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How will the Internet of Things affect your business?

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been a focus of hype for some years now.

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But apart from the cliché of the fridge that orders produce for you when it senses you’re running out, few have realised the true nature of what IoT actually will mean for consumers and businesses – despite the consensus being that it will mean a lot.

In this feature, we will discuss what IoT actually is, how far it has developed today, where it is going, and what steps your company might need to take to remain successful.

What is the Internet of Things?

Beyond the fridge cliché, IoT is essentially the next stage of the development of ubiquitous computing. Bill Gates famously dreamt of a computer in every home, which in Western countries at least has been essentially achieved for some years now. Most people also have a computer in their pockets in the shape of a smartphone, and an increasing number have one on their wrists such as the Apple Watch or FitBit.

Smart home heating and lighting control via products like Hive and Nest are even integrating computers into the fabric of your home. The point is that all these devices are networked and connected to the Internet, so that they can send information to an online repository, or enable remote operation.

This is really just the beginning. The relentless miniaturisation and integration of functions has meant that chips with built-in sensors and wired or wireless connectivity are getting cheaper and smaller at a phenomenal pace. More and more everyday devices that weren’t previously computerised will have them built in, or new devices created based around the new functionality on offer. In November 2015, Gartner estimated there would be 6.4 billion connected things in 2016, a 30 per cent increase over 2015, and 20.8 billion by 2020, double the size of the smartphone, PC, tablet, connected car and wearables markets put together. Some estimates project the 2020 number to be more than twice this figure.

There are many ways that IoT will open up new areas of business. Exercise trackers have perhaps been the headline end user device, but more sophisticated medical monitoring promises a revolution in healthcare – not just in terms of ensuring patients take the right medication, but storing data on the results to create a giant knowledge-base on the effects of different healthcare regimes. Environmental control will be as important to the office as it is to the home, and asset tracking will be much smarter, with much greater detail. However, only $50 billion of the revenue, equating to 8 per cent, will be from hardware, according to Business Insider. Software and infrastructure will take the majority of what is expected to be a $1.7 trillion market by 2019.

The Internet of Things means lots more data

The side effect of IoT is that the primary use of most devices in this class is collecting data and sending it over a network. A FitBit wristband collects activity data that can be analysed via a website, so the user can set goals or compete with others. Hive records energy usage, allowing home owners to make more efficient use of their gas and electricity by controlling when their heating comes on. Smart traffic monitoring signals keep track of the flow of vehicles through them, so that the roads can be used more effectively.

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