The Internet of Things - how to make it real

The phrase "Internet of Things" - or IoT - means nothing to most people, and those in the know would probably call it something far geekier.

18 October 2016

From when British entrepreneur Kevin Ashton first coined the term in 1999, it has evolved to mean the introduction of myriad of connectivity technologies, sensors, machine learning and embedded systems all working together. But is it really just marketing terminology gone mad?

To me (a self-confessed geek) it is awesome. This is about every electronic device having the ability to talk to every other electronic device over the internet. The possibilities this could open up for both consumers and businesses alike are endless.

Take my IoT morning (brace yourselves)…

  • I set the alarm on my phone to wake me in the morning
  • My phone then tells my coffee maker what time I am getting up
  • My coffee maker starts making my coffee exactly 7 minutes before that, because I have told it I like my coffee to cool slightly before I drink it
  • My coffee maker has already checked with my larder that I have coffee. I do, but only enough for today's cup. To Amazon!
  • My larder checks with Amazon and determines that a standard delivery of my coffee won't arrive in time for tomorrow morning, so decides to order this on a drone delivery
  • The coffee machine checks with the fridge
  • Fridge has milk – good! Fridge reports that milk is slightly warmer than I like it, and uses the time to boost the cooling to ensure the milk is exactly 8.333333°C
  • My shower has also been informed by my phone that I've woken up, and has switched on and got to my pre-set temperature just in time for me to walk in
  • My coffee ready, I walk downstairs and pour the perfect brew before pouring my perfect milk into it (I do need some involvement!)
  • Turns out it's cold today, so my phone has contacted my car and asked it to start the engine to warm the car and defrost the windows. I'll be ready to drive away as soon as I have finished my coffee...which I have recorded on my personal profile as taking exactly 9 minutes.
  • This is my Internet of Things, and only accounts for the few minutes before I leave the house to go to work in the morning.

    Previously we had to cope with 4.2 billion IP addresses which, shared around amongst a global population of 7.4 billion, didn’t go very far. But the newest internet protocol IPv6 has taken us 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 (i.e. 340 undecillion) IP addresses - enough for every atom in the human body to have its own IP address. So this is now more than enough for everyone to have a connected coffee machine, larder, car, fridge, washing machine and phone.

    The Managed Service Provider Opportunity

    IoT is cool for a consumer, but what does this mean for a Managed Service Provider? Consider a vending machine provider who has 20,000 vending machines around the country. Currently the only way he has to tell if he needs to re-stock a vending machine is to do it the old-fashioned way; send someone to check. Now imagine that each vending machine has a cost-effective DSL connection, and this constantly reports back to the stock system exactly how many units it has. The stock system can look for trends, analyse stock, and use “Just in Time” methodology to ensure each machine receives its stock when it needs it with fewer visits.

    This sounds good, but the vending company is becoming reliant on this now. It's a great solution and is saving said vending company pots of cash, but it is actually so vital now that outage on a DSL service will cause issues.

    The Internet of Things answer

    Resilience and reliability is the answer. When systems become critical we can start to layer additional technology on top to provide technology and media diversity to ensure business continuation. One way to achieve this may be to add private 3G or 4G backup connections so that our backup traffic can takes a completely diverse route back to the datacentre. As a Managed Service Provider we can also add other services such as satellite and Ethernet over Fibre; which all add value to what originally looked to be a simple DSL solution. This is a really great opportunity to embrace what we can do in this changing landscape and yes, margins may be pushed on this mass scale, but the scale certainly makes it worth the effort.

    Over and out – my washing machine just texted me to say I need to put the laundry out because it’s a sunny day and it should dry in approximately 2.5 hours.

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    Rob Quirke
    Pre-Sales Technical Consultant

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