Three #needtoknowmobile tips for taking on the Internet of Things

IoT Picture GreenAt The Mobile Academy this year, we won’t just be taking a look at what’s currently happening in the world of mobile. To help you stay ahead of the mobile world, we’ll be running sessions on topics likely to dominate the sector in the coming years.

One of those topics is the Internet of Things (IoT for short). Encompassing everything from home light sensors to complex safety control systems, it could provide an environment in which the physical world around us is revolutionised by digital additions.

But what do you need to know about the IoT? We caught up with Stuart Revell, who’ll teach the session on it, and we think these are the three things you’ve got to know about the IoT.

1) What the Internet of Things is

It may seem like an obvious place to start, but actually understanding what the Internet of Things is will be essential to making the most of it.

As with many technologies that are new and appear transformative, there is clear interest in the field. “Everyone is interested in the IoT in the way people were interested in mobile Apps in 2008” Stuart explains.

But actually defining what it is while the IoT evolves is difficult. In short, the Internet of Things is the encompassing term for everything that is helping to drive machine to machine and machine to human digital interactions in the physical world.

That includes the devices themselves, which boast sensors, actuators and communications technology to allow them to be monitored and operated remotely. It includes the hardware and software that’ll enable this to happen. And it includes the platforms and infrastructure that helps to support, distribute and maintain the IoT.

And there will be two main categories of application that’ll drive the IoT. The first is non-critical applications, such as light switches and smart thermostats, which will improve the quality of life without requiring constant monitoring in case of a failure.

Then there are the critical applications, which could significantly help us but would need careful control to ensure there isn’t a failure. Stuart told us some examples, “Car sensors used to monitor the position of other traffic is a critical application, while anything involving the transmission and use of sensitive data would also fall into this category”.

The IoT is, therefore, still being defined. But understanding the basic construction and definitions is a big step to making sense of it.

2) Why fragmentation is likely to be the Internet of Things’ biggest challenge

Even at this early stage in the Internet of Things’ history, one big problem is likely to emerge over all others: fragmentation.

It’s true to some extent that all early technologies face problems with fragmentation. As Stuart explained to us, the mobile software market faced a similar problem with developers having to providing multiple versions.

“A good analogy is the App market. It wasn’t until someone took the smartphone and abstracted the complexity and provided common approaches to software development that they could take it globally.”

And the IoT is receiving significant love from the established mobile market players to resolve this problem. Apple, Google and Samsung have each made plays in the sector, as they attempt to create a platform to repeat the growth of the App market.

However, the IoT suffers more from fragmentation problems than apps because it transcends digital and the physical world.

As it exists in the physical world, it is hampered by local infrastructure on a level far deeper than a national level. Selling a solution to, say, one thermostat provider won’t mean you can do a deal with another in the same locale. And that’s before you begin considering how an IoT device made in China might differ to one made in Sweden or India.

This presents a conundrum for anyone wanting to enter the IoT market. “If you want to make an early intervention into the market, you have to make choices but also make sure that you don’t locked into a solution which lacks flexibility to adapt and evolve as the eco-system matures”, Stuart told us.

And what that basically means is that you will have to commit to backing someone without getting caught out if fragmentation does consolidate in a way you don’t expect it to. Easy, eh?

3) How to overcome the challenge of fragmentation with partners

Anyone thinking of creating an out of the box global solution for any Internet of Thing product or service is, in Stuart’s words, “dreaming”. But that doesn’t mean that a savvy company can’t go about constructing partnerships to help overcome this problem.

At a higher level, working with the big players such as Apple and Google will help to give you coverage. But by working with local providers and partners, you can slowly begin to build up a coverage of what Stuart explained would need to be about 50-60% of the world to begin to turn your solution global.

“The only way you can do this is with co-creation of multiple partners to work across the different silos of business, service and technologies” Stuart told us. The sheer scale of the IoT blank canvas means it is worth aiming for. “If you’re working with critical solutions on social economic issues such as ageing population, energy and transport, those are always going to present opportunities. You need to do more with less money, so technology is needed to solve the problem”.

So if you’re looking to solve one of those big universal problems, the IoT really does present an opportunity. The key then is to learn how you can begin to think about providing a solution that works as well for Apple aficionados in America as it does for Korean consumers using their Samsung devices.

Stuart’s session on the Internet of Things at The Mobile Academy will explore in detail what it is, what’s interesting about it, the technology and business models that are emerging to support it and an interactive session to explain the topologies and architecture of it.

You can secure your place at The Mobile Academy, which starts on the 1st October here.