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1.3 More on the internet of things

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Figure 2 The internet of things

The internet of things (IoT) is not a new concept. The phrase was coined by British visionary Kevin Ashton in 1999 to describe the network connecting objects in the physical world to the internet so that data can be shared. He described how internet-connected devices would change our lives (Guardian, 2015a). Such devices could include objects ranging from industrial machines to smartphones, washing machines, fans, lights and cars.

Today there are already more connected objects than there are people on the planet. The current number of connected things is around 4.9 billion. By 2020 this is expected to reach 25 billion (Gartner, 2014).

The three main component of the internet of things are:

  • objects, for example sensors, smartphones, cars
  • communication networks connecting them, for example broadband, 4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
  • computing systems that make use of the data, including storage, analytics and applications.

When these components are combined to provide products and services, then real value is created for citizens, businesses and governments. An example is the connected smart devices being developed for people with chronic health conditions that will send real-time data to doctors who can intervene as needed.

Applications of the internet of things are developing organically but their impact will depend on acceptance by citizens, businesses and governments, and this is influenced by perceptions of risks and benefits (Government Office for Science, 2014).

There are some concerns about data security or cyber-attacks. However, if useful products and services are created then people will buy them. According to McKinsey’s report on disruptive technologies, the internet of things has the potential to add $6.2 trillion to the global economy by 2025 (Manyika et al., 2013).

Further reading

If you would like to learn more about how the Internet of Things works and how entrepreneurs use it to create products and companies, take a look at the free course from King’s College London: The Internet of Things.

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