concept is now being leveraged to connect all devices, regardless if they are communication devices or not. The technologies used alongside M2M communications to push IoT forward include sensors, intelligent networks, RFID, and cloud computing, with the aim of reaching true ubiquity.
And with new technologies comes new business models; with the advent of Web 2.0 and relevant technologies, the pressure to expand the customer base is constantly increasing. Most companies providing Web-based services are looking at a service oriented architecture (SOA) approach, which would allow IoT to open up a new path for service providers to collate separate solutions and design a system that can reach a wider range of consumers.
With the development of IoT, countries and organisations will need to be environmentally aware in a world where energy consumption is one of the most important global concerns in today’s world. The consumption of natural resources needs to be kept in check to step closer to a greener future. IoT enables energy and resource conservation in many ways. With sensors to monitor each and every device in the world, a significant amount of detailed information on energy consumption in various applications can be collected. Necessary steps can be taken to regulate resource usage based on this information. Hence IoT is expected to work at a global level in reducing the depletion of natural energy resources. Of course, in order for this to be practical, sensing elements designed with smaller footprints is an essential requirement. With the advent of nano-technology this need is being fulfilled.
Key Challenges to a Pervasive Future
Alongside key industry drivers, there are a number of steep challenges facing IoT. As IoT evolves, the convergence of a wide variety of technologies from sensors to semantics, and from RFID to cloud computing, the resultant system becomes heterogeneous in nature. All these devices and technologies need to be managed effectively in order to ensure maximum performance and reliability is achieved. However the vastness of these connected devices makes IoT a complex architecture. Advanced network management technologies, such as distributed repositories, self healing networks and managed services are being researched in order to address this change.
It is also predicted that the number of devices connected over the Internet would be so large that the existing networking infrastructure may be inadequate to handle the load. Further, there would be issues in creating address spaces for all the devices that are connected. The huge amount of data that is expected to flow from these devices may also cause a strain on the current networking infrastructure. However, with advances in wireless technologies and cellular infrastructure, this challenge may be problematic in the long term (5-7 years).
With the mobility of the larger number of connected ‘things’, a significant number of security concerns arise. Although security issues in networking infrastructure have been largely addressed over the years, issues still remain in other technologies, such as cloud computing, where a large amount of data is collected and stored from billions of devices. The heterogeneity of the entire system further complicates security concerns, as certain devices may require a higher degree of encryption than others. Privacy needs to be maintained in human-device interaction and the confidentiality of shared organisational data must be protected. Technologies revolving around access control and restricted use of data are being utilised to solve this problem.
The idea of being ubiquitously connected through every device may sound appealing to a small group of people; however, the masses are still sceptical about the practicality of IoT. Socially it is still unacceptable to large groups of people that everything in their surrounding should be connected. Several educational approaches are being considered in order to publicise the benefits of IoT to society at large. This challenge is also linked to the technical challenge of privacy issues. Once the privacy and anonymity challenges are addressed the technical advances, such as access control and encryption, it may be easier to ensure wider social acceptance of IoT.