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Where’s my Milk? – The Internet of Things

by Eric Higham | 10月 31, 2013

I spent the first week of October at EuMW2013, the largest microwave show in Europe. This year’s event was located in Nuremburg, Germany and while the time difference makes it challenging to keep in touch with loved ones and US-based colleagues, the vast array of electronics that we all carry these days does make that task easier. The ubiquity of Wi-Fi, smartphones, tablets, global roaming  and the Internet makes connecting and staying in touch so much easier than it used to be in the days of calling cards and dial-up connections tailored to each individual location.

Other than a nostalgic commentary on the never-ending march of technology, this is a good backdrop for the blog. I had the pleasure of presenting (RF Market Implications for the Internet of Things) at a workshop entitled “RF and Microwaves as an Enabler for the Internet of Things”. The numbers, the applications and the potential for a world of ubiquitous connectivity of people and things is truly staggering! Cisco, in the forefront of enabling and visualizing this future predicts $14.4 trillion of corporate profits over the next 10 years, with some 50 billion connected “things” by 2020. Other estimates place the number of connected things in excess of 1 trillion by 2025. Siemens estimates more than $1 trillion dollars in “smart” product revenue by 2016!

The applications run the gamut from monitoring and tracking assets in industrial and fleet settings to telemetry for industrial and consumer applications. The healthcare and medical fields will account for the largest portion of the revenue and this will be service-based. However, there will be enough hardware opportunities enabling this service revenue to keep everyone happy.  With this in mind, I pointed out that this idea is already happening and taking root. The usage case for the Internet of Things (IoT) that seems to show up often in the press is smart appliances, with one common example being a refrigerator that can communicate when you are out of milk. Now, I dislike going to the refrigerator and finding that I am out of milk as much as the next person and these smart appliances are rolling out, but the bigger landscape for the IoT makes use of the pervasiveness of mobile devices. As one of my workshop colleagues put it: mobile phones are the “eyes and ears” connecting a growing number of things.

These “eyes and ears” and the Wi-Fi networks that are increasingly enabling the Internet and mobile wireless devices accounted for nearly 20B RF components in 2012. M2M, which is another big enabler for IoT reached an installed module base of 200 million, accounting for revenues of about $30B in 2012. These numbers are set to skyrocket, reaching an installed module base of about 1.4B and revenues in the $215B range by 2020. We can easily see that the IoT idea is getting traction and the path the unit and revenue numbers does not seem so far-fetched.

There are challenges, however. I’ll leave the sociological discussion of whether we need all this machine “help” to another time, but first and foremost as a challenge is the bandwidth that will be necessary to realize this network of 50B+ connected things. A 2011 study by the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) concluded that the Internet would face “serious traffic jams” if the reliance on wireless continues. While that sounds ominous, the UCSD recommendations were more investment in transport infrastructure, particularly fiber and that’s good for the compound semiconductor community. However, this does represent a serious problem as we see how scarce and valuable additional wireless spectrum is proving at auction. This could signal an additional push toward higher frequency wireless spectrum, as well as continuing the emphasis on linearity and efficiency in devices. Of equal concern is the lack of a unifying standard. All the wireless air interfaces, RFID, ISM, Zigbee and a host of other standard and proprietary wireless protocols are being used and considered for devices that will connect to the IoT. The lack of a unifying standard has been the death knell in other market standards, so the hope is the industry can get this part right and efforts enable, rather than curtail growth!

A very important and interesting part of the electronics landscape that will be influencing our lives, as well as future growth for many years to come.

-Eric

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