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Connected stuff is catching on -- just don't call it IoT

Stephen Lawson | April 16, 2014
Enterprises are finding real-world uses for Internet-connected devices but aren't interested in the buzzwords.

Many organisations today are looking for things that talk to the Internet. Sensors, cameras, medical equipment and even snowplows are on that wish list.

The "Internet of Things" is not.

The municipalities that come to systems integrator AGT International are already sold on so-called IoT technologies, such as wireless traffic sensors embedded in streets, said Gadi Lenz, a senior technical fellow at AGT.

But they aren't interested in IoT, nor in "smart cities," another term that's been getting a lot of play lately. What they want, Lenz said, is a solution to their problems.

Even Cisco Systems, one of the biggest evangelists for IoT, thinks the concept still needs some explaining. Enterprises, cities and utilities all could stand to benefit from IoT, but first they need a better idea of how it can help them do their jobs.

"We definitely need to spend more time educating the market," Inbar Lasser-Raab, vice president of Enterprise Network Solutions, said last week at a meeting at Cisco. Leaders from IT vendors, industrial companies and governments came together there to hash out issues for IoT.

Networked devices have been talking to each other for years. What's new in so-called IoT is the scale of those networks and the way advanced data analysis can draw conclusions from them. But getting this broad vision off the ground, including getting enterprises to adopt the new technology, raises several challenges, according to participants at last week's meeting.

AGT's Lenz said his company has been implementing sensor networks in cities for years, but as those devices get smaller and cheaper, they also become more plentiful. That can change the scale of projects as well as how the devices are deployed, Lenz said. More devices means new possibilities and new problems.

For example, devices that can measure a wide variety of environmental conditions are now small enough to put in backpacks, so ordinary citizens may be able to carry them around, Lenz said. Such devices used to be so big there could only be a few, strategically placed around a city. An exponential growth in the number of sensors means much more data but also calls for new techniques to distribute and manage those sensors, he said.

IoT may also mean dealing with multiple kinds of data and figuring out the best approach for each. For example, 10 years ago, the only data that electric companies collected from their grids was critical, time-sensitive information needed to operate and protect the grid, said Dean Siegrist, who is director for Utility Telecom at Black & Veatch, an engineering company serving utilities. Now the power companies are also gathering data about the power use of individual households, which they serve back to the customers to help them monitor their usage, he said.


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