Internet of Things needs more cowbell

At a telecommunications conference hosted by Huawei late last year, I told a group of senior executives looking for growth opportunities in a saturated market that one billion new mobile subscribers were waiting for their services. Then, I showed them a photo of a cow.

People took pictures of my presentation with their smartphones. Some chuckled; maybe they thought I was joking. But I was dead serious.

Chinese dairy farmers are already connecting their herds to the internet. Cows wear collars with wireless sensors that collect biometric data such as body temperature and heart rate. Insights from this information are then used to improve milk production, helping farmers earn an extra $420 a cow each year and increase overall profits by 50% annually.

For China’s farmers, more data means more money in the bank. But, whether the business is bovines or brain surgery, information always enhances decision-making. That’s why those of us in the telecoms industry believe the world would benefit by reimagining digital connectivity.

Connecting more “things” to the internet has the potential to increase efficiency, lift productivity, reduce waste and fuel economic growth. According to a McKinsey Global Institute study, a fully networked internet of things (IoT) could add up to $11-trillion to the global economy every year by 2025. Realising these benefits, however, will require changes in how data is delivered and managed.

Today’s broadband networks were built to serve people; they are used to make phone calls, chat by video, surf the web and play online games. While these applications are important, they are fairly limited in scope.

Scenarios for connecting things are much more diverse. For example, a networked shipping container crossing the ocean must have extended wireless range but it doesn’t need super-fast response speeds. The opposite is true for virtual reality headsets, which require ultra-low delay, or latency, to give viewers an immersive experience.

By 2025, the world will have some 100-billion connected devices and, to derive maximum value from these linkages, we will need to optimise our networks for things as well as people.

The first step in doing that is ensuring that future networks have enough bandwidth to handle applications such as high-definition video, which will soon account for the majority of user traffic. A particular challenge will be upgrading systems to handle industrial video, which is fast becoming integral to modern manufacturing.

For example, chip foundries use machine vision to check integrated circuits for microscopic defects, a process that requires extraordinarily high resolution. To transmit this information, cameras need bandwidths of up to 10 gigabits a second, and a single factory may have 1 000 cameras running simultaneously.

Second, when it comes to data latency, today’s networks are designed for human perception, which tolerates a fairly high degree of delay. On a phone call, for example, a 50-millisecond wait is imperceptible to the human brain. Power grids, on the other hand, need a consistent latency of 20 milliseconds or less. To support connected grids, “smart” robots and other machines, next-generation networks will need to be faster and have even greater capacity.

Third, the networks of tomorrow will need to be automated, self-optimising and self-repairing. Artificial intelligence will allow basic network functions to be placed on autopilot and simple economics will make this a necessity. Once the IoT is supporting billions of connections among cars, trains, factories and hospitals, operating costs will skyrocket unless networks can be maintained with little human intervention.

And finally, to bring the IoT to life, policymakers will need to support the development of advanced networks that can transmit larger volumes of data faster. In particular, the wireless spectrum — airwaves across which data travel invisibly to and from connected devices — will form the basis of many digital services. But spectrum, just like water and oil, is a limited resource.

Most countries will need to release more spectrum space for wireless communications, increasing usable airwaves by anywhere from 50% to 100%.

Every business in every industry can benefit from these advances. New connections will deliver value to entrepreneurs, societies and economies, allowing people to manage assets better and make more fully informed decisions.

But to realise this future, we must begin thinking differently about how networks and business models interact. After all, in a world of deepening connections, everything is a potential new subscriber. — © Project Syndicate

Ken Hu is the deputy chairperson and rotating chief executive officer of Huawei Technologies

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertisting

Stella set to retain her perks

Communication minister will keep Cabinet perks during her two months of special leave

Not a sweet deal, Mister

Mister Sweet workers say they will not risk their health, and the lives of others, to continue producing and packaging confectionaries

Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

The country’s elites, including the president, travelled abroad for treatment but now they must use the country’s neglected health system

Nehawu launches urgent court bid over protective gear for health...

The health workers’ union says the government has rebuffed its attempts to meet about mitigating risks to workers

Press Releases

Rahima Moosa Hospital nursing college introduces no-touch facial recognition access system

The new system allows the hospital to enrol people’s faces immediately, using artificial intelligence, and integrates easily with existing access control infrastructure, including card readers and biometrics

Everyone’s talking about it. Even Kentucky

Earlier this year South African fried chicken fast-food chain, Chicken Licken®, launched a campaign for their wallet-friendly EasyBucks® meals, based on the idea of ‘Everyone’s talking about it.’

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world