This tech wave is coming, say experts, but many opportunities will be in home automation and mobile medicine, outside of system builders’ comfort zones.
By Hank Hogan
August 15, 2013
The Internet is about to get bigger, and adventurous system builders could profit. Some of the money will come from sales of traditional equipment, such as servers, and some may involve work in new areas, such as home automation and mobile medicine. What’s more, builders will have to act soon to stay ahead of this tech wave.
The name of the technology juggernaut is the Internet of Things, also known as the Internet of Everything, which reflects the all-inclusive nature of the network, says ABI Research Practice Director Peter Cooney. “We’re including things, devices and so on, but we’re also looking at people and animals.” Cooney clarifies it this way: “You’re still looking at devices and such, but you might look at implantable devices. A human, for example, may have a number of implantable devices.”
Today there are roughly 10 billion connected devices, according to Cooney, including PCs, tablets, and smartphones. Such hub devices are the majority of the network and market today, but by 2020 the number of connected devices is expected to triple, with most of the growth in sensors and other edge-of-network elements. Eventually there could be hundreds of billions of connected devices.
The Internet of Everything is just getting started, but there are examples of it today. One is self-service kiosks; another is self-serve checkout stations, which are preferred by 52 percent of consumers globally, according to survey results released in June by networking giant Cisco Systems Inc. Other examples include building and home automation, the latter of which is well known to Travis Jordan, a partner at AV Connect of Austin, Texas. The company’s focus is home theater sales and installation, but it’s also an integrator of home automation solutions.
One of the lessons Jordan has learned is that a sound infrastructure is the key to a better customer experience and fewer service calls. And the process begins with the router. “We rip out any kind of junk router. We put in a small business router, something you might find in a hotel,” Jordan says.
His company also uses as much hard wiring as possible and assigns every node a static address. Such steps are taken because they reduce the chance that something will go wrong, such as a failure due to dynamic address assignment. The goal is to create very reliable two-way communication between a controlling processor and a variety of devices and sensors.
The process Jordan follows illustrates an important point about the Internet of Everything: Infrastructure has to be more robust than it is today because the demands on it will be greater. And that provides opportunities for sales, installation, and service for custom builders and integrators.
THE INTERNET OF MOBILE HEALTH
Mobile health is a current example of the Internet of Everything. Smartphones and other mobile devices are the first line of defense in patient care, thanks to a combination of broadband connectivity, a camera or other sensor, and local processing power.
One application might be to determine whether or not a child needs to see a doctor, says Tom Furness. A professor of engineering at the University of Washington, Furness is also a senior scientific adviser for Visualant Inc. of Seattle, a company that provides color-based identification and diagnostic solutions. (Visualant has entered the $10 million global contest sponsored by Qualcomm to develop something akin to Star Trek’s tricorder.)
According to Furness, a properly equipped smartphone and access to a database could provide a preliminary diagnosis of a child’s skin condition, for example. If the device indicated the rash was likely measles, a parent might be directed to take the child to a doctor. Other rashes might be deemed harmless.
For system builders, mobile health will offer database and server revenue opportunities, Furness says. He also predicts there will be demand for sensors and bandwidth. All in all, it will be a plus, but not in traditional system builder and information technology areas.
Of mobile health, Furness says, “It will be a boon for the IT industry. But it’s not going to be necessarily selling a lot more PCs.”