With the promise of every major technology trend (big data, analytics, cloud, etc.), there’s always a wave of products and solutions to deliver on said promise. But the one glaring omission from this list is the Internet of Things (IoT). While there are already connected devices and “wearables” out on the market, we have yet to see a proliferation of solutions that are creating an infrastructure revolution in the same vein as say, cloud computing.
I’m reminded of this blog post from Claus Hetting, one of the Wi-Fi industry’s most influential thought leaders, in which he discusses the fact that there are no real-world examples of the “smart cities” that were promised by the IoT – or, more likely, by marketing departments discussing the IoT. We have heard of nothing of this supposed “IoT revolution” and, in my opinion, that’s not surprising.
The Reality of the IoT
It’s my belief that the design of the IoT means the true innovations and game-changing events won’t be the kind of things that grab attention or make headlines. The IoT revolution will happen in the background, outside of the news cycle and invisible to the public eye. This will be the case because the IoT will have to rely on invisible, seamless connections to function. Because of the intricacies of an IoT network and the need for instantaneous connection, the vast majority of the devices that will be making the IoT feasible will be computer chips without an interface that makes it accessible to a user, often referred to as a “headless” device. These won’t just be “smart” refrigerators and coffee makers, but industrial machines, medical equipment, cloud provider data centers, etc.
The Need for Connectivity
These headless devices will bring challenges of their own, and perhaps the biggest of those challenges will be connectivity. The devices will need to sense a network and automatically connect to that network without having a human involved. Right now, telcos such as AT&T insist that cellular networks will be the way to go. But this connectivity quickly will become too much for cellular networks to handle as millions of devices come online. Furthermore, cellular is expensive compared with other connectivity methods. Imagine if every wearable required a monthly cellular connectivity bill! And while enhanced cellular standards such as LTE and 5G are growing in availability, that growth is not nearly as quick as the growth of Wi-Fi hotspot availability. According to Republic Wireless, it’s estimated that the number of global Wi-Fi hotspots will reach 340 million by 2018, which is one hotspot for every 20 people.
The biggest selling point of Wi-Fi over cellular for IoT is the fact that Wi-Fi is a global standard. Users can connect to Wi-Fi via any device in any country where Wi-Fi enabled. Meanwhile, cellular standards change from country to country and only bring connection with exorbitant roaming charges or SIM card changes. Using Wi-Fi, manufacturers could market their IoT products globally without having to change specifications.
Already, the Wi-Fi industry is anticipating this need. In fact, the Wi-Fi Alliance, the non-profit industry association of companies enabling Wi-Fi, created a new class of membership for companies that are creating connected devices. By my estimates, one day we will see 25 billion low-power, low-cost devices permeate our day-to-day activities and deliver immediate benefits for operators, device manufacturers, and consumers.
But what will it take to make this happen? The missing link is technology and a Wi-Fi platform that actually strings these disparate hotspots together. Organizations in all industries will need ubiquitous access to a network that’s large enough and cost-effective enough to work at a global scale. And the underlying technology will require the devices to sense and connect themselves automatically to the network.
For this quiet revolution to take place, there is one final step. The IoT will happen as analysts and technologists envision it only when it can deliver both enterprise and consumer value, as opposed to novelty. What spurred the cloud and big data revolutions was that the enterprise ROI of both was immediately apparent. When enterprises, and not only consumers, can access data, insights, and ROI from connected devices, this quiet revolution will pick up speed. And while we won’t notice it when it happens, we will notice the results.
Gary A. Griffiths is president and Chief Executive Officer of iPass Inc. Griffiths’ initiative is to drive Wi-Fi adoption in iPass’ Open Mobile applications to accelerate the company’s growth. Previously a member of iPass’ Board of Directors, Griffiths was also co-founder and CEO of Trapit, Inc., a leading provider of SaaS-based applications for sales and marketing automation.
A 35-year veteran of the high-tech industry, Griffiths has led some of the Web’s most innovative companies. He has held leadership positions at a number of large and prominent software companies. Prior to founding Trapit, he was president of products and operations at WebEx, acquired for $3B by Cisco Systems, Inc. Griffiths also was co-founder and Chief Executive Officer at Everdream Corporation, a SaaS company, from 1999 to 2005, as well as Chief Executive Officer at HEAT.net from 1996 until its acquisition by Sega, Inc. in 1999.
In addition, Griffiths has extensive experience with overseeing financial and accounting matters and strategic initiatives at small technology companies. Griffiths currently serves on the board of directors of Silicon Graphics International Corp. (NASDAQ: SGI), and Janrain, Inc., a customer identity management SaaS company.
Griffiths holds a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy, as well as a Master of Science in business administration from the George Washington University School of Business.
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