Making the right connection: IoT’s role in creating a sustainable future
The fourth Industrial Revolution has arrived and it will serve to monitor, manage and protect the environment in a unique way. In particular, the Internet of Things (IoT) and its ability to enable instantaneous connectivity between billions of devices is likely to positively transform industries, sectors and communities.
Most importantly it will be a key element of the Circular Economy. Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) will make use of data at unprecedented levels extracting maximum use and value from products and materials, and directly contributing to waste avoidance and circular solutions.
The IoT is a wide-reaching term with depth and diversity; it’s gathering momentum as it demonstrates its industrial, social and environmental relevance. The sum of IoT is much more than embedded sensors, networks and gadgets. It is the driving force behind the fourth Industrial Revolution. And a key part of its infrastructure will be 5G or the fifth generation of Coined by UK innovator, technology pioneer, brand manager and radio frequency identification (RFID) expert, Kevin Ashton, the concept of IoT was borne out of his interest in how wireless networks could be used to allow physical objects to communicate. It was very much about data and potential services as opposed to just a coherent gathering of products with sensors.
Operational efficiency, asset utilisation, customer experience and faster decision-making are all part of the mix. Ashton’s definition of IoT is illuminating: “The Internet of Things means sensors connected to the internet and behaving in an internet-like way: making open, ad hoc connections, sharing data freely, allowing unexpected applications and creating a nervous system for the planet that enables computers to understand the things in the world around them.”
As a network of connected devices, IoT collects, shares and analyses data in real time and this is where the value resides; i.e. how the data is used to deliver services that can be monetised or build competitive advantage. Many in business, government and academia say it will catalyse a major shift in where, how and when technology appears in our lives, albeit in a sometimes seamless and virtual manner.
At a macro level, IoT refers to devices connected and communicating over the internet with each other and with us. Indeed, it simultaneously builds on machine to machine (M2M) communications and the cloud to maximise connectivity with purpose.
It’s not a new concept, and has been discussed since the internet was born; however, its current trajectory goes beyond principles and concepts and is coalescing into diverse practical applications that many say will transform our lives across multiple sectors, industries and activities. Ray Owen, managing director – Nokia Oceania, underscores the magnitude. “5G is the next generation of radio systems and network architecture that will enable significant new use cases, new business opportunities and new ways for people to benefit from communications,” he says.
Gartner forecasts that 8.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2017, up 31 percent from 2016, and will reach 20.4 billion by 2020. Total spending on endpoints and services will reach almost $2 trillion in 2017. “Services are dominated by the professional category (in which businesses contract with external providers in order to design, install and operate IoT systems); however, connectivity services (through communications service providers) and consumer services will grow at a faster pace,” reports the research company.
The projections associated with IoT are both voluminous and extensive. The figures around economic value are so large that they seem beyond reality; however, there are numerous credible pundits, corporates and institutions that are increasingly on the same page in terms of economic benefit.
MORE THAN AN INTERNET-CONNECTED FRIDGE
We have heard of internet-connected appliances and fridges that reorder depleting supplies or warn against use-by dates. And we have probably experienced tech savvy friends and colleagues who remotely activate domestic lighting, heating and cooling before arriving home, but the IoT is much more than novel electronics.
The opportunity to monitor and control our energy and water use in real time and respond accordingly will become mainstream, and not just an activity of eco-warriors.
Importantly, IoT is rapidly evolving into a much more pervasive and positive ecosystem with an extensive taxonomy of applications. From autonomous vehicles, hyper-efficient logistics and smart cities, through to remote area healthcare, natural resources monitoring and production line optimisation, IoT has the potential to deliver wide-reaching social, economic and environment benefits.
Sensible planning and evaluation will also be required to ensure that impacts and issues are known, managed and addressed. Security and privacy are obvious areas being worked on.
The reach and applications of IoT remain significant and cross-sectoral with research, implementation
and speculation by various entities indicating that no sector will be left untouched by IoT. Intel, Cisco, Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research, HP-Aruba and Australia’s own IoT Alliance Australia tell a compelling story of sectors and industries that will benefit.
Ericsson notes that we are on the brink of the networked society. Operators and businesses who play a role in creating those connections and extracting their potential value will capture the benefits of this tremendous opportunity.
Intel talks about smart manufacturing, smart building, smart homes and smart transport, where IoT will take a stronghold, while Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research sees healthcare, wearables, oil and gas, as well as industrial applications as key areas of activity.
Andrew Penn, Telstra’s chief executive, also highlights key attributes and future possibilities. “The step up to 5G will mean more speed, but 5G is much more than just faster speeds,” he says. “It will also underpin the coming of age of the Internet of Things, billions of connected devices that will enable a fully connected and interactive world, which includes new possibilities in areas such as fully connected homes, offices and factories, autonomous vehicles and remote healthcare.”
There is no shortage of specific examples to be distilled from these areas, from autonomous vehicles and drones through to systems for monitoring oyster farms, water quality and rainfall related yield.
The 5G mobile network and its impact on IoT innovations will spawn applications that add value through high utility and functional benefit, while also optimising the hyper-efficient use of resources and consumables. Sustainable development can benefit from the IoT, and could be a game-changer in many industries.
The range of products and services will be diverse and transform industries, communities and sectors.
Transforming environmental management, agriculture and mining:
- energy and environment – smart grids that improve energy efficiency, real-time monitoring of air and water quality, sensors in waste collection and recycling bins to improve resource recovery, performance smart grids for energy efficiency, and
- agriculture and mining – monitoring of livestock, cropping and weather conditions to optimise use of water, fertilisers and pesticides; use of driverless vehicles in mining.
Transforming Australian industries and maximising efficiencies:
- industrial applications – sensors and systems that automate production, improve workplace safety and maximise energy productivity
- vehicles and mobility – use of sensors and collision avoidance capabilities to improve safety, efficiency and emergency responsiveness, and
- transport and logistics – allowing vehicles to communicate with each other and infrastructure to allow fleet tracking, emissions reduction and improved road safety.
Transforming communities and creating smart spaces and places:
- emergency services and public safety – sensors and video technology to monitor and manage major events, traffic safety and allow improved emergency responsiveness
- healthcare – high-speed video technology allowing improved connectivity to conduct diagnosis and treatment, real-time monitoring and warning systems, and
- smart cities and homes – sensors and systems that assist with navigation, finding services and facilities, monitoring outages, as well as maximising energy/ resource use and waste efficiency.
Step-change speeds in entertainment and media:
- videos and movies – high-speed downloads will significantly enhance web browsing, social media activity and video viewing as consumers demands more data faster, and
- immersive experiences – Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) made possible through various devices will create simulated environments and experiences for entertainment and industrial application.
THE ROLE OF MOBILE TELECOMMUNICATIONS – INTRODUCING 5G
5G is the next generation of mobile technologies, services and applications, set to transform the way we live and work in Australia. 5G mobile networks and services will deliver faster speeds and more responsive networks with greater capacity and lower latency (reduced network latency).5G will enable and accelerate significant innovations related to IoT, including driverless vehicles, smart homes, smart cities and highly automated industrial processes.In many respects, the future promulgation of IoT in Australia will depend heavily on the products, services, systems and networks supplied by the IT and telecommunications industries, as well as the innovators and designers who create the end-use services that truly meet consumer expectations and environmental objectives.
It becomes evident that there is an immense level of research, design, development and investment being channelled into IoT related products, services and infrastructure, and, with the approach of 5G and the support of government with timely and enabling policies, Australia can look forward to widespread uptake of IoT by industry, government and the public.
Furthermore, the mobile telecommunications industry will continue to work proactively to empower end-users while also directly contributing to sustainable economic growth in a measured and responsible manner through the evolution of a mobile- enabled Australia.
The time has come to drive an explicitly positive agenda that demonstrates the role ICT can play to protect the environment and achieve a suitable future.
This requires government to get the policy settings right, while allowing industry to forge ahead with developing products and services that are socially desirable, economically sensible and environmentally affirmative.
John Gertsakis is manager – Communications and Outreach at the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association.
This article also appears in Issue 6 of CWS magazine.
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