Telstra, Microsoft circle Internet of Things

Falling prices and cloud computing mean IoT is a go, IDC conference told

Conditions are right for take-off for the Internet of Things, according to Telstra and Microsoft officials.

At an IDC conference in Sydney about IoT in the enterprise, Telstra’s Andrew Scott declared that “the Internet of Things is here.”

Scott, a general manager in Telstra's chief technology office, listed several factors that have brought about the blossoming of the IoT.

Most significantly, he said, is strong smartphone penetration, with 300 million smartphones shipped in the second quarter of 2014. That has paved the way for new kinds of devices.

Also, the prices for many components of IoT have plummeted, he said.

The cost of sensors including accelerometers and gyroscopes has come down by 90 per cent in the last five years, said Scott. Connectivity is also much cheaper; transferring 1MB of data in 2008 cost $1, but today costs 3 cents, he said. The availability of open-source software and hardware has also slashed costs considerably.

The emergence of cloud storage and processing has increased the capability of underpowered IoT devices, and improvements in energy efficiency are greatly extending battery life, he added.

Microsoft Australia IoT commercial lead, Karl Miklis agreed the current tech environment favours the growth of the Internet of Things.

“Five or six years ago, [sensors] were three or four times the price,” he said. “So it made it very, very expensive if you wanted to start deploying sensors to get information on what was going on in the business.”

Read more: In brief: Telstra introduces real-time data alerts for customers

The pervasiveness of the cloud has also been huge, he said. “Connecting from my sensor to the cloud and getting that information to flow can cost dollars. Five, six years ago, it was hundreds or thousands of dollars – if you could even do it at all.”

Even so, Scott said some cost, data and connectivity challenges remain.

For an IoT device meant to last 10 or more years, developers must build with long-lasting batteries that cost more. There could also be high maintenance costs to address bugs or security holes that crop up while the device is out in the field, he said.

Wireless communications modules are expensive, and a device’s lifetime can be cut short if a cheaper, older module is used, said Scott. A 2G chip is cheap and might be all the product needs, but with Telstra planning to turn off its 2G network by the end of 2016, the chip will soon be useless on that network, he said.

Data security challenges include maintaining privacy and the confidentiality of data and preventing malicious attacks, he said.

Miklis estimated that about 75 per cent of all IoT devices are susceptible to being hacked.

On the storage side, businesses must determine how to manage a flood of data coming from IoT machines.

On connectivity, Scott said a major problem can occur when a mobile device roams onto another network, for example when moving between countries. It can also be difficult to seamlessly move a device from one Wi-Fi network to another, he said.

For a smart meter, a similar problem can occur when the customer tries to swap energy companies, he added.

However, networks are addressing many of these problems, the Telstra official said.

For example, a new type of LTE, Category 0, is less expensive and provides better battery life than the 4G networks used by operators today, he said. At about 1Mbps, the network speed is much less, but that might not be a problem for devices that send raw data.

Roaming alliances and reconfigurable SIM cards – like the recently announced Apple SIM – could do much to alleviate the pains of switching mobile operators, he said. And Hotspot 2.0 technology will make it easier for devices to securely switch among Wi-Fi networks.

Telstra and Microsoft have each been talking up the Internet of Things of late.

At the Ovum 2020 Telecoms Summit, Telstra CTO Vish Nandlall predicted the Internet of Things will play a major role in future of telecom. Before that, CEO David Thodey predicted that the Internet of Things could take off in as soon as 2016.

At TechEd Australia last month, Microsoft .NET developer evangelist, Dave Glover, proclaimed developing for IoT is “cheap as chips.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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