Foresight 2020: The future is filled with 50 billion connected devices

Social Media Manager, Internet of Things, IBM

By 2020, there will be over 50 billion connected devices generating continuous data.

This figure is staggering, but is it really a surprise? The world has come a long way from 1992, when the number of computers was roughly equivalent to the population of San Jose. Today, in 2015, there are more connected devices out there than there are human beings. Ubiquitous connectivity is very nearly a reality. Every day, we get a little closer to a time where businesses, governments and consumers are connected by a fluid stream of data and analytics. But what’s driving all this growth?

The embedded computing ecosystem market is going to be worth $5 trillion over the next six years (according to IDC) and growth is slated for a continuous upward trajectory into 2020. Also, McKinsey estimates that in 2020, the total impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) industry could equal about 11 percent of the world’s economy.

Intel, Broadcom and ARM are competing in the microprocessor and sensor space, along with many others, and competition breeds innovation. Plus, other large tech companies such as Dell, IBM, Apple, GE and Google have invested billions in IoT acquisitions, innovation labs and research. On the acquisition front, notable examples include Google’s acquisition of home automation company Nest Labs for $3.2 billion and IBM’s procurement of The Weather Company for an estimated $2 billion.

The necessary sensors, embedded intelligence and network infrastructure needed to drive IoT adaption are officially developed and in place. With this solid foundation for growth already established, it’s easier to build upon—and with open source leaders such as Linux and Android firmly behind the movement, this has become an open source initiative.

For IBM, its IoT Foundation and Apache Spark initiatives simplify access to actionable insights with an eye toward interoperability across makers. Using MQTT protocol, IoT Foundation works across several kinds of microcontrollers—including ARM mbed, Texas Instruments BeagleBone, Texas Instruments SimpleLink, Intel Galileo, Raspberry Pi and Arduino Uno—to funnel and actualize data. It should also be noted that IBM has expressed commitment to enable OpenStack, CloudStack and Cloud Foundry.

Houses, vehicles, phones, appliances and other everyday devices are now digitized, connected and changing, and consumers want and expect interconnectivity across the entire spectrum. Soon, everything from doorbells to window locks could be connected and integrated in real time. Gartner estimates that there could be more than 500 smart devices per home, active and wirelessly connected by 2022. This includes items as mundane as the inglorious light bulb: it’s expected there will be approximately 100 million “connected” versions of these in the not-too-distant future.

Manufacturers are well aware of the value behind data: there’s value not only at the point of sale, but in the continuous ecosystem of connected customer data and at the intersection of the physical and the analytical.

Automakers are integrating wifi and predictive analytics into their vehicles; for example, Chevrolet is integrating 4G LTE into certain cars in its 2016 lineup. And appliance manufacturers are doing the same thing; Electrolux and Haier want to connect refrigerators and washing machines.

All the signs and statistics are pointing us toward a Jetson-esque future, where hyper-intelligent house robots and self-driving, flying cars are common. And corporate investments, open source discovery, public demand and a generous amount of profit are taking us there as we approach the next decade.

Learn how IBM's IoT solutions are helping different industries keep up with growth.