Article first published in techworld.com.
In a speech at CEBIT in Hanover in May this year, the Prime Minister surprised many of his listeners by talking in detail about the enabling possibilities of the Internet of Things (IoT). In particular, he said:
'I see the Internet of Things as a huge transformative development, a way of boosting productivity, of keeping us healthier, making transport more efficient, reducing energy needs, tackling climate change. We are on the brink of a new industrial revolution and I want us... to lead it.'
He then described a list of IoT activities his government had initiated, from the launch of a national spectrum strategy flexible enough to support an upsurge in connected devices to his commissioning of the government's Chief Scientific Adviser to explore opportunities presented by IoT. He even announced a new European IoT grant fund, valued at up to £1 million for companies grabbing these new opportunities.
It was manna from heaven for those UK representatives in audience. Here was a British Prime Minister talking passionately and committedly about something those of us in the tech industry have known for some time: the IoT could be as seminal as the advent of the internet itself.
Gartner estimates that 26 billion IoT devices will be installed by 2020 – a figure that excludes tablets, PCs and smartphones. It's trend that is pointing resolutely upwards. All the information produced by these devices has the potential to fundamentally change the way we live and work. It's not just about 'wearables' or 'driverless cars' or, everyone's favorite, 'connected fridges'. It's so much more than that.
It's about revolutionising public services. In health, the possibilities are huge. A&E departments will be furnished with real-time data about incoming patients. GPs will be able to capture precise and current information about a patient's health through medical wearable technology and smartphones. Sensors in homes will enable the elderly to live in their own homes safely with many of their health needs met remotely. It's good for patients, practioners and, in this era of fiscal austerity, it will be good for the nation's financial health too, relieving costs on the most overburdened part of the public sector – our NHS.
Our transport infrastructure, enhanced by IoT, will provide seamless, safer, more convenient journeys. Passengers will get real-time updates about their journeys, informing them of delays and alternative routes to get them to where they need to be. Airports will be able to monitor passenger flows throughout terminals to great effect, allocating resources quickly in response to demand, thus improving the passenger experience and overall security.
As our populations become increasingly urbanized, our Cities will need to adapt. Again, IoT will play a crucial role. Cities will benefit from services as varied as intelligent waste disposal and recycling by councils, smart parking and smart street lighting. The savings for local authorities are potentially vast – research by Cisco in Finland, for example, has shown a 40% saving in waste collection spend by implanting sensors into rubbish bins that send signals to the council when a pickup is needed.
The promise of IoT is huge. But in spite of the advances outlined by the Prime Minister, techUK believes much more needs to be done for the country to be a world leader in this area. It's why we're hoping next week's Autumn Statement will contain further ambitious plans for IoT development.
With IoT quickly moving from concept to reality, the UK needs to act now to stay in the leading pack. Other countries like China and India are investing aggressively - the latter recently announced its plans to create an IoT industry worth £15 billion by 2020, whilst China plans to invest $800 million by 2015. They plan to capture a march and its imperative we keep pace. The good news is that we're well positioned to do so.
Here in the UK we have bona fide global leaders who will provide many of the core products, services and skills that will underpin IoT development. Our expertise spans communications, chip design and cyber security to name just three areas. We have clusters of excellence throughout the country, with particular expertise in Cambridge, East London, the Thames Valley and the North West of England.
If we're cute about it, we can use our strong foundations in IoT for major economic gain in the UK. Almost all the figures out there show net benefits for those countries who invest in IoT. Cisco, for example, believes that IoT could generate $4.6 trillion for the public sector and $14.4 trillion for the private sector globally over the next decade, whilst Arup estimate that the global market for Smart Cities (a key IoT application) could be $400 billion globally per annum by 2020, and that the UK could gain a 10% share of that.
The IoT is here. It's a reality. It might be in its early stages, but the opportunity IoT presents is limited only by our imagination. The UK government needs to show its desire to be a world leader. Building on its existing leadership and making a major IoT announcement in next week's Autumn Statement would be a great way of doing this. It would place the UK at the vanguard of IoT development internationally and deliver the IoT revolution that the Prime Minister talked about back in May.