5 things we learnt about the future of IoT at CES 2016
People pass a CES sign the show at the Las Vegas Convention Center (Image: Steve Marcus)

5 things we learnt about the future of IoT at CES 2016

CES, the world’s largest consumer electronics show, went big on interconnected products this year with connected cars, smart homes and smart city announcements dominating the news. IoB looks at what it all meant for the Internet of Things ecosystem.

Lots of weird, less of the wonderful

As this writer can attest, CES has always been about the weird, wacky – and the occasionally wonderful. For every stunning high-resolution OLED display, super-thin TV or the latest robotics, you’d also find talking furbies, gimmicky waterproof phones and other crazy devices like so-called ghost detectors.

The same could be same this year, as vendors looked to cash-in on an emerging Internet of Things (IoT) landscape. This is, after all, a multi-billion market opportunity according to excited analysts. Just this week, we in the IoB office were discussing the plausibility of Gartner’s most recent figures, which claim that 5.5 million new devices will be connecting to the Internet each day.

IoB freelancer Adrian Bridgwater discussed as much this week, saying that these smarter technologies went to the zany to the brainy at the show, while other journalists at the event seemed disappointed in the lack of real innovation.

Connected cars and homes will talk to each other

Everyone was talking IoT at CES 2016 and in a number of guises – but it is clear where the early movement is and that is on smart homes and connected cars. Smart cities aren’t far behind either.

There were numerous examples of smart home activity at the Las Vegas showcase; Samsung unveiled new connected home devices and controllers, including a Family Hub refrigerator which communicates to other devices and smart TVs which can act as a controller to the connected home.

AT&T launched a voice assistant for the connected home, Ford and Amazon struck a deal to connect cars to smart home networks, Panasonic launched its Ora platform while Whirlpool announces web-connected fridges which integrate with Amazon’s Dash button and which can also connect to Google’s Nest thermostats.

One of the more interesting products was Delta Faucet’s Leak Detection kit. There was even the inaugural Smart Home marketplace section at the show, with Bosch, Honeywell, Lowes and Logitech among the many exhibitors.

What’s more, it is increasingly clear – as bizarre as this may sound – that your smart home is going to connect with your car. Vendor partnerships will be increasingly common in order for IoT to truly succeed.

Outside the Amazon and Ford deal, Vinli have Vinli Home Connect to entwine the two, and Livio’s Control4. Then there’s Volvo partnering with Microsoft so that wearables can ‘talk’ to cars.

BMW’s Steven Althaus said during one keynote that the internet of things is revolutionising the motor industry.

“The next five years will see more change in our industry than in the past century,” he said. “Connecting everything is the new standard, based on relevance and customer benefits. To deliver the digital transformation . . . we need to think not just about products but also services as well.”

ces-attendeesEnterprise world could see BYO-IoT

As you’d expect from a consumer electronics show, dedicated enterprise technology was virtually non-existent. After all, technology vendors know that their buyers are consumers – not IT departments.

However, it is clear from recent history that it isn’t always as straight-forward as that. A glance to the fortunes of Apple’s iPhone and iPad (and on the contrasting fortunes of BlackBerry) show that desired consumer products will often end up in business under Bring Your Own and Choose Your Own schemes. Cynical IT directors may also argue that a lot of these products will be brought in under IBMOA (I Am Bringing My Own Anyway), regardless of whether their firm has a strategy/mobile policy or not.

This is clearly going to the case with wearables (fitness trackers are already in the workplace) and many more IoT devices going forward. Indeed, some have said it’s now a case of Bring Your Own Body with the rise of wearables while one study this week indicated that almost half of firms using wearables – or plan to in future.

[As an aside, one of the most interesting IoT business stories from CES was that Red Bull are using IoT for 200,000 of its refrigerators in the US. More on that soon – Ed…]

Data problems need tackling

A familiar topic and concern on IoT deployments is on the data and, specifically, how companies are going to make sense of it. Do they have the right people, like data scientists, to investigate structured or unstructured data? Do they have the right big data analytics tools, and how do these integrate with their existing legacy systems?

These questions continue to emerge, and were tackled by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty during her keynote. It’s true to say that IBM has a vested interest here, given its analytics solutions at Watson IoT, but it’s an interesting view nonetheless.

“If everybody becomes digital, then what? Who wins?” she said. “I like to say digital is not a destination, it’s a foundation.

“I just looked around this whole conference – wearables, sensors, cars, data everywhere – but what will differentiate you is understanding that data.”

Standardisation & interoperability: Not sexy, but essential

Arguably the biggest barrier to IoT adoption at the moment, at least from a technical standpoint, is the myriad of standards governing how machines talk to each other and exchange data.

There are a variety of standards available – from the network to application layer – and it’s unclear which one will win out.  Interoperability, where devices can talk to each other through shared protocols, is going to be essential.

There were several moves here at CES: The ZigBee Alliance announced it is working with the Thread Group on an end-to-end solution for IP-based IoT networks, Allseen Alliance continues to work on AllJoyn, while the Open Interconnect Consortium tested a number of products for interoperability and reportedly showed these in a hotel suite near CES.

There is going to be a big battle in network layer as we saw this week through Wi-Fi Halo. Wi-Fi (including IEEE 802.11ah), Bluetooth, cellular (4G and 5G), ZigBee and ZWave are all fighting for a market that is going to get bigger in the coming months.