An IoT device is only as good as its connection.
Intelligent devices already outnumber the 7 billion people living on our planet, and this technical tsunami is nowhere near its crest. Gartner recently estimated that the Internet of Things (IoT) will grow to a staggering 25 billion by 2020. IDC predicts that by 2020 the global IoT market will be worth $1.7 trillion.
But it’s not the “things” that matter in the IoT—it’s connectivity. IoT devices are just scraps of silicon, plastic and metal if they can’t connect to the databases that will harvest the information they provide. It is the connection that will allow your car to book its own repair service, your home to run on auto-pilot, or your cousin halfway around the world to race you on your weekend bike ride.
Connectivity: Why WiFi Is Key
Wi-Fi is now embedded in 68 percent of all consumer devices sold in the U.S. and 57 percent of all consumer devices worldwide, according to a report from Strategy Analytics, The report also predicts the number of Wi-Fi enabled devices to grow to more than 7 billion by 2017. Even for more traditional, non-wearable devices, wired connectivity is no longer the default; in fact, many new laptops don’t include an Ethernet port.
Wi-Fi is popular with consumers and businesses alike because it’s less expensive than 3G/4G services. Manufacturers usually prefer it, too, for various reasons:Ethernet and other wired solutions are ungainly and impractical. Cellular connectivity is pointless for stationary devices and too power-hungry for wearables. Bluetooth remains inconsistent, and short-range and proprietary solutions are costly to device manufacturers, limiting the true potential of the IoT.
But there are a few glitches in today’s IoT. Though there are tens-of-millions of Wi-Fi hotspots globally, if you’re on vacation and want to tell your Internet-enabled home central heating system about a change of plan, you could well find that you can’t access reliable and secure Wi-Fi connectivity. And you’re back to the old-fashioned approach of calling a neighbor to adjust your heating system. And while the two of you are on the phone, chances are you’ll commiserate about how IoT device manufacturers ought to offer unlimited and frictionless Wi-Fi services standard with their products. Because ultimately, any IoT device is only as good as the connectivity it supports.
On a business scale, this is even more evident. Accenture reported that 89 percent of business leaders think Big Data will revolutionize business operations on the level that the Internet did. But gathering that data and storing it is only a small piece of that puzzle. Delivering services that can aggregate and analyze these mass quantities of data in a way that informs decision making in real-time is the true challenge. Continuous, reliable connectivity is core to this. Imagine receiving a notification on your mobile device about a sale at a store that was five freeway exits ago? That marketing department has just wasted ad spend on a consumer that’s not likely to buy. Or using a tablet at an important sales meeting to show projections from a cloud-based app, only to find that the app can’t optimize to the connection available?
To make the most out of the IoT opportunity, manufacturers will need to plan for ubiquitous, secure and hassle-free Wi-Fi service as standard with both hardware and software products. Even for a stationary device, global connectivity is a requirement, for it allows the manufacturer to provide only a single interface to insure connectivity in any geography where their devices are shipped.
And of course for mobile and wearable devices in the IoT, manufacturers should be building self-sensing devices that automatically connect to and access any type of Wi-Fi as a standard feature. Users shouldn’t need to worry about Wi-Fi data or device limits; instead, they should be able to use it in the same way they use cellular today. And given the use-anywhere requirement of IoT devices, the industry needs common Wi-Fi connectivity standards that ensure IoT devices can function from country to country.
Right now, customers are willing to overlook some shortcomings in connectivity because of the novelty of the IoT. But novelty wears off quickly, and what is unique today is annoying tomorrow and the subject of social media rants. To protect their businesses and their brands, manufacturers should be requesting standards to enable devices to invisibly connect to a global Wi-Fi network. And big network providers and major manufacturers of IoT devices should start positioning themselves to offer seamless service, coming together to create standards for Wi-Fi that operates worldwide. After all, consumers and businesses buying IoT devices aren’t buying software or the “things”—they are buying applications, services, and experiences.
It’s up to every company in the IoT space—device manufacturers, network providers, and technology platform players—to work together to ensure that those “things” deliver by acting as reliable Wi-Fi-enabled access points to services and information flowing through the Internet. The IoT needs its own dial tone.
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