High-tech folks are no longer talking in a bubble when they throw around terms like the Internet of Things (IoT) or machine-to-machine connectivity.
The idea of having 50 billion connected devices by 2020 has captured the interest of a parallel industry — city governments and those who make cities run efficiently.
The IoT conversation debuted at a panel session at the Smart City Expo World Congress, held in November in Barcelona, and cross-industry experts talked about the rise of IoT and how it fits into smart city development.
“There's an interesting opportunity in the area of smart cities,” said Donald Clark, vice president and Schneider Fellow at Schneider Electric, which specializes in energy management. “But, connectivity is not the only thing needed for IoT. IoT must also include fit-for-purpose functionality, and must be managed on a large scale and in real-time.”
Particularly, city governments are now looking for ways to create intelligent and efficient transportation, energy, lightning systems, provide better services to its citizens, improve the city's safety and security, and interconnect different function areas.
However, cities, like companies in most industries, have long run these types of operations in silos, said Jean-Louis Massaut, director of Smart+Connected Communities at Cisco Systems International BV.
Advances in sensor, networking architecture, communications, and cloud-based data-sharing technology have helped shine a bright spotlight on the needs of changing cities. Today, new tools and processes “create mobility information and applications that are useful to cities,” Massaut said to a standing-room only crowd.
There are a few key trends on the horizon as the IoT and smart city expansion crossover and as more cities order, use, and understand the M2M IT inherent in running these platforms, all of which could cause a ripple effect in the electronics design and supply chains:
- Solution-as-a-service (SaaS) capabilities
- Big and open data analytics
- Infrastructure management
- Fog computing
- Multi-service sensor nodes
“Cities interested in becoming smart cities have huge problems to solve. Those problems may have to do with mobility, transportation, security, or safety,” Massaut told EBN after the panel discussion. “But the Internet of Things is not just about things. Smart cities are things, people, data, and processes.”
And, there is no one-size-fits-all solution just yet. “We take the best of what we can find in the market, we take devices, software, and systems existing in the market, and incorporate it in our ecosystem, and offer it on the cloud as a managed service,” Massaut said.
One such existing technology that might soon garner more attention — and may come up in other discussions at the upcoming Mobile World Congress, the mobile industry's marquee event, in March — is an IoT-specific network, something being championed by Abertis Telecom and SIGFOX.
Claiming to be the world's only dedicated Internet of Things network, the companies announced a partnership last February to deploy nationwide in Spain; 1,200 sites have been deployed to date, said Carlos Yubero, strategic marketing manager at Abertis.
The SIGFOX network offers a two-way connectivity solution, tailor-made for IoT, the companies said in a statement.
On another level, much of the IoT conversation continues around the three I's — instrumented, interconnected, and intelligence, said Michael Dixon, general manager of IBM's Global Smarter Cities Business. On the instrumented side, most devices being brought to market today could be generating data that will feed into the IoT trend. However, the data won't mean much if it's not interconnected to other devices or networks that can do something with the data. Intelligence, or analytics, is vital, too, in order to create greater value, he told EBN.
“Today, we're talking about how this applies to smart cities, but you can see how the same issues will affect the supply chain and other industries,” Dixon said. The ability to do real-time monitoring of “what happened” and predictive modeling of “what could happen” is the way cities, companies, and industries will evolve the IoT landscape.
Given the momentum evident at the conference, smart cities may prove to be a sector worth putting on your IT development roadmap. If nothing else, it's another layer in the always-on connectivity push we see from the tech world.