The Internet of Things is a term used to describe Internet-enabled devices and the network they create through wireless connection. It was coined as far back as 1999, although the world we live in today would be unrecognisable to people living and working back then. Our phones, cars, fridges, and even our doorbells can now be connected to the internet.
All devices enmeshed in the Internet of Things can create and store data. By 2020 there will be billions of devices around the world that can connect to the internet. They’ll be part of a massive network that generates near-infinite amounts of data which can then be uploaded and analysed. Updates can even be downloaded to these devices, changing how they function. This degree of functionality is why the market is predicted to be worth trillions of dollars over the next decade.
5G will increase the speed at which these devices can operate, and may make the Internet of Things more attractive for investors. Over the next decade we will see the IoT expand to encompass all areas of private and professional life, changing healthcare, transportation, organisation, and efficiency.
One thing that will need to happen before the IoT is comprehensive is industry-wide standardisation. As different industry giants like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google strive to dominate the market, they’ll need to make sure their respective hubs are accessible by different devices as seamlessly as possible.
Currently much of the market is fragmented, spread over disparate systems that struggle to communicate with each other. However, over time we should see systems become more integrated, leading to complex networks of devices.
One of the major problems facing the internet of things is how susceptible some devices are to hacking. Anything connected to the internet can in theory by accessed by someone hacking into it. Once inside, a hacker could gain access to anything else in that network. With the advent of smart home systems, this cyber-crime could lead to real-world problems, like doors being unlocked remotely.
Because the internet extends over so many different spheres, hacks could impact public transport, and businesses, and even health services. Many of them have or will have IoT devices enabled to improve efficiency, and could be at serious risk in the event of a hack. This centralised architecture is one of the main criticisms of the internet of things, with some proposing a shift to blockchain technology to ensure a high-level of security.
Another issue that the internet of things raises is that of privacy. When virtually everything in your life is connected to the internet and collecting data about you, to what extent can you have a private life? Most companies technically ‘own’ all the data gathered by their products, as long as the user has agreed to the terms and conditions of use.
This opens up the issue of privacy: how much data is being kept by those companies, how secure is it, and where is it being sold on to? IoT companies will need to have a culture of transparency to ensure they have good relationships with the public.
However, these issues are being addressed by the industry, and will likely come under intense scrutiny over the coming years as the Internet of Things becomes more pervasive and integral to the smooth-running of society.