A government-funded agency is to give 10 UK companies cash to start figuring out how to make money from the rapid proliferation of internet-connected items.
The Technology Strategy Board said on Wednesday that the companies, including BT, would each get up to £50,000 to "undertake preparatory studies to better understand how to move towards an application and services marketplace in the 'internet of things'".
The 'internet of things' is a term that generally refers to machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. It broadly describes the trend of objects, ranging from buildings and cars to clothing and portable devices, being hooked up to the internet, usually to transmit data from sensors.
All this will require many more IP addresses than are possible with the legacy IPv4 system, which is one reason why the government and the European Commission have been so keen to get everyone to move to the more generous IPv6 protocol.
"The internet of things has the potential to stimulate large scale investment, create jobs and bring substantial economic growth," David Bott, director of innovation programmes at the Technology Strategy Board, said in a statement on Wednesday.
Noting that there will be an estimated 50 billion connected objects around the world by 2020, Bott said "the potential added value of services using the internet of things is likely to be in the range of hundreds of billions of pounds a year, with new business models, applications and services across different sectors of the economy".
The 10 companies receiving the initial funding are: AIMES Grid Services, BT, Cambridge Wireless, Focus Innovation, Globosense, Housing 21, In Touch, InteliTap, Swirrl IT and WattBox.
Once they have completed their preparatory studies, the companies will get to participate in a funding competition later this year, when up to £4m will be on offer. According to the board, this competition will "lead to the development of a convergence demonstrator, which will show the benefits to be gained by merging applications and services together through an internet of things".
The board also said in its statement that it had established a special interest group of "relevant companies and organisations" to help promote the internet of things and shape the board's strategy.
"In particular, the special interest group is carrying out a research and development road-mapping project, in collaboration with the research councils. The results of the project are likely to be released in a few months' time," the board said.