The IoT opportunity

Diverse organisations are realising that IoT could transform the way that they work. Christophe Fourtet, co-founder of Sigfox discusses the merits of merging the physical and digital worlds

The Internet of Things (IoT) spans a vast number of industries and use cases, ranging from individual devices to huge cross-platform deployments of embedded technologies and cloud systems, interconnecting in real-time. Linking this together are a combination of legacy and emerging communication protocols that enable sensors, devices and servers to communicate with each other in evermore interconnected ways.

Some IoT service providers and network operators have publicly released the specifications of their radio protocols for connected objects. The advantages of this, not only for the IoT community but for industry as well are far reaching. But the simple fact is that more people are likely to interact with the technology and ultimately, to integrate and benefit from it, if they have greater access and visibility, can develop a thorough understanding of the capabilities, and are able to experiment with different applications.

Much like Bluetooth technology met with resistance when it first emerged because business managers misunderstood its purpose and were wary that it might interfere with the big investments they'd made in GSM, the industrial community might shy away from evolving their business models and integrating IoT technology, if they don't fully understand it. However, when Ericsson decided to publicly open the Bluetooth certification and created a Special Interest Group, it was immediately able to accelerate the creation of solutions and integrated circuits because people could look at the system in a different way which allowed Bluetooth technology to be integrated into 3G mobile phones.

In a bid to establish a standard like Bluetooth that helps power IoT devices, apps and applications, the opening of radio specifications for connected objects is a so-called classic step in its establishment. By putting specifications in the public domain, network operators hope to allow open source implementations and create more opportunities for developers and manufacturers of connected objects, leading to a boom in the number of objects connected to our networks and a growing IoT ecosystem.

This will not only encourage B2B industries from supply chain and logistics through to agriculture to experiment, but more local or consumer-oriented use cases as well. It will also enable academic and research communities to gain a greater understanding of the technology, engage with it, and encourage the next generation of engineers to participate in the evolution of the protocols.

Opening up the protocols also makes the technology more discoverable. Large companies considering acquiring it will first put in place a group of experts to do their technical due diligence. This involves looking at the detail of what is available in the marketplace that meets the company's specifications. If a protocol isn't open, they are less likely to include it in their findings, putting that technology and possibly the organisation at a disadvantage.

IoT is not Facebook or Twitter. Yes, we are playing with emerging digital technologies and artificial intelligence but, at its core, it's about solving physical, day-to-day problems for customers in traditional industries - and there are millions of problems to solve that are all very different. They could be logistical or production problems, or security issues. Only by increasing the number and variety of people interacting with the technology can we discover what is truly possible. As with all experimentation there will be some casualties, but without it, the evolution of the IoT ecosystem will undoubtedly be too slow.

IoT is enabling the physical and digital worlds to merge. By strengthening and widening our community, more and more individuals and businesses will be able to acquire the data they need to optimise their processes at a low cost that promotes profit. NC