Public and Private Sector Focus In on The Internet of Things


Late last week, Cisco released its first curriculum to train workers on the Internet of Things (IoT). The company has identified a potential $19 trillion market opportunity for the IoT, and companies as well as governments are rushing to shape the future of the industrial internet. Yesterday, at the Second Annual Internet of Things Global Summit at National Press Club in Washington DC, a number of those companies, along with officials from the FCC, NIST and outside governments including the EU and UK, gathered to discuss the future.

From the public sector side in the US, the IoT is being explored through small pilots – smart cities projects, or facilities management, but presenters noted the vast potential of the interconnectedness offered with the IoT.  Alongside the potential for greater efficiencies through technology, however, are growing privacy concerns as many of the devices we interact with will track our lives. Both the public and private sector will have to wrestle with who has agency in that fight and so far, few actors are willing to stand up for strong privacy rights.

Mark Bartolomeo, Vice President – Internet of Things Connected Solutions at Verizon, was one of the presenters at yesterday’s event. He spoke briefly with CivSource about where Verizon is making its play for the industrial internet.

“What’s driving this whole internet of things? Why is it such a big issue, and what we were talking about when we mention it? I think there are two core drivers. Sustainability is a big driver – I think it’s a bigger driver than people are talking about. When people talk about sustainability, they’re thinking of green energy, but we’re also looking at issues of optimization, smart grid, etc. Giving the consumer visibility across the grid through devices actually reduces the amount of energy you need to produce, and provides insight into how consumers are using energy.”

“The second element that ties directly to DC is the regulatory compliance piece. We’ve seen early adopters, adopt IoT or machine to machine connectivity because of regulation. Think of the sustainability requirements for rail. That was one of the first areas Verizon was involved in. We’ve worked with major rail carriers like CSX and Union Pacific to put more than 30,000 sensors on railroad tracks and connect them to wireless in the railway system.  In some ways, given how long these regulations have been in place for rail, rail is almost a predecessor to autonomous vehicles.”

On a smaller scale, cities are looking at initiatives like smart parking, rideshare, and adaptive signaling to usher in IoT technology without ramping up a massive technology upgrade.  “Part of that is when you talk to municipalities about smart parking they say to you, ‘I don’t have any money for smart parking.’ So it falls to companies like ours to prove the business case, or find ways to start those small projects,” Bartolomeo adds.

An Evolution

The industrial internet is essentially an evolution of technologies that have been building since the mid-1990s.  Big IT’s early offerings were things smaller sensors that could be more easily deployed across a variety of environments, or solutions like telematics. With the aid of cloud services and better wireless, the IoT has turned into a platform play allowing IT vendors to connect hundreds of devices at once through wireless and cloud technology.

As we’ve seen in other areas platform plays are likely to be the wave of the future, and Big IT is already teaming up. Verizon recently announced a partnership with GE to expand machine to machine capabilities. That effort will be offered through GE’s Predix platform and will include advanced monitoring and diagnostic capabilities. GE and Verizon will also enter into discussions to collaborate on a single global SIM (subscriber identity module) for global connectivity.

Historically, technology platforms have been a tricky proposition for the public sector, often resulting in vendor lock-ins or protracted upgrades if another vendor comes out with a better or more appropriate product. Some of this will be mitigated by the recent trend to move away from high levels of customization in government IT projects and toward more off-the-shelf solutions. Other platforms are already billing themselves as vendor agnostic, requiring instead the addition of sensors rather than an adoption of a full scale solution which could be a middle path.

Policymakers will also have to weigh the policy component not only in sustainability efforts, but in terms of privacy and public safety.

“We also want to be involved on the regulatory side to touch on standards, and provide guidance on how the technology can be used,” Bartolomeo says.

Back to school

On the academic side, the IoT may help to bolster university research and development efforts. Much of that work has been going to cybersecurity solutions, yet a new University of Washington startup recently showcased new technology that would connect IoT devices without batteries or cords.

Computer-science faculty members Joshua Smith and Shyam Gollakota have launched Jiva Wireless which aims to create wireless, battery free devices that grab both power and signal out of the air. Smith and Gollakota work at the Sensor Systems Laboratory at the University of Washington. They recently showcased their research which draws some of its roots from Smith’s prior research work at Intel. There he worked on energy harvesting from TV broadcast signals.

According to an explainer in the Seattle Times, Jiva Wireless devices would pull both energy for power and connectivity from WiFi signals.

In November, Smith plans to lecture on wireless technology for implantable devices.