Rise in number of devices connecting online being driven by consumers and advances in technology

Parallel to the exponential growth in technology is the growth of the internet of everything, or put simply, the connectivity of all devices to the internet.

Having passed the point where the majority of communication devices are connected to the internet, the next point on the horizon is the connection of other devices such as wearables and sensors, as well as connecting processes between devices. Smartphones, smartwatches and connected products capable of being operated remotely are just some of the examples of this.

The evolution of the smartphone and 3G and 4G networks have accelerated this growth, and according to the latest Cisco visual networking index released last week, mobile data traffic volumes will grow tenfold in the next 10 years. Cisco has also forecast that the internet of everything (IOE) will generate $6.2 trillion in global economic value during the next 10 years, including through higher productivity and improved efficiency.

"The tipping point happened in the last 12 months driven to some extent by advances in technology," said Cisco New Zealand country manager Geoff Lawrie. "Sensors now have processing power, storage and networking capability, all for a few cents, so now it's become practical to put sensors in low-cost items like food items, and farmers are looking at how they tag every animal in a flock or herd," he said. "We're going to see a wave of things sweep forward over the next few years."

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This was evident at the latest consumer electronics show (CES 2015), where a large majority of products had some form of connectivity, with consumers reaching the point where this was an expectation rather than an added feature.

According to Lawrie, the rapid uptake and development of new technology, as well as the reduction in material price, had made the connection of more devices and sensors feasible. Although the increase in technology had allowed this to happen, he said the growth of IOE was being driven by customers who simply saw the benefits of being connected.

"It's happening because people can see the real benefits of it," Lawrie said.

"It's not something the technology industry is specifically driving, we're going down this path in various facets but the cumulative impact of that is simply enormous in terms of how many devices will be connected to the internet," he said.

"We're past the people connection thing. Pretty much everyone who wants to be connected is, so the new horizon is connecting up the processes and things that are unconnected."

Recent Cisco research indicated less than half a per cent of all of the things that could currently be connected to the internet were, showing the industry had a long way to go.

Lawrie said this was likely to change quickly in the coming few years.

One of the areas he said was already taking advantage of the benefits of connectivity was infrastructure, with transport networks and electricity networks using real-time connectivity to provide valuable information around usage and management.

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Electricity networks, for example, have started to use smart meters to show generation and consumption of electricity in real time.

Lawrie said this was being used to manage electricity supply and reduce wastage.

The area he said will likely see the most benefit, however, was the healthcare sector, with sensors and real-time monitoring enabling better and faster care for patients. Already there have been huge advances in healthcare monitoring with numerous wearable products now capable of measuring everything from heart rate and pulse to fitness and blood glucose levels.

The benefits of this technology quickly stack up when the cost of treating patients is considered. Prevention and intervention are a far more cost effective and easy option.

"As the population ages, we're able to do much better real-time health monitoring for instance and make medications more effective and interventions more timely, so why wouldn't you do that," Lawrie said, adding that the increased connectivity was simply a logical move, rather than a decision to be more connected.

"It just makes sense," he said. "People won't do it because they want to be part of the modern world, they'll do it because it offers a fundamental benefit."

With this increased connectivity and information, however, comes concerns over the information that becomes available.

Lawrie said the moral concern around how much information consumers wanted to share needed to be considered.

He said security was going to be a growing concern.

"We're getting into a difficult world where the potential benefits in many cases are counterweighed by security concerns so we need to get better at managing that security," Lawrie said.

"As we start to understand and embrace the advantages of this, we're also getting graphic reminders of the risks and downsides."

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• IOE is the connection of devices and sensors to the internet on a large scale.
• IOE is being driven by technology advances and lower material costs.
• It will impact every sector, increasing speed and efficiency.
• Forecast to generate $6.2 trillion of economic value in the next 10 years.