The Future of the Internet of Things in 2020

The Internet of Things (IoT) has become one of the largest areas of technological advancement. In the past decade, internet connectivity has been extended from mainframes to mobile smart phones. Now, with the IoT, internet connectivity is present in many types of devices that we interact with on a daily basis, including home appliances, vehicles, machines, and consumer products.

In this week's blog post, we're taking a look at how trends in the IoT are shifting as we enter a new decade. With so many big changes going on, our goal is to understand how the IoT has evolved up to this point and to hopefully predict the future of the internet of things in 2020.

What Does the Future of the Internet of Things Look Like?

Billions of People Will Use the Internet

One of the most important things to realize about the future of the IoT is that it will be closely connected to the global development of other requisite technologies, especially the internet and mobile devices. As the internet expands its global reach, and especially with the possibilities of Skynet, Elon Musk's plan to blanket the Earth with internet service from space, new market opportunities will emerge for IoT devices. Thanks to the available data, we can see exactly how global internet usage has grown over time.

In 2005, the world population was 6.5 billion people with just 16% of them able to connect to the worldwide web, or roughly 1 billion users. This formed a strong divide between the developed world, where 51% of the population had access, and the developing world, where just 8% of the population were counted as internet users. By 2017, the global population had reached 7.4 billion and the number of internet users had increased to 48% of all individuals, or around 3.5 billion users. This included 81% of individuals in the developed world and nearly 42% in the developing world.

In addition 45% of the world's population now own mobile smart phones, which can act as an interface to control and interact with IoT devices. Mobile devices and the internet have followed similar trends in user growth over the past decade, so it's no surprise that IoT devices are following suit. Between 2014 and 2020, the number of businesses that use IoT devices grew from 13% to 25%, and Gartner says that 5.8 billion IoT devices will be deployed in various applications in 2020.

Everything Will Be on Cloud

IoT devices are frequently equipped with sensors that collect data at the network edge and upload it to centralized databases where it can be processed, transformed, stored, and analyzed. The quantity of data that can be generated by a network of IoT endpoints is staggering. Analysts at International Data Corporation are estimating that by 2025, IoT devices will produce roughly 80 zettabytes of data per year - that's 80 sextillion bytes of data, or  around 80 billion terabytes.

As the current leading paradigm for big data processing and analytics, the cloud will play a major role in the future of IoT devices. Cloud computing essentially means that individuals and organizations can store large quantities of data on internet-accessible servers, instead of on their local devices. This makes it easy for just about anyone to obtain low-cost access to data storage and computational resources that are needed to manage and analyze IoT data, even in real time.

Cloud computing provides the pathways as well as the physical and virtual infrastructure for transporting large amounts of data from billions of endpoints into centralized data storage locations and processing that data. Cloud computing can be used to dynamically allocate computing resources to process data, enabling real-time analytics for IoT data. Cloud computing also helps reduce the costs associated with deploying large numbers of IoT devices.

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Future IoT deployments will continue to rely on robust data centers to dynamically manage the storage and processing of data generated by IoT devices and sensors in the field.

IoT Security will be Emphasized

While the cloud will serve as one of the major enablers of IoT technology through 2020 and beyond, IoT security represents something of a stumbling block that will have to be surmounted as we move into the future.

The issues that surround digital security of IoT devices can be summarized in relatively simple terms:

First, imagine the front door of your house. You want to prevent intruders from coming through the door, so it's probably made out of steel, securely installed and somehow locked. A physical lock requires a key, meaning that a potential thief would have to obtain the key (or a replica) to get in. Some home-owners have replaced the normal lock-and-key system with keyless entry, for example, a number pad where you enter a code to gain access.

Now, with the IoT, home-owners can install a device that allows them to lock or unlock the door remotely using a smart phone. On the surface, this is a great idea: thieves can no longer steal your access code or copy your key. On the other hand, a more sophisticated thief with some technical chops might be able to steal and duplicate the electronic signal that controls the locking mechanism. This would give them unfettered access to lock and unlock the door as desired. This scenario reflects the current reality of the IoT - the capabilities are there, but there is a clear and immediate need to enhance device security and encryption to prevent these types of breaches.

In a sense, many of the problems solved by IoT devices will be replaced with IoT security problems - many of which still need to be solved. Going forward, we expect to see a significant amount of effort invested into IoT security solutions. IoT products for both home and business will need to be effectively secured against data theft and other types of malicious attacks. The future of the Internet of Things in 2020 will depend on how effectively we learn to secure IoT devices.

Developing Countries Will Experience Growth

Research by consultancy firm McKinsey and Co. suggests that by 2020, developing countries would account for 40% of the total value of the IoT device market. To understand why, we need to look beyond web-connected devices like smart cars and refrigerators and think about how IoT devices can be used to interconnect the infrastructure that shapes our world.

Developing countries need infrastructure investments. They need agriculture, education to develop their human resources. They need strong health care systems. They need industry and manufacturing to supply people with goods. They need roads and bridges to enable the transportation of people and goods, and all of these processes and areas of development can be supported by the IoT.

Summary

The year 2020 represents the commencement of an exciting decade for development in the IoT. As internet user-ship continues to grow, we expect the growth of the IoT to accelerate. While there are various estimates for how many devices and how much data will be produced, we know that most of the growth is going to happen in the developing world where the IoT can make a huge impact in many areas of social and economic development. We also expect the cloud to play an enormous role in enabling many of the benefits of the IoT, while IoT security will pose a major challenge over the coming decade.