The Internet of Things is already helping to shape South Africa, says R√âAN VAN NIEKERK, and its influence is set to increase dramatically in the next few years as the impact of new technologies is felt.
“The terminology is new, but the practice is not,” says Van Niekerk. “We’ve been quietly building the Internet of Things (IoT) for more than a decade already, connecting nationwide networks of sensors for everything from traffic monitoring to national electricity distribution using private, hybrid and public cloud architectures. The IoT is already deeply embedded in South Africa’s industrial and commercial infrastructure. Without knowing it, we all depend on this network already.
Recent developments have boosted the profile and importance of the IoT in the public eye, says Van Niekerk, the first being the advent of pervasive low-cost connectivity: “Thanks to low-cost GSM, satellite, microwave radio and other wireless technologies, every spot on the Earth can now in principle be connected to any other spot.
The increasing miniaturization of transducers and communications electronics is also driving the IoT, adds Van Niekerk. “A transducer is anything that converts physical properties into electrical properties, and vice versa – examples would include microphones, accelerometers, location and movement sensors, thermometers, pressure sensors and many more. These are now so small that many of us have several of them in our phones, but also on our wrists, in our cars and in our homes and workplaces.
Finally, there is a massive explosion in the development of software and applications that can process all the data generated by the IoT and present it in useful, engaging ways. “Miniaturisation means thin devices that can be located anywhere, including in wearables — and pervasive connectivity means sophisticated information processing can be done in the cloud. That is enabling new applications that deliver rich, interactive experiences,” says Van Niekerk.
However, he notes, there are several obstacles that will limit growth. “Firstly, there are no industry-wide communication standards — every big company has its own preferred standards. Until there’s an agreed set of open protocols and standards, the IoT cannot come into its own.
The next essential obstacles to overcome, he says, are robust security protocols and reliable connectivity. “With the IoT we are creating a society entirely dependent on connectivity: a lot of work needs to be done to ensure that people can safely rely on the systems around them to work, and to protect their security and privacy.
“All the technical building blocks for the IoT are already in place,” concludes Van Niekerk. “The next 10 years should bring the business models and software developments that will enable it to seamlessly integrate numerous aspects of our lives in ways we have not even thought of!
* R√©an van Niekerk of Metacom
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