The Internet of Things has the potential to change our entire society. All the participants in the round-table discussion agree. Their views differ only on the question of how the breakthrough can be achieved and the widest possible circle of users attracted.
Previously we were only capable of interacting with data via a few interfaces such as smartphones, PCs or tablets,” comments Rafi Haladjian, proprietor of the sen.se corporation, “everything else in the environment was ‘dumb’; there was no interaction to record data and knowledge.” That is now changing with the Internet of Things: Extensive data recorded by a wide variety of different things forms the basis for comprehensive knowledge. That knowledge extends well beyond the information which can currently be processed and delivered by computers and smartphones. “What we are already able to observe today is that the environment itself is becoming intelligent,” states IBM Technical Sales Director Matthias Dietel. In fact, the term “Internet of Things” has itself already been essentially superseded, as Bernd Heinrichs, Managing Director “Internet of Everything” at Cisco, explains: “It’s about more than just interconnecting things via traditional interfaces.” So the round-table participants prefer to talk about an “Internet of Everything”.
Systems are becoming intelligent
Systems include “things” as well as intelligent processes, as Heinrichs continues: “That means the collected data is not just transmitted, but filtered. Only the relevant information is delivered, to the right people or right device, at the right time and place.” This then also enables automatic functions, meaning that devices make decisions without requiring any human involvement. “The Internet of Things also includes applications by which we can switch on the lights using a smartphone,” Haladjian reports. “But the intelligence in the system is human; it is the human who still decides whether to switch on the lights or not. Of more interest are systems which develop their own behaviour and do things which I, as the user, would not even think of – that is the game-changing part of the Internet of Things.”
Low-cost technology available to all is the key
Such systems are based on a wide variety of electronic devices: sensors, microprocessors, power supply and communication modules. Those technologies already exist today, as Karim Khebere, Technical Director EMEA at EBV Elektronik, affirms: “The technology has to be available to everyone however. We must ensure that start-ups, who might become the big global players of tomorrow, can enter into dialogue with the manufacturers of the technology. Because the Internet of Things can only work if it is adopted by the market across a broad front.” For this to happen, however, it is also important that the technology should be low-cost, as Rafi Haladjian stresses: “If price trends in Bluetooth or Wi-Fi develop similarly to the price of microprocessors, for example, everyone will be interconnecting their products.”
The advantages must be communicated more effectively
Another key factor in the spread of the Internet of Things, however, is the question of trust, as Rob van Kranenburg highlights: “The real questions are not about the technology, but about social acceptance. But sadly there is a great deal of mistrust regarding this technology at present because of the ongoing NSA affair.” Van Kranenburg, coordinator of the parties involved in IoT-Architecture (IoT-A), the biggest European Union project relating to the Internet of Things, believes politicians must also share a major portion of the blame for that mistrust: “Public servants do not really understand the Internet of Things. They talk about security and risk in a way which deters potential users. And at the same time, they are unable to explain the benefits for consumers.” Van Kranenburg would like to see technology experts taking more responsibility in this respect, to highlight the potential of the new technology among the public at large. “If we leave the job to the politicians, we will lose the Internet of Things.”
Maximum security is not essential -everywhere
Not all the round-table participants regard security as being so key to the success of the Internet of Things however. After all, it is already today possible to run critical applications in closed systems. Bernd Heinrichs explains: “It is then equivalent to the Virtual Private Networks which we are familiar with from the Internet. I only have to start thinking about security once I open up such a system to others.” Cisco is already today realising the Internet of Things as a restricted, self-contained system. In mid 2013 the company installed an IP-based system in a railway station, interlinking trains and signals and thousands of sensors and actuators. “The network is tightly secured, and permits no interaction with any consumers,” Heinrichs reports. “It is a self-contained Internet of Things in a highly secure embodiment.”
Also, there are many functions and applications which are simply not relevant in security terms. Rafi Haladjian cites as an example devices such as Wi-Fi-based personal scales or activity trackers which record the user’s movement through the day, counting steps and calculating calories burned for example: “NSA is not interested in whether I am overweight. There are plenty more examples of such non-critical applications.” So in considering security issues it is important to distinguish between business customers and private users, whose security needs are quite different. And not all applications demand the same high security. In view of this, Rob van Kranenburg suggests defining different security and privacy levels depending on use: “You could select a different security level when out shopping than at home for example.”
Users have to be won over
Yet for Rafi Haladjian the issue of security is more of a secondary concern in terms of the successful establishment of the Internet of Things; he wants to win people over to the benefits of the technology. He hopes that people will one day be just as ‘addicted’ to the functionality of the all-encompassing interconnected world as they already are to their smartphones and tablets. “The first stage in spreading the Internet of Things is that people no longer want to live without the capability of having everything to hand, and accessing almost anything. There then comes a stage in which people no longer want to do without the knowledge that the interconnected world provides.” The French entrepreneur sees the gateway to that world in small applications such as the activity tracker Fitbit. “Users will find it easier to overcome their inhibitions about the interconnected world if it’s on a small scale. They will then later also want to try out other applications using more data.” His recipe for success for the Internet of Things is to attract as many users as possible through “sexy” applications and ideas. Only once those users have accepted the technology and are willing to pay for connected devices and services will it be time to start thinking about the infrastructure. With regard to commercial and industrial customers, however, Bernd Heinrichs believes the primary arguments will be economic ones: “We are convinced that businesses can optimise their processes and cut costs by investing in the Internet of Things. It will enable companies worldwide to save billions of dollars.”
Even if businesses will be able to save a lot of money, Rob van Kranenburg thinks private customers have no motivation to commit to the Internet of Things: “Existing applications in that segment are just small-fry; no one is making much money from them. End-users do not yet see any need for the Internet of Things.” In his view, therefore, the Internet of Things should be driven from above. He sees a model in China: “Smartcards have been in use there for 15 years; they contain a chip which can be used to shop, to open the house door, or even to act as an ID. That is one way we might go in Europe too – an object such as a smart ID, utilising a shared platform.” Rob van Kranenburg sees that platform as the basis for a wider Internet of Things. Because then it would not just be a few tech geeks connecting to the network, but entire states, with millions – or in the case of China – billions of users. “If we do not have an all-encompassing, centrally controlled platform of that kind, I fear that we will have hundreds of thousands of different small networks.” He believes his goal of a smart society would then not be attainable.
… or bottom-up?
Rob van Kranenburg’s idea is rejected by the others around the round-table however: “A regulated Internet of Things, such as China is apparently looking to establish, will never work,” asserts Bernd Heinrichs. Rafi Haladjian also thinks its development will be more like that of the “normal” Internet: “It was not controlled by anyone, and emerged from different initiatives. What emerged was something which works.” And there are already plenty of initiatives, as Bernd Heinrichs reports: “In Silicon Valley, for example, start-ups with ideas relating to the Internet of Things are shooting out of the ground like mushrooms. They are not waiting for some platform.” Yet that is just where van Kranenburg sees the danger: “If we do not have a roadmap for the next 10 years, we will have hundreds of start-ups with hundreds of separate protocols for the Internet of Things.” He is supported in his argument by Matthias Dietel: “We have to have some control or guidance for it. We at least need to establish a few guidelines.” They don’t necessarily have to be issued by governments though. IBM, for example, sees itself as a technical integrator, linking the various players. The company’s Smarter Planet strategy is providing the necessary infrastructure. And Cisco also offers a similar platform: It is establishing a dedicated research and development department in Germany. “It is also intended to be an incubation centre for companies developing applications for the Internet of Things, with Cisco providing the platform,” Heinrichs explains. And suddenly it appears that the visions of Rob van Kranenburg and those of Heinrichs and Dietel are quite similar after all: “If Cisco would spread its platform a little farther, to include the consumer, then we would have a foundation. We need just 20 major players creating a coherent shared system to establish the basis for an all-encompassing Internet of Things.” In the industrial sphere, at least, that is even already happening, as Dietel emphasises: “Major corporations have already banded together under the Industry 4.0 umbrella to create a joint platform.” And finding a common language for the Internet of Things also does not really seem to be a problem, as Bernd Heinrichs explains: “All the protocols for the Internet of Things will be IPv6 based – even toothbrushes will use the next-generation Internet protocol.”
The world will change
“With an all-encompassing Internet of Things of such a kind, real time based decision-making processes would be possible which would call our entire political system into question,” asserts Rob van Kranenburg. “We would then no longer need lots of civil servants and politicians seeking to control society.” Matthias Dietel takes a similar view: “The Internet will become society’s operating system. A global village will emerge; it remains to be seen what role governments will play in it.” So the Internet of Things might lead to the old historical systems being fundamentally changed. “We believe that megacities will be the nation-states of the future,” states Bernd Heinrichs. “In 50 years we might even not have any countries any more.” But the Internet of Things not only means change for the established nation-states. Karim Khebere reminds the group of countries in Africa, Asia or South America: “The Internet of Things will drive their development such that they start catching up the industrialised nations much more rapidly. It is a phenomenon extending well beyond technology!”