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The Internet of Things, Bit by Bit
By Tzern Tzuin Toh, Senior Consultant, Frost & Sullivan
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a grandiose initiative to link the cyber and physical domains. Technological advancements and the economies of scale has made it feasible to amalgamate these two distinct domains. IoT systems typically collect, aggregate, and transmit digital data in the form of bits. Therefore, the pervasiveness and robustness of communication technologies have been a key enabler in the implementation of IoT solutions.
One consequence of the digitisation of physical systems is the sheer amount of data in our networks. This has sparked a new digital commodity in the form of binary information, which has resulted in many entrepreneurial methods to monetise this virtual landmine. In light of this, Big Data, data analytics, and cloud servers are integral parts of the IoT ecosystem.
Much has been written about IoT solutions but less so about the transmission of information. The revolution of the information age predominantly analyses the methods at our disposal to partake in the exchange of data. Beginning with the analogue telephone and its widespread use since the mid-twentieth century, we now have mobile phones, fibre optic communication, and wireless networks.
On an industrial level, IoT has improved fault prevention initiatives, increased process efficiencies, and reduced demand response times; bit by bit, IoT could transform our lives for the better.
Consumer devices have changed beyond recognition, in favour of digital alternatives. For example, audio recordings in vinyl form were replaced by compact discs and digital video discs, and today, music streaming services are the norm.
Fundamental to the digitisation of our world is the mathematical theory of communication that was described by Claude Shannon in 1948 whilst working at Bell Labs. Shannon theorised the effect of noise in communication channels as well as the digitisation of information into binary bits. Although the theories were developed in the 1940s, they are as applicable today in our fibre optic networks as they were in legacy copper telephone lines.
Appreciation of Shannon’s mathematical abstractions has enabled engineers and scientists to continuously innovate our communication networks and consequently, enable the possibility of connecting any number of devices to the internet. The possibilities may be endless, but it does beg the question “do we really need to connect everything to the internet?”. There are several pioneering IoT solutions that could improve our lives such as InfoBionic’s MoMe Kardia for remote cardiac arrhythmia detection, Medtronic’s continuous glucose monitoring device, and the UK’s National Grid using demand side response technology for grid balancing purposes. On the other hand, there is Juicero, the internet-connected juicer that essentially compresses packets of chopped fruit—just because we can, does not mean that we should.
Leveraging on Shannon’s equations, allows one to address and comprehend the physical limitations of information transmission. For the past two decades, we have witnessed technological marvels such as smartphones, voice recognition assistants, and remote health monitoring devices. On an industrial level, IoT has improved fault prevention initiatives, increased process efficiencies, and reduced demand response times; bit by bit, IoT could transform our lives for the better. To that effect, we are beholden to Shannon and many other pioneers that have shaped our interconnected world today.