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The missing pieces of Internet of Things

The race is on. Internet of Things (IoT) is the new buzz word. Similar to Big Data, where “everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, and everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it…” (quote by Dan Ariely)

Internet of Things is something we have been doing for a long time with sensors – the only difference today is that the size of computers and sensors, modularity of devices for easy prototyping, offloading data processing to the cloud, and most importantly the sudden boost in wireless internet capabilities across the world due to the proliferation of smartphones.

Where is my Internet?


As its name suggests, the foundation of making Internet of Things work is the internet connectivity. IoT devices today depend on a gateway, usually a smartphone or a router, to access the Internet. There has been several work around making wireless a standard for low powered devices like these. Z-wave, ZigBee, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and WiFi are some ways to get your devices into the Internet.

However, the only Internet connections that are available extensively are mobile 3G or 4G networks. This makes it still fairly expensive to integrate the chips into devices. It is currently in the Telco’s’ favour to device a new IoT wireless standard to deploy across the country. In return opening up a completely new revenue stream to drive the “Smart Nation”, “Connected Cities” and “Ubiquitous Connectivity” initiatives in order to enable seamless connectivity between devices (machine to machine or commonly known as ‘m2m’) and device to person for realtime feedback.

I took 10,000 steps today. Now what?


The popularity of wearable technology has vastly increased over the years. With the constant improvement of these devices, it is no wonder why many greatly appreciates its existence. However, these devices have been capturing so much data, yet most of its data gets ignored and becomes obsolete. Capturing data is the easy bit, however interpreting it and making sense of these data and creating value for the customers is no mean feat. According to IBM, 90% of the data generated by these devices are never analysed or acted upon, and 60% of these data already lose their value within the first few milliseconds after their generation if they are not used directly.

Being able to stream data efficiently and analyse in real-time will hopefully give rise to its value for the customers. This in turn will differentiate all IoT devices, wearables or M2M devices that has been created today from just a data capturing device to being able to improve productivity, an individual’s life, or predict and automate efficiently.

Security is a concern, when lives are at stake


With the advancement in technology for self-driving cars, the importance of security between devices and the internet could prevent disastrous consequences through malicious intents. Just recently, a popular wireless protocol, ZigBee, was discovered to be vulnerable to intrusion.

The huge challenge of securing Internet of Things is the end user is not interested in the hassle of setting up anything, or capable of handling the security complexities of these connected devices. One technology that could potentially solve the trust and data security issue is Blockchain. Used as the backbone of Bitcoin with the fundamental idea of “trust no one”, each device can become a node in a Blockchain which forms a trust-less environment.

Earlier in 2015, IBM collaborated with Samsung to unveil a proof of concept, ADEPT. It is a Blockchain powered decentralised backbone for Internet of Things. This showed the possibility of a secured transaction between devices and the cloud in a trust-less environment.

Software Engineers vs Hardware Engineers

IBM IoT Foundation

A software engineer differs greatly from a hardware engineer. You cannot expect them to be able to perform the same tasks with ease. Communication between hardware and software is not as easy as it sounds. A bridge needs to be created to act as the message broker to the application. MQTT is a proven technology for sending messages that are guaranteed to be delivered, and HTTP can be used for messages that do not need guaranteed delivery.

As long as a message contract has been agreed upon between the software engineer and hardware engineer, time can be saved building both hardware and software concurrently with “mocked” data to start analysing and testing the value creation. In theory, this works well when developing a solution, however the changes throughout the development becomes significant enough that it affects drastically on both ends.

There are many solutions like this out there to simplify the process of development and communication between device to the cloud, like IBM IoT Foundation, Microsoft Azure IoT Suite, Amazon AWS IoT, and Google Cloud Pub/Sub services. However, it still requires the software engineer to design the layers properly in order to adapt to changes throughout the development phase.

What’s next?

Internet of Things is not just limited to consumer devices, although that gets the most media attention. More importantly various industries that was once thought stagnant can become a huge market for innovation and disruption.

It is an exciting time right now to envision and influence the next 5 to 10 years through Internet of Things. There is a huge market opportunity to redefine the way every industry works. Industries like agriculture, fishing, automobiles and manufacturing can benefit from these sensors and devices, capturing data and predicting to increase yield, detect potential faults before it happens, and even saving lives.

We are in the early stages of the next technological revolution since the Age of Industrialization.

Welcome to the Internet of Things.

About Justin Lee

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One comment

  1. I like what you have written. The speed at which IoT gets inducted in our day to day life would depend largely on how quickly these platform providers are able to make the technology usable and convenient.

    Developer interest and consumer awareness would be the key in my opinion.

    Any comments on how the Amazons and Microsofts can expedite this process?

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