IoT – the next Cambrian explosion
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I attended the ARM TechCon in Santa Clara a couple of weeks ago. The thing I found myself thinking about the most, during the event and afterwards too, was the keynote presentation by Masayoshi Son (Softbank CEO). I was inspired by his vision of the future. He saw the development of the IoT as a new Cambrian explosion leading to trillions of connected objects in the coming 20 years. This was fantastic food for thought; but what is actually needed to enable such an amazing scale?

At its core, the basic idea of the IoT is quite simple. It’s all about connecting vast amounts of devices and utilizing the data in order to learn faster than was possible before, and to do things better. It holds a great potential in terms of improved efficiency and new services – in terms of making the world a better place.

One might even say, there isn’t very much new about the IoT – except the scale and speed. We have always been gathering, storing and analyzing data to learn and adjust our behavior accordingly. The key is the speed and the scale of the data acquisition that is enabled by the development of computing power and new connectivity solutions. That is what is new about the IoT.

If we break the trillions of devices down, it translates into billions of devices in every medium sized city around the world – each device communicating reliably, sharing a rather scarce spectrum. Each device needs to be installed, connected, activated, provisioned, authenticated, located, and sometimes managed throughout its lifetime.

A centralized communication scheme to manage and control the access of trillions of devices to the network is probably not possible. The massive scale imposes the need for massive decentralization. More and more decisions will be taken at the edge – by the devices themselves. The devices must be capable of autonomously accessing the network. The devices will therefore need to be extremely easy to install and self-configuring. They will need to constantly adapt to a changing environment, and their capabilities need to continuously evolve and improve. Hence, what is needed is a flexible over-the-air update system to ensure the solution evolves per the changing and growing business needs

At the same time, there will be a huge diversity of connected things ranging from nano-sensors to autonomous cars. The things will have to be extremely diverse in their behavior and interactions – simple sensors measuring temperature or humidity a few times a day; assets being tracked and sending localization data every few minutes; cameras analyzing complex video scenes in real time; bio-sensors measuring chemical interactions between micro-organisms; or autonomous robots sending MB/s data and requiring feedback loops within milliseconds.

The requirements for short range and backhaul connectivity, security, cloud data storage, and analytics will also be highly diverse. This diversity calls for a de-coupling of the multiple elements in the value chain to allow continuous development. The Cambrian explosion was a revolution because nature applied a merciless selection at all stages and only the species able to evolve, adapt and improve were able to survive. The same applies to the IoT explosion. A massive simplification of the architecture is needed – thin technology layers executing small tasks, but doing this in the best way possible and interacting with each-other through well-defined APIs. The technology providers will need to maintain, improve, innovate and update the existing solutions.

The diversity and continuous evolution within the IoT forces the specialized players in each segment to co-operate and think how best to interact with each other. It becomes more important to “fit-in” than to “lead”. This, in my opinion, is what ecosystems are all about.

Summary; what is needed to enable the IoT revolution?

  • Simplification and decentralization leads to large scale
  • Constant upgradeability maximizes the lifetime of the device
  • Specialization leads to functional value even within a diversified area
  • Same reliability for 10 devices or 10 M devices connected
  • Security to build trust

In nature things organize themselves in the most efficient, optimized and simple way. The things communicate making autonomous decisions based on the protocol which is optimized to fulfill the need as efficiently as possible – nothing more, nothing less. I believe we have a lot to learn from nature.

Youssef Kamel, Vice President, Business Development at Wirepas –