When will the IoT reach critical mass?

Overly optimistic market predictions have led to high expectations for the (), but those forecasts are becoming more modest as adoption of the IoT proves to be slower than projected. Dr. Shipeng Li, CTO of IngDan, weighs in on the next steps in overcoming issues with usability and usefulness and spurring adoption of the IoT.

Recently, some of the projections on IoT device deployments have been revised downward from their initial (gaudy) numbers. Why is that?

LI: There’s no reason to worry about the downward revision for IoT. The expectations for this industry in terms of market penetration are much too high right now. It feels like the IoT is being compared to the smartphone revolution, where there would be one or a few killer devices like the iPhone.

Although IoT is the next big thing, the environment is so much different. I don’t think that IoT is going to produce a killer device. There is so much variety. It’s more like there will be 99 IoT products scattered around your home, from wearables to various smart home devices. I always think about electronics and how many types of devices and machines have been created around this revolution. It’s similar with IoT devices: there will be a lot of players and not many killer products, but maybe an intelligent centralized service or system.

Wearables and the smart home account for perhaps two of the most overhyped IoT markets, with the smart home in particular lagging behind predictions. What needs to occur in these (and other markets) to advance to more developed stages of the IoT?

LI: What needs to occur in these two markets, and actually the entire IoT ecosystem, is to produce commonly agreed upon standards and protocols in areas of data, human-machine interfaces (HMIs), knowledge, and service interoperability. In markets like the smart home and wearables, data continuity and consistency are problem areas. It’s not easy to transfer data from one device to another from a different manufacturer, or even user preferences from one system to another. All your IoT devices in your home might not be compatible to control or exchange information for higher level offerings. There also needs to be consistency in certain features and, beyond that, standards on consumer data privacy and security. Right now people are just warming up to the idea of IoT. It’s still in the early stages and focused on physical connectivity, or Internet-connected things.

Does the strategy for advancing the consumer IoT differ from the Industrial IoT? If so, how?

LI: Yes. First, you are not going to have the large quantities of devices in Industrial IoT compared to the consumer market. Second, industrial IoT is a controlled and regulated environment. Think of applications for manufacturing processes: there are specific actions to do things, meaning there is an explicit purpose for the sensors and the data. It’s easier than trying to interpret consumer behavior. Consumer IoT has so many variables and so much more variety regarding types of services that companies can roll out.

Given all this, when do you think the IoT as a whole will reach critical mass?

LI: Many connected IoT devices are making their way into the home already. Even 10 years ago, home security system providers provided sensors for your doors and windows.

It’s hard to really predict when IoT will reach critical mass, but I foresee that there will be more connected devices in most homes in three years. I mean, most devices now have a processor. In five years, I think we’ll see many of these devices be connected at different layers – not just at the physical connectivity layer. When devices can communicate and work together as a whole system and service, you’ll see growing value from those sensors and connected devices and data – but we can’t get there without the right standards in place.

Dr. Li is an IEEE Fellow, Microsoft Partner, and world-renowned researcher and multimedia expert. Prior to joining IngDan in 2015, Dr. Li co-founded and headed up Microsoft Research Asia for nearly two decades. Dr. Li has more than 25 U.S. patents and is a sought-after speaker at leading technology conferences.

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