It will be huge, it will be soon and it will touch us all

Paul Hide, operations director at techUK, says that milestones such as the World Wide Web have changed life as we know it. The Internet of Things looks set to do the same and retailers should make sure they are ready…

It is difficult to recall the world that existed before the World Wide Web – created by Tim Berners Lee – started to change our lives in the early 1990s. Nowadays, barely a waking hour goes by when we are not using the internet in the way we work, play and communicate. It has changed our world forever and we are only at the beginning of the journey towards opportunities that a connected world will bring.

The Internet of Things (IoT) describes the global network of machine-to-machine connections. From the very first internet-connected machine – a Coke drinks dispensing machine in the 1980s – there are now (as reported by Gartner) an estimated 4.9 billion devices connected globally with forecasts of a staggering 25 billion connected by 2020. Evidence of the focus on IoT-based technologies can be seen through the growth in patents in this area – more than eight times greater than general trends.

In simplistic terms, the connected world is about the recording and sharing of data and how that data can be used to enhance human activity and endeavour. The forecast figures related to this sector are huge – global spending is forecast to exceed $1.7 trillion this year and Cisco has reported that IoT-generated savings across public and private sectors are likely to exceed $19 trillion over the next decade.

Connected technologies will transform activity relating to energy, transportation, healthcare, manu-facturing, shopping and public service provision to name just a few and the connected home is just one subset of the broader IoT agenda.

A connected home is one where all of the energy-using and -generating devices are linked via a communication network. We should be viewing the consumer electronics space in this context as covering not just AV and domestic appliances, but also the areas of smart metering, local energy generation and storage, electric vehicles and health technologies for personal well-being. The connected world will allow you to monitor, control, command and share information from and between all of your connected devices through a central dashboard control. This dashboard control and user interface can take many forms and is likely to be managed on devices such as smartphones and tablets, giving access anytime anywhere.

The data carriage infrastructure already exists using fibre and mobile communication technologies linking your portable devices via wi-fi, Bluetooth, 4G and, in the future 5G, technologies. Current development is focused on both the software that will enable data reporting, machine-to-machine control and predictive control of the connected devices, as well as enabling the connecting technologies within the full range of electrical devices that are used in the home environment today.

The explosion of enhanced connected devices will give manufacturers and channel partners a really strong story to sell to customers. It will provide the opportunity to sell added-value, replacement products within the traditional consumer electronics space, convince consumers to trade in and trade up earlier than they might have done otherwise and link this to the sales of control devices, such as smart meters, tablets, smartphones and network connectivity services.

Forward-thinking retailers and e-tailers will need to look at how they can offer customers products that sit outside of the traditional ranges. Home energy generation and storage is going to be revolutionised in the near future as home energy storage units reach a point in their development where they are efficient, compact and cost-effective. It is no surprise that companies such as Tesla are investing so highly in this area, it could well be the biggest technology breakthrough of the 21st century. If you harness your personal energy generation through roof-mounted solar panels with a system that stores that energy for you to call upon when you need it, this could effectively result in energy self-sufficiency in the home – a milestone development.

The connected home will deliver huge opportunities to re-energise the CE marketplace. It is rare that we see the perfect storm of new technology ideas – applications that will benefit all of us at different levels, that will touch all the products and services that we offer and that will open up new markets without destroying existing ones. Couple those benefits with easily demonstrable user benefits and the opportunity looks compelling. It will be huge, it will be soon and it will touch us all.