Technology has continued to drive rapid improvement in the devices we use in our daily lives. From laptops to phones, they are becoming better, faster, cheaper and easier to use. There is no better example of this than today’s smartphones, which are as powerful as the top-end desktop machines from less than ten years ago. An iPhone 3GS is essentially the equivalent specification of a 2001 iMac desktop machine.
This means more individuals have more access to high-quality technology. About one third of the planet’s population now have access to the internet. Broadband internet is now the norm in many developed economies, with, for example, 71% of UK households now having high-speed access. Operators around the globe are building on this demand for connectivity by improving their networks, using fibre technology. This will pave the way for a whole range of even more advanced, smart services.
Further developments are being driven by the growth in the wireless world where the combination of Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 3G and GPS are now providing an extensive mobile internet infrastructure, and where mobile phones can become the remote controls for cloud-computing services.
Other changes are being seen as a result of the way companies like Apple have changed the way we all think about the mobile internet and mobile devices. Their creation of a simple, revenue-generating application environment for developers, supported by the easy-to use application store on the iPhone, has opened up a vast range of new possibilities. It enables new channels to market, improving service delivery and increasing employee efficiency.
However, perhaps most significant is the emergence of cloud computing, which is creating the application infrastructure to support billions of connected devices and applications. These connected devices and applications will enable a huge quantity of diverse data to be collected from the surrounding environment. New ‘machine-to-machine’ (M2M) applications will be able to process this data in real time in ways that were previously impossible.
Walmart, for example, has announced that it is joining some other retailers in taking RFID technology out of the storeroom and into the store, using removable ‘smart tags’ on individual garments that can be read by a hand-held scanner. By doing this Walmart will be able to ensure it has real-time data on its stock on the shelves.
Organisations like the European Commission have been exploring how ‘the internet of things,’ where everyday objects are all connected to each other, can be realised. With some estimates indicating that there could be over 50 billion connected objects by 2020, this could be one of the most important advances of the century. There are still barriers to realising this vision, including lack of network ubiquity, concerns about privacy and ongoing standardisation issues. However, it is clear that the basic technological building blocks of a new smart and connected world are now in place.
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