At an "Internet of Things" (IoT) press event in San Francisco on May 14th, Qualcomm president Derek Aberle announced the chip maker plans on providing the processing power for five billion IoT devices by 2018. The Internet of Things (IoT), one of the most recent and significant movements in technology, refers to the networking of any device embedded with electronics, software, and sensors to enable the exchange of data between connected devices, the manufacturer, or the operator. The IoT is arguably the next frontier in technological advancement. Although the concept of IoT has been around since 1999 we are just starting to see it permeate the consumer market with devices geared towards creating a smart home such as thermostats, lights, door locks, and cameras; smart wearables, which include watches, fitness bands, and augmented reality headsets; smart media devices, which include TVs, speakers, remotes, and media hubs such as set-top boxes and network attached storage (NAS) devices.
At the event, Qualcomm also informed the press that Qualcomm has already been outfitting automobiles with chipsets and sold 120 million smart home solutions within the past year. Qualcomm also hopes to make smart devices much more powerful and has a much different vision of IoT devices than many existing IoT platforms. According to Aberle, "If the devices are smarter, much more of the computing can be done at the device instead of the cloud." Up until today, IoT networks have adopted a hub-and-spoke topology, where much of the computational and storage overhead is relegated to the hub, or cloud, instead of the end point devices themselves. This has long been the vision of ARM's MBED platform (released in 2009), which relies on microcontrollers – very small, low-powered (up to 100 MHz), low memory (16 KB RAM, 128 KB of flash) chipsets. If end point devices are powered by microcontroller you have no choice but to design a hub and spoke IoT network. Qualcomm is developing chipsets that will drastically increase the power of IoT devices and decrease their reliance on the cloud, or hub, such that end point devices can talk to each other to create a mesh style network.
Aside from enabling a connected world for consumers IoT devices present a lucrative business opportunity, ranging from $1 to $19 billion, according to Aberle. Analysts from Gartner predict that the number of networks smart devices will surge from 900 million to 26 billion units by 2020. Like any potentially lucrative emerging market competition between companies for dominance will be fierce. In addition to ARM's MBED platform Qualcomm will face stiff competition from Samsung, who's recently announced Artik platform provides all of the chips, software, development boards, tools, connectivity, and security features needed to produce a network of IoT devices.
Competition on the software side is also heating up as companies vie to create the OS and platform that will support IoT devices and allow them to communicate with each other. So far we have Samsung's Artik, ARM's MBED OS, Apple announced but still unreleased HomeKit platform, Tencent's TOS+, Alibaba's YunOS, and potentially Android @Home, which Google mentioned at I/O in 2011 but has since faded into oblivion. Regardless which manufacturer comes out on top in the IoT market, no other emerging technology is poised to completely reshape the world we live in, to the degree that IoT has been building to since the creation of the internet. In a sense IoT represents the realization of the ultimate internet; everything connected, sensing, computing, and sharing information.