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.
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.