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April - 2016 - issue > CXO INSIGHT
Internet of Things (Iot), The Realization of The Last Mile
Rajveer Kushwaha
MD, CTO-Warburg Pincus
Friday, April 1, 2016
Perhaps one of the most exciting tech innovations ahead of us is the Internet-of-Things or IoT. The premise of IoT is that every [mobile] device that can be connected and will be connected, and will have some level of intelligence built into it. This simple concept will arguably change our lives.

Imagine you set the alarm for 6am to go to a meeting, and right before the alarm goes off the alarm clock notifies the coffee maker to start brewing coffee, and the toaster to start toasting your morning slice of bread.

As you drive over to the meeting, your car realizes you are going to be late for the meeting, evaluates traffic patterns in real time, gives you alternatives on the best route to take, and simultaneously emails/texts the other party notifying them that you will late.

As you start to get frustrated in Delhi traffic, your wearable device senses your heart rate going up and communicates that to the car. Your car knows your preference for a calming cup of cold coffee and sees on the navigator that your favorite Barista is next door to the meeting. Your car verbally asks you if you would like to get a coffee, you say yes, and your car automatically connects to the barista and orders you a cup, pays with your stored value card, and as you walk into your meeting, you quickly pick-up a cup of Iced Java to settle your nerves and get the extra edge you need for the meeting.

Now consider that the meeting is not going exactly as you had planned, and your wearable device that monitors your heart rate realizes that you are having a stressful day. Not only does it beep gently to remind you to practice deep breathing, it also notifies your doctor about your condition and records your status. If required, it could also alert a medical practitioner and even order up an ambulance proactively.

Finally, after the long day of meetings, what if your wearable device that keeps track of your day realizes based on your "steps" and "heart rate" that there was quite a bit of sitting for you and you were stressed. When you go for your gym workout in the evening, it automatically adjusts your gym routine to compensate for the day with a stress releasing workout session. Maybe it even communicates with the gym equipment to program the workout routine.

All these use cases, as compelling as they are, do not even come close to scratching the surface of what is possible. The IoT use cases span the breadth of personal lifestyle issues like above, to commercial/industrial use cases with GE monitoring5,000 parameters per second from its aircraft engines to proactively optimize the performance and safety of its engines, to smart connected devices self-managing themselves to optimize electricity consumption and enabling environmental strategies. The real commercial benefits of IoT could be measured in the billions of rupees. If done right, not only can the IoT save us lot money, make the world a safer place, make for a greener planet, but also fundamentally change the way we live and work.

In addition to the benefits above, another aspect of the IoT movement is the impact of millennials. Most technology advances have been constrained by our ability as humans to adopt change. If you look at the demographics around the world, by2025 millennials will represent over 70% of the active workforce. They not only embrace this change, but in fact will accept nothing less than the personalized life style enabled by the next generation of connected smart devices promised by the IoT.

The current IoT adoption estimates point to 20-30 billion devices connected by end of 2020,and up to 500 billion devices by end of 2025 . So the question becomes: what could be the last mile barriers in the IoT taking over the world? What are the real last mile head winds that could bring the promise of the IoT to a grinding halt? To better understand that, let us examine the above uses case from a different perspective.

The first consideration is privacy. To enable the lifestyle use case above, think of how much personal information about you, in aggregate, is being tracked by the various smart devices involved. All these devices are connected over the Internet. The Internet as we know it is only as secure as the last device connected to it. If any of these devices had a security vulnerability, it could be a window into all other devices, and therefore into your very personal world. The perceived risk to privacy is the first barrier that we will have to become comfortable with.

The second consideration is security. The devices may have access to personal financial and other sensitive information, like the stored value card above, which could be compromised if the security was breached. In addition, in commercial use, critical devices like the aircraft engines, if breached by the wrong individuals, could create significant security [and safety] risks. Just like the benefits of the world of the IoT are not completely understood, the risks and associated remediation strategies required to ensure security are not well quantified either. To get the IoT into a commercially viable domain, many of the downside risks will have to be understood and protected against. This will cost more and take a lot longer than what is currently being anticipated.

The third consideration is connectivity. As you drive down the road in your car in Delhi, you perhaps lose cell signal at least one to two times a day. That is just connecting the billion odd cell phones around the world. The cell phones are taxing our telecommunications networks. To support the IoT connectivity our core networks will require significant upgrades and re-architecture to support the huge increase in edge connectivity, latency, bandwidth, and reliability requirements associated connecting smart devices. To connect and support 20 billion smart devices will require our core networks to be re-thought from the ground up. That means there will be billions of unplanned investments that will have to be made in communications infrastructure around the world.

If all of the above challenges are addressed, the final frontier will be interoperability. All these devices will be manufactured by different companies in different countries. For them to communicate and interoperate effectively global IoT standards will have to be developed and governed. This is something that takes time, effort, and industry sponsorship.

The IoT is clearly here to stay. It will transform our lives. However, it will take a lot longer and will cost a lot more before it changes the world.
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