Smart networks: coming soon to a home near you

The Webcup 1.0 tells your Internet fridge if the milk’s too cold

Today’s post is from Rudolf Van der Berg of the OECD’s Science, Technology and Industry Directorate.

In 2017 a household with two teenagers will have 25 Internet connected devices. In 2022 this will rise to 50, compared with only 10 today. In households in the OECD alone there will be 14 billion connected devices, up from 1.7 billion today and this doesn’t take into account everything outside the household and outside the OECD. All this leads to the smart world discussed in a new OECD publication, Building Blocks of Smart Networks.

The OECD defines “smart” as: “An application or service able to learn from previous situations and to communicate the results of these situations to other devices and users. These devices and users can then change their behavior to best fit the situation. This means that information about situations needs to be generated transmitted, processed, correlated, interpreted, adapted, displayed in a meaningful manner and acted upon.

Smart networks are the result of three trends coming together (and all being studied by the OECD). Machine to Machine communication means devices connected to the Internet (also known as the Internet of Things). This generates “Big Data” because all those devices will communicate and that data will be processed, stored and analyzed. And to enable the analysis, Cloud Computing will be necessary, because when entire business sectors go from no connectivity to full connectivity within a few years, they will need scalable computing that can accommodate double digit growth. Underlying these trends is the pervasive access to Internet connectivity.

smart network devices

New devices connected to the Internet may be invented, but you’ll see that the table only has everyday objects you may already have, but if you replace it in the coming years, the new version will be connected. (The ever-popular, but never seen in a shop near you, Internet connected fridge doesn’t make the list.) Connected lightbulbs may well be the Trojan horse of the smart home. Some companies estimate that connected lightbulbs will be the same price as normal lightbulbs five years from now. These lights will be able to dim and change color and fit in a regular socket. They can also serve as hubs, extending the communication network in the home to all devices.

Connecting machines and devices to telecommunications networks is nothing new. Even at the dawn of the Internet there were Internet connected coffee pots and coke-machines. It is the scale of the trend that forces us to pay more attention. Dutch company TomTom now has millions of GPS-navigation devices on the road, which have generated 5000 trillion data points. When systems need to be smart, the number of datapoints goes up. A dumb electricity meter can do with one reading per year. A smart meter needs a reading every 15 minutes for the electricity company, while for home automation a sampling frequency of once every 1 to 5 seconds is proposed, which could be a 31 million times increase over traditional datasets.

There are, however, challenges that need to be faced when introducing smart systems.

Human challenges. The way people interact with networks and systems may limit their use. For eHealth, smart systems can allow people to lead a normal life. However, a portable heart monitor that sends alarms every time it loses the signal or measures a false positive can have the opposite effect. Privacy and security concerns of users have prompted the Dutch parliament for example to change the rules for smart meters.

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