Back in 2011 Ericsson and other technology companies promised a world of 50 billion connected devices by 2020. Well, 2020 is here and the Internet of Things is well short of 50 billion connections. Why did we fall short? Was it a typical technology bubble of over-inflated expectations? Or are there more fundamental failings in how IoT was envisaged, delivered and deployed? That is the starting point for a new book by IoT industry veterans William Webb and Matt Hatton.
Over the last ten years the cost and complexity of implementing IoT has fallen dramatically and interest has grown exponentially. Nevertheless, across the IoT landscape there have been errors and missteps that have stopped it from achieving its potential.
Technology immaturity and fragmentation continued to create problems, not least a lack of a single standard for IoT connectivity for commercial and industrial applications. Co-author William Webb sees this as the critical roadblock: “Connectivity is the most important underpinning technology area for IoT; if you can’t get connected there is no IoT. Unlike the home environment where Wi-Fi is universal, there is no standard for connecting distributed IoT devices. There have been a number of pretenders to the throne but no single technology has yet emerged around which the whole IoT ecosystem can converge. Neither does there seem to be a single viable candidate, despite what the proponents of 5G might claim.”
Technology limitations are far from being the only challenges. Connected products were launched that never should have seen the light of day, while user experiences were frequently terrible and, in some cases related to security and privacy, positively horrifying. Products were rushed out based on ‘internet’ approaches to product development which were totally unsuitable for a hardware market. Technology vendors were seemingly more interested in jockeying for position in the value chain and bolstering their valuations than in delivering value. For enterprise adopters there was a complete lack of consideration of the internal organisational and systemic changes that would be needed to really take advantage of IoT.
Despite the problems, co-author Matt Hatton sees reasons to be optimistic: “None of the problems that the IoT has faced in the last ten years is unsolvable and we offer some straightforward advice in the book. Vendors, for instance, need to focus on delivering value rather than valuation, while enterprise adopters need a ‘systems-first’ approach to deploying IoT while giving ample consideration to the commercial and operational changes implicit in adopting new technology.”
About ‘The Internet of Things Myth’
The book comes in four parts. The first part sets the scene by taking us back to 2010. This was when many made optimistic predictions for the Internet of Things (IoT), and we show how these have not been realised - indeed how they have been missed by quite some distance.
The second part is an analysis of why the forecasts were so badly missed. Our overarching thesis is that the forecasts would have been plausible if IoT had been implemented flawlessly. Of course, this did not happen. We look at many of the reasons why mistakes were made, from the assumptions that if IoT building blocks were available then users would flood to the technologies, to the mistake of applying ‘internet’ thinking to the world of ‘things’. The mistakes were many, so this is a long part of the book, but an important one to chart how to avoid these mistakes in the future.
In the third part we make some predictions of our own. We look at the areas where we believe mistakes are likely to be made in the future, such as the assumptions that artificial intelligence (AI) will be the answer to all of IoT’s issues, and the view that 5G will deliver some sort of connectivity that will form the missing piece in the puzzle.
Our final part sets out our views on how to get it right. We discuss the need for a single standard for connectivity, best practices for implementing IoT, and the need for an honest understanding of the value chain for IoT and hence the opportunities (and lack of them).
About the Authors
Matt Hatton and William Webb are veterans of this industry. Both help found pioneering companies including Machina Research and Neul, and led key initiatives such as the Weightless standard. Both have consulted widely across the IoT industry for the last decade. Both bear the scars but retain the enthusiasm that IoT really can change the world.
Matt has spent most of his career as a technology industry analyst. Most recently he is a Founding Partner at Transforma Insights a leading analyst firm focused on IoT, AI and Digital Transformation. Previous to that he was Founder and CEO of Machina Research, at the time was the world's leading IoT and Big Data analyst firm, which was acquired by Gartner in 2016. He is a respected commentator and technology industry expert with over 20 years at the cutting edge of technology research and consulting. Matt holds an MSc in Telecoms from University College London. Twitter: @MattyHatton.
William is a consultant providing technical and strategic advice across the wireless communications space. He was one of the founding directors of Neul, a company developing machine-to-machine technologies and networks, which was formed at the start of 2011 and subsequently sold to Huawei when he became CEO of the Weightless SIG, the standards body developing a new global M2M technology, a position he held until 2019. Prior to this William was a Director at Ofcom where he managed a team providing technical advice and performing research across all areas of Ofcom’s regulatory remit. He was President of the IET – Europe’s largest Professional Engineering body during 14/15.