The IoT, IPv6 and 5G
Currently, it is thought that there are over 5 billion devices connected to the Internet, however this figure is set to rise dramatically.
In November 2014, Gartner predicted that by 2020, 25 billion devices will be connected to the Internet, and this appears to be a conservative estimate (Forbes states 40 billion, while the BBC recently suggested 50 – 100 billion). These connected devices will be largely composed of items that we would not physically access the Internet on (i.e. not phones, laptops, desktops and tablets) but will be pieces of equipment communicating with each other without, generally speaking, any user intervention. This communication is known as the “Internet of Things” (IoT).
This “Internet of Things” is not a particularly new concept, however; in 1982 Carnegie Mellon University modified a Coke vending machine to make it IP enabled (it reported back on whether it’s recently restocked items were at optimal temperature, and its overall stock levels); the term Internet of Things was first coined in 1999, and in that year Neil Gross, writing in Business Week, prophesised that "In the next century, planet earth will don an electronic skin. It will use the Internet as a scaffold to support and transmit its sensations."
These “Things” will, however, need certain criteria in place to enable this Internet of Things to become a reality. The first is a unique IP address. Currently, the bulk of Internet traffic is on what is known as the IPv4 system, which supported 4.3 billion unique addresses, obviously not enough for this Internet of Things. Thankfully, this shortfall has been addressed by the rollout of IPv6, which can support roughly 340 undecillion (340,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or 3.4×1038) unique addresses. The other two requirements are bandwidth (or “speed” of connection) and, in some cases, low latency (or “lag”).
So how will the Internet of Things benefit your average man or woman in the street?
As with many emergent technical systems, it’s hard to predict which of the many applications will take off initially, but here are some examples we may see emerging in the not too distant future:
- Your kettle warning you when you switch it on that there is actually no milk in the fridge
- Driverless cars (already a reality) that will communicate with other cars on the road, and sensors in the road itself
- Doctors operating via robots on patients on the other side of the world (this being an example where low latency is required)
- Trains that can communicate where the empty seats are, and automatically communicate this information on station based digital signage systems, commuters mobile devices and wear-ables (which will both know the user is at the station, via GPS and/or your online calendar, and potentially even the booking system when you purchased your ticket), as the train is drawing into the station, perhaps even allocating each commuter a seat based on their departure point, where they are on the platform, or stored data about their travel preferences
- Your alarm clock having access to both your calendar and traffic information, that will decide for you what time to wake you up to make that all-important meeting (having hopefully already checked on the milk situation and boiled the kettle for you), cars that the same access, and already know the best route to take, and, if the traffic is changes en-route, your car might send a message to the other party notifying them that you will be late, whilst re-routing you more efficiently.
This Internet of Things will, however, have its detractors - just look at the minor uproar surrounding the potential privacy invasion of the Samsung Smart TVs and the similar issues LG faced in 2013 with their internet connected TV; the backlash against Siri, Cortana, OK Google, etc; the 2008 hack of an IP enabled combined pacemaker and defibrillator (in a test environment); and to delve further, read Ubik by Phillip K. Dick – a 1969 sci-fi novel which warns of the potential problems caused by an Internet of Things in a Capitalist society.
As with many emergent technologies, sometimes it seems like technology is evolving faster that our own social, financial and political models.
The key drivers behind the IoT are often touted to be along the lines of the availability of Broadband Internet and the falling cost of connecting, more Wi-Fi devices being created with various sensors built into them, falling technology costs elsewhere, and smartphone penetration sky-rocketing.
While the aforementioned factors are all true, the real “game-changer” in this field will, in my opinion, most likely be the roll out of 5G Cellular Data Services. These will offer expected speeds of 10-800Gbps*. To put this in perspective, 4G speeds are typically in the range of 20-30Mbps, with a top speed in the region of 100Mbps, and very low latency.
To put that speed in perspective, 800Gbps would allow you to download 33 HD movies in a single second! This service is expected be available in the UK by 2020.
The obvious impacts this will have to a company such as 20/20 Productions are: that 4/8K (and beyond) video will be sent from the shoot over 5G networks, in faster than real time, so that the edit process can commence even before the film crew arrives back at base; every light on our shows will be able to be accessed via web interface, will report back when they are getting too hot, will “know” where every other light in the rig is pointing; no data cabling will be run for Webcasts, between show kit, or for live relays, allowing us to work in an even more diverse range of event locations, and; our current range of products (and those of many others out there) for use in the live event environment, will be less reliant on the venue’s data infrastructure, or a temporary infrastructure we would install.
We do indeed live in interesting times.
*According to Professor RahimTafazolli, Head of the Institute for Communication Systems at the University of Surrey