What the ‘Internet of Things’ means for business

Even before CES 2014 back in January, the blogosphere was talking about the Internet of Things, without pausing to think about what an internet of things would look like or do.

At CES, there were any number of “What were they thinking?” moments with products that had good intentions, but delivered….actually, nobody’s sure what they delivered aside from the knowledge that you could stream Pandora on your fridge whilst raiding the leftover Popeye’s fried chicken for a midnight snack. As the internet goes in new directions, it ceases to be a place where people go, and has evolved into something that goes with us, much like the computer has evolved from a box on a desk in a room, into laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

Internet Evolution and Revolution

From its origins as ARPANET and Usenet, to the revolution of AOL and flat-rate dial-up, the internet has evolved in ways surprising to those who have seen most of the progression in real time; many now carry smartphones with more processor power, RAM, and storage than their first personal computers.

As with evolutionary processes, the scope is apparent only in hindsight, but the revolutionary force in communication and commerce platforms such as Shopify is exploding even as governments strive to keep up and older business models less nimble and adaptive try to contain the damages. The internet is now a part of daily life, carried in backpacks, purses, briefcases, and pockets, consulted and accessed multiple times per day for work, leisure, and even daily chores such as starting the Roomba.

While the IoT (Internet of Things) phenomenon seems to have rolled up out of nowhere, the reality is that the IoT has been on the radar of the tech world for a lot longer than it’s been a buzzword. As defined by Cisco Systems (below), the IoT is simply a network of physical objects containing embedded technology, accessed via the internet, that are capable of interacting with their own internal processes or the external world around them, and communicating those interactions.

While the ramifications for industries such as mining, oil and gas, medical devices, transportation, and manufacturing seem obvious, it’s the everyday users that will drive the less obvious progressions of technology as they adopt, adapt, and incorporate the IoT into their lives.

Trade Shows and Trade Offs

In 2014, Palo Alto hosted the Internet of Things World Event, with a rock-star lineup of speakers featuring people like Quazir Hassonjee, VP of innovation for Adidas Wearable Sports Electronics and Errett Kroeter, director of Global Industry and Brand Marketing for Bluetooth SIG.

The speakers were from all areas of IoT, from Kia Automotive, to the London City Airport, and all of them were seeking ways to integrate the IoT into better-run, smarter spaces for living and working. Additionally, MIT will host its fourth International Conference on the Internet of Things in October of 2014. CTIA hosts Super Mobility Week in September in Las Vegas. The shows related to mobile products now showcase not only the phone of the month, but also tablets, POS systems, Smartwatches, and Smart home products such as Google’s recently acquired Nest thermostat (below), and the cloud-based data industry that makes the oceans of data and mountains of stuff into a coherent map of facts, figures, and diagrams.

However, with the data comes the tradeoff, and the question of who that data belongs to, and who uses it for what purposes. If, as the techworld heralds the IoT, then some of these questions must override the fascination with the latest shiny objects and dizzying data streams. Tablet and smartphone ubiquity is the least of it when one is speaking of connected wearables, connected medical devices, connected televisions, and connected cars.

Business Insider projects the use of such devices will soar from millions of such items in use now, to billions in a scant four years. Ethical questions of governance and fair use of data have thus far gone unanswered in light of security breaches, and have been unasked by the venture capital community – or if asked and answered, those answers remain uncommunicated to the consumer at large.

Whose Internet is It Anyway?

The IoT takes place against a backdrop over who owns the Internet. In the US, net neutrality is under heavy fire from the cable industry as they seek to create a faster Internet for certain people, and a slower internet for those who don’t. The tech sector pushes back by pointing out that such a system would stifle the next Google, Facebook, or Apple, and that a wide open internet benefits everyone – except maybe ossified legacy industries trying to legislate themselves a monopoly in all but name.

If the internet is declared a public utility such as landline phone service, gas, and power – as a recent filing in California seeks to do – the ball could be in a whole new court, as tech players step in to make their own branded broadband wireless networks a public utility instead.

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