It’s been over a decade since the International Telecommunications Union published its first report on the Internet of Things (IoT) in 2005.
Since then we’ve had predictions of up to 50 billion connected devices appearing by 2020, while McKinsey & Co recently estimated the potential value of IoT as lying between US$3.9 trillion and $11.1 trillion per annum by 2025.
That’s a lot of money and a lot of devices. But at the end of 2015, it’s not unfair to ask ‘where the bloody hell are they?’
An obvious manifestation of IoT is wearables, which IDTechEx estimates is a market worth US$20 billion. Then there are the hundreds of personal and home-based devices on offer through crowdfunding services such as KickStarter and Indiegogo.
But when it comes to large-scale industrial deployments of IoT, production-grade implementations are scarce.
“IoT is overhyped,” is the conclusion of Alcatel-Lucent’s strategic marketing director and smart cities expert, Marc Jadoul.
“A lot of things are happening, but we are mixing so many different things it is very difficult to distinguish what is useful, what is revenue-generating, and what has a business case.”
That is not to say that IoT won’t play a more prominent role in the future. But getting there won’t be as easy as some market pundits suggest.
A significant barrier to IoT deployment has arisen through the sheer number of companies that have piled into the market, each bringing its own strategy, and in some cases, its own preferred set of standards.
This has created a bewildering landscape for would-be IoT implementers.
“We have to get rid of complexity, and that’s easier said than done,” Jadoul says.
“Software-defined networking would be a way to do it, as we move some things to the software layer. Another thing we need to do is get rid of application stovepipes, and try as much as possible to get to a horizontal application, where you a have a number of common APIs that can be used by different applications. It is the model of any device on any application on any network. And it is also easier said than done.”
The complexity surrounding IoT was noted by communications technology consultant, Geof Heydon while researching a 2015 report with co-author Frank Zeichner for the Communications Alliance, Enabling the Internet of Things for Australia.
“We counted something like 130 different standards for connecting sensors to networks,” Heydon says.
“Vendors say they are ‘standards compliant’, but they all talking about different standards in different environments and applications. So clients are hearing a different story from every major vendor, and what that translates to is, ‘clearly it isn’t mature yet.’”
These barriers have not prevented numerous Australian municipalities launching their own smart cities trials, and creating one of the most obvious manifestations of IoT at scale.
The City of Adelaide for instance is working with Cisco to deploy smart lighting and parking sensors in the city’s CBD along Pirie Street near Hindmarsh Square.
According to the city’s CIO, Peter Auhl, those sensors provide an opportunity to collate information regarding available parking spots and feed it back to the community.
“So instead of people having to work their way through the city and try and stumble across a parking spot, we’ll be able to direct them directly to a park,” Auhl says.
“A lot of the city’s congestion comes down to people trying to find card parking spaces, so there is a massive opportunity for us to increase the usability of city services and assets.”
Ninety parking sensors have been deployed in the pilot, each monitoring between four to six spaces. They can also alert drivers before their allotted time expires. Future possibilities include using the technology for metering and payment.
The initiative is part of an overall strategy that also saw Adelaide become one of the first Australian cities to deploy municipal Wi-Fi, in conjunction with iiNet and Cisco.
“We want to make sure that the experience is great, otherwise people will choose other areas of Adelaide to shop rather than coming into the city,” Auhl says.
“So it really is about creating a vibrant city. That is something I am extremely passionate about, making sure we do as much as we can to put people at the centre of everything we do.”
The lighting component of the project will gather information on how to more effectively illuminate the city and optimise energy usage.
“One of the clear outcomes that we will be looking at from this trial is having the lights be able to adjust the amount of luminance they produce,” Auhl says.
“The purpose of this pilot is to gather that information so that we can turn it into a formal business case, to look at what sort of opportunities that could arise.”
The City of Adelaide is not alone in its smart city ambitions, with numerous cities around the world also conducting trials. These projects will form part of the discussion at the inaugural Australian Smart Communities conference being held on the Sunshine Coast in March 2016.
Auhl says he is keen to share knowledge with other governments, to help them overcome challenges and accelerate the deployment of smart city projects.
“When you are using quite modern contemporary technologies there are always going to be initial issues,” Auhl says.
“We’ve got compliance and certification issues that we need to work our way through, down to making sure that the platforms are uniform so we can create a positive experience for our customers. It is pointless having many systems that are talking in different languages if you are really focused on that clean citizen experience.”
The City of Adelaide has also created a Smart City Studio. Auhl says this provides an opportunity to leverage information from the pilot projects together with additional information sets gathered from South Australia’s universities and state government departments.
“Data and information is really the heart of decision making, so our ability to leverage that information and give that back to customers is a huge point of difference for us,” Auhl says.
“Some of this data has huge benefits from an economic growth perspective also, so our ability to share some of this information with entrepreneurs and small startups, to get them to think about some of the challenges that we have from a city point of view, we see as a really valuable opportunity to look at how we increase usability of our beautiful city.
“So it is a really exciting time to be in my sector and to look at how we can use technology to have a positive impact on people’s lives. We really see this as a point of difference for us and are trying to use this to its full benefit to increase our economy.”
Next up: Industrial things
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