The ‘Internet of Things’ Is Becoming a Huge Thing

The “Internet of Things” — a catch-all term for taking connectivity beyond PCs and mobile devices to include items ranging from Web-enabled home monitoring gear to wearables — is starting to become a big thing, and a trend that is poised to benefit the cable industry in many ways.  

The technology research firm Gartner predicted that the number of Web-connected devices — not counting PCs, tablets and smartphones — will hit 26 billion units installed in 2020. That’s almost 30 times more than the 900 million IoT-facing devices than were connected to the Web in 2009.

"The growth in IoT will far exceed that of other connected devices: By 2020, the number of smartphones, tablets, and PCs in use will reach about 7.3 billion units," Peter Middleton, Gartner’s research director, said. "In contrast, the IoT will have expanded at a much faster rate, resulting in a population of about 26 billion units at that time."

And that rate of growth will come with some significant earnings power for some, as Gartner predicts that IoT product/service suppliers will earn revenue exceeding $300 billion by 2020.

But what precisely is the “Internet of Things?” According to Eric Simmons, senior director of M2M (machine-to-machine) and Internet of Things at Canadian MSO Rogers Communications, this term describes the bewildering range of items being built with embedded Web-connectable/controllable technology — everything “from the door locks on your house, to a car’s dashboard, to soft-drink vending machines,” he said.

These devices, capable of connecting via wired or wireless Internet links — these devices are able “to interact with other connected objects or devices, transfer important data and automate actions,” Simmons said.

Broadband: IoT’s Traffic Cops

The addition of so many devices onto the Internet will mean much more traffic for cable and other broadband providers to carry on an aggregate basis. Fortunately for service providers, most IoT devices are very moderate when it comes to actual bandwidth usage.

“Most simply do their best to stay connected, and to send occasional ‘I’m alive!’ messages to whatever servers they interact with,” Charles Cheevers (pictured), the chief technology officer of Arris, said. “Even when they are in active communication, most IoT devices will generate very little traffic compared to OTT TV and other high bandwidth applications.”

At the same time, the growth of IoT device deployment will make subscribers even more attached to their Internet connections, and the companies who provide them.

And count cable almost the industries that the IoT industry will rely upon the most.

One caveat for cable operators: Although IoT will not be as demanding on bandwidth as over-the-top video and other forms of high-speed data applications, the additional traffic coming from IoT will create more demand on cable’s IP infrastructure.

So, it’s something worth monitoring closely. “It’s critical for providers to continue to invest in their networks and new technologies,” Simmons said. “We are investing billions of dollars in our wireline and wireless networks in order to keep pace with the growing number of connected devices and the increase in data usage and transmission.”