More and more objects are being connected to networks, and communicate constantly via the internet. We often hear talk of the "digital revolution." In an interview with CONNECTIONS magazine, Andreas Rüsseler, CMO of R&M AG, explains why data and communication network installers and operators can expect to see their market grow.
According to estimates by Machina Research and Bosch Software Innovations, 14 billion devices will be connected to data networks by the year 2022 – more than twice as many as today. Trend researchers are talking of hyper-networking and the Internet of Things (IoT). Advisors to the Gartner Group are even predicting that a total of 26 billion networked devices will be communicating via the internet, on top of all the computers and smartphones. The list of "things" ranges from cars, street lamps, and traffic lights, right up to heating thermostats, electricity meters, LEDs, and household refrigerators. What are the reasons for this trend, what is the impetus behind it, and what does it mean for network installers and operators? Andreas Rüsseler, CMO of the Swiss cabling specialist R&M, has together with his team conducted research into the potential of the Internet of Things. In an interview with CONNECTIONS magazine, he explains the background, opportunities, and challenges. He demonstrates ways in which the sector can shape up in preparation for participating in the growth of the digital economy.
CONNECTIONS: Mr. Rüsseler, what is the "Internet of Things" exactly, and why is it so revolutionary?
Rüsseler: When commercial use of the internet began expanding 20 years ago, that was a true technical revolution. Every computer could exchange information with nearly every other computer anywhere else in the world. For us as people, that meant many things became both easier and quicker. It was then recognized that this development could also be applied to all kinds of machines and devices. By connecting them to the internet, it is possible to exchange measured values, control signals, and all sorts of other information in a simple, standardized, and largely automatic manner. That's how the internet of devices and things came about – currently a major trend on an enormous scale. And that's why this can be regarded as a new revolution.
Which "things" are the main catalysts behind this revolution?
Rüsseler: Buildings, transport, industry ... to name but a few. Cars are one of the most well-known things that are now networked: They are already able to interact with their passengers and will soon be able to communicate with traffic lights, street lamps, road sensors, and other vehicles. In offices and buildings, thermostats, electricity meters, LEDs, blinds, locking systems, etc., are being connected together. In production and logistics, RFID radio tags are providing information about what is contained in packages, pallets, and containers. This allows goods flows to be monitored and controlled online in order to avoid unnecessary storage or transport. Kitchens with smart refrigerators are already making use of online communication. On top of that, you've got billions of smartphones, tablets, and computers that are almost constantly online.
How has it suddenly become possible for so many "things" to go online?
Rüsseler: The technology is ripe for a whole host of applications. It is growing increasingly cheaper to produce smart devices, i.e., by equipping them with sensor technology and embedded software. Multi-functional microsensors cost next to nothing. In addition to that you've got miniaturization. The smallest of chips can now carry entire web servers. The basis for networking has also become limitless: The new internet protocol IPv6 can issue 340 sextillion IP addresses. One sextillion is a 1 followed by 36 zeros. This means every tonne of waste, every piece of packaging, and every item of clothing can become part of the internet.
R&M has carried out research into trends and market potential in order to be able to develop the right solutions. Where do you think the greatest opportunities lie?
Rüsseler: The Internet of Things is giving rise to countless avenues for new products and services. From our point of view as a provider of network infrastructure solutions, the most promising market sectors are industrial manufacturing and goods logistics, smart buildings and cities, communication in interactive working environments, as well as the supply chain and energy. Of course, there is also potential to be found in the automotive industry and transport sector, public security, agriculture, the leisure sector, medicine, and the health sector. According to predictions, the Internet of Things will be able to yield a global turnover approaching EUR 600 billion by 2022.
What tips can you give to network planners?
Rüsseler: A world that is networked to such an extent can only function if it has a reliable infrastructure. From R&M's perspective, as much effort as possible should be invested in the wired infrastructure, especially in cities, as wireless systems alone cannot transport the volumes of data required. Fiber optic networks offer the best prospects. Due to the demand for local mobility, wireless networks must also be reinforced, and wired networks must be planned and prepared so as to ensure optimal wireless coverage in future.
The infrastructures must be standardized and continuous. They must always include the older generations of network technology, too. It is not possible to convert everything overnight. At the same time, they must be future-proof and easily scalable. Distribution platforms should be adaptable to new situations in just a few simple steps. Cabling and connectivity technology should be constructed in a self-explanatory and maintenance-friendly fashion. We often talk about intuitive operation. High product quality, error-free and easy-to-handle installation by competent staff, permanent availability, and signal transmission without any losses all reduce the operating and maintenance costs of the networks. The total cost of ownership must remain calculable.
Andreas Rüsseler has been Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of the cabling specialist R&M since 2012.