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How will the Internet of Things be used and what will it mean to you today, tomorrow, and ever after?

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It’s early in 2014, but the buzzwords for the year have already made their presence known.

One of those is the “Internet of Things (IoT).” The IoT is the network of objects with embedded technology that allows them to interact with the physical world. Imagine the possibilities that come with using your smartphone to activate a range of sensors and connectivity options and automatically monitor movements, locations and workouts.

The IoT is opening up a new world of opportunities, with applications as varied as our imagination – from detecting how customers interact with products to developing smart fabrics and even enforcing wildlife protection.

The internet everywhere (on your arm, in the kitchen)…

With wearable tech and connected home technology being some of the biggest trends at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, it’s easy to see why the IoT is a hot topic for the year ahead.

Gartner predicts a 30-fold increase in the number of Internet-connected devices in less than a decade, reaching 26 billion by 2020. But with numbers this big, it may be difficult to fully comprehend the potential impact of the IoT, especially considering so many of the real-world applications have yet to be developed. 

More than hype?

So, the question is, is the IoT worth all the hype?

While many see the IoT as a prediction for the future, it’s actually already making an impact in the present day, in ways and places you might not expect. In fact, it’s at work in one of the world’s unlikeliest places – the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. There, machine to machine (M2M) technology is paired with the local cellular networks to notify authorities of illegal logging and deforestation activities.

M2M sensors are placed in trees within protected areas. If the trees are cut or moved, the sensor sends a message and GPS location to the authorities, who can then respond in real-time. The devices allow them to track illegal logging activities often missed by traditional satellite surveillance and radio monitoring, leading authorities to quickly investigate and apprehend the culprits. 

The IoT is also making a difference in the health sector. In the US, M2M technology is used to collect and consolidate information from medical sensors and devices including pedometers, electrocardiogram patches, sleep sensors, weight scales, blood glucose and blood pressure devices to provide a health dashboard for caregivers.

A cloud-based server transforms the data into easy-to-understand insights, allowing medication reminders, behavioural prompts and other information to be pushed to mobile devices to assist with chronic disease management.

This technology provides the opportunity for remote patient monitoring whilst protecting patient privacy. The result is greater autonomy for patients, a reduced need for round-the-clock supervision, and shorter, less frequent hospital stays. Juniper Research estimates the solution will save healthcare providers up to $36 billion by 2018. 

Get connected

Want your car to be more connected? Car-makers including Audi, GM, BMW, and Chrysler are incorporating 4G LTE cellular data connectivity within their 2015 models. This technology opens up a variety of new options and features for drivers and passengers. It allows them to turn their car into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot and offering internet radio, web services and improved 3D navigation and simultaneous voice and 4G data services. 

These are just a few of the initial results from IoT technology, but in the future, the effects will be felt across all of the economy’s touch points – from consumer products to manufacturing floors, within offices and across government and healthcare facilities.

These technologies have the potential to dramatically change the way we interact with our world, but they are also changing the way we secure that world.

Security must be at the core in the development of IoT technology in order to ensure not only a reliable, easy-to-use, seamless experience for consumers but also the confidence that consumers’ data and personal information is protected. Drivers who use their 4G LTE infotainment systems want fast, simple, and reliable service.

IoT for health and wellness…

Health systems need to ensure their patients’ medical information is safe from hackers, and authorities need a secure system that works as it is intended. Implementing reliable and secure applications requires an end-to-end security solution, beginning with the system design as well as standard-based device management solutions to match the long life span expected from IoT and M2M technologies.

The real question for the road ahead is not simply “How will the IoT be used?” but “Who is securing it?”

Michael Wallon is VP of M2M for Gemalto for Asia/Pacific Rim.

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