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How does the IoT get to 20 Billion?

How does the IoT get to 20 Billion?
by David G. Simmons on 11-10-2016 at 12:00 pm

 Not long ago I was asked the question “How do we get to 20 billion IoT devices?” (Actually, I’ve been asked this question multiple times over the past 10+ years.) Great question! How, exactly, do we get to 20 billion (or 30 billion, or a trillion) IoT devices? We’re certainly not going to get there with wearable devices and other personal gadgets. Well, we might but it would be a stretch, and the probability is near-zero. Why do I say it’s not going to happen with wearables, etc.? Well, again, let’s do some simple calculations.

There are (roughly) 7 billion people on the planet. For argument’s sake, let’s say every single person on the planet gets fitted out with 3 wearable devices. There, we made our 20 billion number with some spare. Done. We can all go home now. But not quite so fast. Only 4.5 Billion people have access to working toilets, so I’m going to guess that they might buy a toilet before they buy a FitBit or an Apple Watch. I know I would. You would too. Only 3 billion people are internet so that cuts down the number of possible devices quite a bit quite a bit too. Suffice it to say that we’re not going to get to 20 billion IoT devices anytime soon if we base it on the number of people on the planet.

The number of people on the planet simply isn’t interesting. It’s a limited market. I’ve been saying this since 2004. I call it the Internet of People (IoP). It’s what gets all the press because let’s face it, it’s fun and sexy and you get to buy cool toys and play with them. But in a real sense, it is uninteresting.

Great, so now we know how we’re not going to get there. Helpful, I guess, but not really in the way you wanted. So let’s take a simple example, and do some more simple math.

Let’s say we want to put strain/crack/breakage sensors on every window of a skyscraper. Let’s make this skyscraper 300 feet tall (about 30 storys), and put, say, 100 windows per floor. That gives us 30,000 windows. (Remember that number, because I’m coming back to it.) Now let’s make 10 of those per city. We’re up to 300,000 windows. Let’s make that for 100 cities. 300,000,000 windows to put sensors on. And that’s just ONE IoT application on (a few) buildings. I can think of about a dozen more without breaking a sweat, each one requiring about the same number of sensors. Now can you see how we get to 20 Billion devices? I sure can, and none of it has anything to do with consumers, wearable devices, or almost any of the other currently trendy “IoT” topics.

on actual Things is virtually limitless. If you’re looking for true market potential, this is where the interesting things will happen. This is where the real money is to be made. It’s where the truly difficult problems will be solved. It’s where the really interesting work is.

Now, let’s go back to that number I told you to remember. 30,000 windows on that building. It’s one thing to set about the task of placing sensors on all of those windows. That job alone would take you 6 months or more (look up how long it takes to wash all the windows on a skyscraper). But what if someone had to go back every year and replace 7,500 batteries on those sensors? Or even 1,000. What?! You’d basically have to have a full-time crew of battery-changers working on every one of your buildings. Great for unemployment world-wide. Not great for the economics of owning the building. Again, the tricky part is going to be in removing the battery from the equation. Make that sensor a solar-powered, stick-on sensor and your window-washers can stick one on each window during one cleaning cycle and then … never touch them again.

This is how the the IoT gets to 20 billion. It’s by connecting things to the internet, not just connecting people in more ways to the internet. My rule: If your IoT solution is based on the number of people on the planet, it’s a self-limiting solution. If it’s based on the number of things then it’s nearly limitless.

Also Read: What’s Really Going to Limit the IoT?

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