Connecting the Next Billions of ‘Things’

In a presentation I have given at different events and to industry executives, I have been highlighting two major themes. One that I write quite a bit about here at Tech.pinions is the connecting of the next billion people to the internet via a pocket computer. The other is the connecting of the next billion “things”. Both are a piece of the major trend I have been talking about — connecting the unconnected. Nearly everything is going digital and we are well on our way with this massive shift from the analog world to the digital world.

Bigger Than We Think

I remain convinced the number of connected devices is much larger than many estimates. Initial estimates were 25 billion things would be connected by 2020. Then it jumped to 50 billion, then to 75 billion. The number keeps growing because the scale of connected objects is happening faster than those doing the estimating understand.

When you dig deep into the semiconductor space, you see the effect Moore’s Law is having on this shift. We are quickly getting more capable microprocessors and sensors at increasingly lower prices each and every year. Soon, it will add such small cost to an object to include connectivity that electronics companies will do it because there is no good reason not to. My overall conviction is if it plugs into a power source, it is likely to be connected. How and why we may want a coffee pot or washer/dryer or refrigerator, and more, to be connected will be up to the imagination — but it is going to happen.

However, it is not just the connecting of things that require power that is most interesting to me. It is the connecting of things that previously we never thought of plugging in.

Bringing Analog Digital

As microchips and sensors get smaller, more powerful, and draw less power, we will see them come to things we may never have believed would be connected. My favorite example is my Babolat Tennis Racket. This connected racket, only in its first generation, gives me analysis of my game. The data gathered, thanks to a microprocessor and a few sensors, helps me learn more than any video or coach could ever tell me about my tennis. That data is then translated into drills I use to improve my technique, leading to more wins and, ultimately, a competitive advantage. This technology will come to every tennis racket sold in the very near future. Over time, racket companies will be able to embed this technology and add nearly zero cost to the racket. How many tennis rackets are sold each year?

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Another favorite example is this connected street lamp. It has over a dozen sensors such as proximity image sensors, Wifi connectivity, climate sensors, and more. This smart street lamp has benefits for a city and its citizens. How many street lights are replaced or added each year?

Microchips and sensors adding connectivity and machine-to-machine (M2M) interaction of previously unconnected things will drive the number of connected devices even up faster than many realize. It doesn’t stop there.

I’ve seen concepts of connected golf clubs, connected apparel, connected beds, smart shoes, connected pet feeders, connected cars, the list goes on. How many of these things which will inevitably get connected are sold each year? You get the picture. It all adds up and it adds up to a number much larger than I believe many realize.

The analog world is going away. The writing is on the wall. It will bring implications for network infrastructure both in and outside of the home. Security and privacy will be a central theme and central problem to solve as well in this connected world. This massive shift from analog to digital will have some hiccups and we, as an industry, will have to take licks and learn lessons. Challenging as it may be, the direction is clear. Our unconnected world is rapidly getting connected in every way, shape, and form.

Here is my full presentation on connecting the unconnected.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

12 thoughts on “Connecting the Next Billions of ‘Things’”

  1. Thank you for this, Ben. I simply haven’t given this matter the attention it deserves. Your presentation has cause the “scales to fall from my eyes”.

  2. I can only hope you’re wrong.

    Every network is a security risk. If companies like Apple and Microsoft can’t stay ahead of the hackers, what chance does a coffee machine or a golf club company stand.

    No thank you. I’m no luddite. But I’m definitely not an idiot. I don’t want anyone breaching my home network through my microwave oven anymore than I want a “smart” TV.

    But, I wish all you early adopters the best — as you kiss any semblance of privacy and security goodbye — in your race to control your barcalounger from your phone.

    1. Yes, this. I can see the benefit of connecting certain things to centralized computer control. I don’t see any benefit to connecting those things via the Internet, exposing them to all the fun of hacking attempts and zero day exploits.

      1. Possibly. But your argument is cheap ubiquity will all but insure that connectivity ends up in these devices. History has shown that cheap and ubiquitous is the functional security equivalent of shoddy and haphazard.

        I have zero interest in keeping vigil over firmware security updates for my toaster. Maybe that sounds appealing to some people. Even Cisco routers and home WiFi base stations — based on industry standard chips — got owned in little time and with little real effort. So I am not merely skeptical; I’m on pretty firm footing.

        The issue of the connected “things” really boils down to a simple risk/benefit assessment:
        Real Benefit: comically minimal
        Real Risk: incalculably high, approaching near certainty

        Tough call. I appreciate your enthusiasm, Ben. I just don’t share it.

    2. Hackers are primarily interested in large numbers of devices to attack, otherwise it’s not worth the effort. Your coffee machine is not on their horizon.

      1. Interesting. I was unaware that hackers had such a restrictive code of conduct. Now I feel so much better about using my connected devices to control my toilet.

  3. It can’t come fast enough, my personal first choice would be traffic lights that sense when to change based on actual traffic flow…

  4. Streetlights with speakers and water detection in them. This is a perfect example of just because it can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done. Somebody is looking for a way to sell more circuit boards.

  5. Superb post however I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this topic? I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit more.

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