Internet of things devices will dwarf number of PCs, tablets and smartphones

Internet of things devices will dwarf number of PCs, tablets and smartphones

Summary: Forget internet technology, the Internet of Things is where the action is, says Gartner


The Internet of Things (IoT) — or machine-to-machine (M2M) technology, as it is also known — is set to boom over this decade and will form a $300bn industry by 2020, if the analysts Gartner are to be believed.


According to the company’s latest research, the IoT will grow to 26 billion units by 2020, which represents an almost 30-fold increase from 0.9 billion units today. It will result in $1.9 trillion in global value Gartner believes, from sales into what they say will be an ever-more diverse market.


The IoT is the internet beyond PCs, tablets and smartphones: the internet of devices that have embedded technology to sense either their internal states or the external environment.


Read this

M2M and the Internet of Things: A guide

M2M and the Internet of Things: A guide

The Internet of Things will consist primarily of machines talking to one another, with computer-connected humans observing, analysing and acting upon the resulting 'big data' explosion. Here's how the next internet revolution is shaping up.

Over the past few years, the number of devices that have some computing capability from security systems through sensors that monitor traffic, railways, car parks and so forth have grown enormously. Now, Gartner believes the growth in these devices will be much faster than the growth in PCs and phones.


“By 2020, the number of smartphones, tablets and PCs in use will reach about 7.3 billion units," said Peter Middleton, research director at Gartner. "In contrast, the IoT will have expanded at a much faster rate, resulting in a population of about 26 billion units at that time."


Part of this will be because of the low cost of adding IoT capability to consumer products, Gartner said, and it expects that "ghost" devices with unused connectivity will be common. This will be a combination of products that have the capability built in but require software to "activate" it and products with IoT functionality that customers do not actively leverage, according to Gartner.


Big areas of growth will be advanced medical devices, factory automation sensors and applications in industrial robotics, sensor motes for increased agricultural yield and automotive sensors and infrastructure integrity monitoring systems for areas like road and rail transport, water distribution and electrical transmission.

Also, Middleton reckoned that by 2020 component costs will have come down to the point that connectivity will become a standard feature, "even for processors costing less than $1".  Devices this cheap would allow the connecting of just about anything, from the very simple to the very complex, he said.

"As product designers dream up ways to exploit the inherent connectivity that will be offered in intelligent products, we expect the variety of devices offered to explode," Middleton said. 

Gartner analyst Jim Tully believes that there are a lot of misconception about the IoT, but also a lot of curiosity. "We are getting asked about it all the time," he said, "and that is from the customer's side and from the vendors side."

While there is a lot of confusion over the IoT, Tully said it was not too difficult to differentiate between that and straightforward, technological advance.

"A smart vending machine is not the IoT," he said. "But when that vending machine is smart enough to check if it is empty, place and order to be replenished, deliver the order, complete the order and get the finished order to the customer and all without needing an operator, then that is the IoT in action."

The IoT covers hardware, embedded software, communications services and information services associated with devices. Gartner believes that the incremental IoT supplier revenue contribution from IoT in 2020 is estimated at $309bn.

Further reading

Topics: Emerging Tech, Networking, Tapping M2M: The Internet of Things


Colin Barker is based in London and is Senior Reporter for ZDNet. He has been writing about the IT business for some 30-plus years. He still enjoys it.

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  • $300 industry

    "set to boom over this decade and will form a $300 industry by 2020"

    Thats a bad ROI from what I can tell...
    • ROI

      If it cost 400 bn to install it is.Take you vending machine example, the costs involve someone or something filling the machine as well, and the vendors have to carry and fill them anyway. It has and effect on the cost of the equipment and little effect on the efficiency of operation.
    • He meant the "bn" was omitted!!

      Chill, man
  • Hard to say

    Maybe, maybe not. Gartner has been known for off-the-wall predictions, though, so I'd take them with a grain of salt.

    It's all gonna depend on the real value and need for an "internet of things."
  • Is that...

    ...a *whole* $300? Maybe $299.99?
    Chip Moody
    • Then they can buy a

      $300....then they can buy a Chromebook :)
  • Spell Check does not think

    There is no magic Genie checking your document for accuracy.
  • Ooops! I lost a couple of digits there

    Thanks for pointing it out and yes, the Internet of Things is set to be a $300bn industry by 2020, and not just a $300 one as I originally stated but have now corrected. I hoped to be able to blame an editor, a sub-editor, the cat or whoever for that, but after checking there is no chance. The error was all mine.
    Of course, if the IoT isn't a $300bn industry by 2020, then that error is all Gatrner's.

    Colin Barker
  • As if my phone wasn't enough...

    Now the NSA will be able to watch me from every part of my home. From the TV in the bedroom, to my fridge and microwave. And we all though Orwell was just a Utopian dreamer. :)
    • As if my phone wasn't enough...

      Alert, the fridge at 123 any street has reported that 10 beers have been removed in the last hour. Its has also reported the contained beer supply has been depleted. The car at that address has report it has been started and the GPS has been input for nearest beer store. Alert Police to be on the lookout for suspected DUI.
      • :) Car stopped - no DUI as the car was self driving.

        And the beer replenishment was carried out by an alternate drone service at cheaper rates...:)
    • I will use Debian Linux in 2020...

      ...with Tor or even some better one browser and make things as hard as possible for crap NSA.

      Besidens, i agree with Johan Galtung that American Empire has collapsed in 2020. There will be not enough money for NSA. Times - they are a changin.
  • We already have cars we can start with smartphones and...

    ..thermostats we can adjust remotely. The "internet of things" is really another term for "new uses for our everyday stuff that can be enhanced by the internet".

    In that vein, even smart TV's count as "internet of things", really, unless your definition is that it doesn't cruise the web, in which case, some Smart TVs would be considered computers.
  • There are three current network TV ads in the US ...

    in which a large tech company (I will not mention their name) has celebrity or near-celebrity narrators praising their aircraft engine, their locomotive, and their hospital machinery (both registration workstations and actual therapy machines such as X-ray and IV infusion machines) that are connected to the internet and talk to each other. They do not mention the risks, however:

    A train could be commandeered by malware in its processor to cause a derailment while carrying hazardous cargo, in a crowded downtown area, either as an act of terrorism or to extort a ransom while it is en route. Can the train, the track controllers, and other trains be overridden manually to nullify such a threat?

    A jet engine could be remotely damaged in flight to cause a crash or force an emergency landing in an "unfriendly" location, either for general terror or to target a specific passenger for death, kidnapping, or escape from legitimate police custody (as in Con Air).

    Patient data could be hacked to find an intended victim, and the IV could be programmed remotely to stop working or deliver an overdose, or an X-ray machine could be turned up to the max (there have already been cases of program ERRORS causing an X-ray machine to kill a patient), or turned on when medical personnel are not secured, without displaying its power status correctly.

    The more things you put on the internet, the more things could be used as weapons. At least a phone or computer, unless physically wired to something capable of causing physical damage, can only harm our bank accounts (which is enough), not directly cause damage to life or property. I hope their security procedures are tighter than those of the NSA, or its victims.
  • Sounds Very Dangerous

    I agree with any comments that state this seems like a very high security risk, from the standpoint of malicious hackers using these devices to shut down power grids and water systems, as well as being spied on from virtually anywhere by virtually anyone with good hacking skills, or as others have said, the government as a "big brother" like Orwell's 1984.

    We shall be judged.
  • A Big Crisis is likely to occur very soon

    I agree that "The Internet of Things will consist primarily of machines talking to one another, with computer-connected humans observing, analysing and acting upon the resulting 'big data' explosion".

    I think that there are several gaps in privacy that need to be filled and now Big Data is adding to this issue. There is also a shortage in Big Data skills and an industry-wide shortage in data security personnel, so many organizations don’t even know they are doing anything wrong from a security perspective.

    A Big Crisis is likely to occur very soon:
    1. A Big Data security crisis is likely to occur and few organizations have the ability to deal with it.
    2. We have little knowledge about data loss or theft in big data environments.
    3. I imagine it is happening today but has not been disclosed to the public.

    I recently read an interesting report from Aberdeen Group that revealed that “Over the last 12 months, tokenization users had 50% fewer security-related incidents(e.g., unauthorized access, data loss or data exposure than tokenization non-users”. The name of the study, is “Tokenization Gets Traction”.

    Ulf Mattsson, CTO Protegrity, +1-203-570-6919.