If there is any limitation to the Internet of Things (IoT), it’s that devices need an internet connection to function. Many parts of the world don’t have the level of connectivity that the U.S. and other developed nations enjoy. It’s possible, research suggests, that the appeal of the IoT will accelerate the rate of internet connectivity around the globe.
Research conducted by global distributor element14 found developing economies have a profound demand for internet connectivity. The study also hinted that the IoT has the potential to advance the trend toward increased access to the internet in these emerging markets.
The study included more than 3,500 people in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. When asked if it would be beneficial to connect more devices and appliances to the internet, 43 percent agreed. On average, 31 percent of consumers in Australia, France, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. agree that the more devices in their home that connect to the internet, the better. This figure more than doubles to 71 percent for consumers in both China and India, newly industrialized countries with lower percentages of population with internet connectivity (according to World Bank data).
While component makers and OEMs are busy developing IoT products, distributors such as element14 are focusing on assisting customers with IoT designs. Distributors with a global footprint have a significant opportunity to capitalize on their geographic reach, said Alex Iuorio, senior vice president, supplier management and business development for Avnet Electronics Marketing Americas. Avnet is largely able to provide the same products and services to customers no matter where they are located. If a product is designed, for example, in Dallas, its bill of material can be easily transferred to and then sourced in Shanghai.
Dan Casey, executive vice president for Future Electronics, said customers are looking for “complete solutions, pertaining to product architecture and design, supply chain programs, strong availability of product and tools, intimate knowledge of product and technology roadmaps and global support.” OEMs and EMS providers are looking for one-stop shops, distributors say.
From the component standpoint, the cost of entry into the IoT is fairly low. Companies that don’t typically play in the internet space have the opportunity to enter the IoT market. Nevertheless, suppliers and distributors have found customers need various types of assistance to succeed.
“IoT offers so many opportunities for new functionality and capabilities outside of existing products, and many companies and product designers are being forced to rethink their traditional businesses," said Dianne Kibbey, element14’s Global Head of Community, in a press release. Element14 is focusing on accelerating customers' time to market. In addition to offering online design tools and software, element14 has expanded its products beyond components and builds simple circuit boards for its customers. "While some [companies] are struggling to realize and understand IoT’s significance, [element14’s] research shows key geographies and applications where IoT has strong potential," Kibbey added.
Those geographies, of course, include China. Element14’s study found 73 percent of respondents from China and 86 percent of respondents from India believe the more devices that are connected the better. This compares with just a 55 percent average across Australia, France, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. The study also found that people in China and India are also much more open to wearing a connected device such as a smartwatch or smartglasses, with 66 percent and 63 percent, respectively, agreeing with that statement, compared to 26 percent on average in the other countries surveyed.
Distributors that have in the past focused on component fulfillment are stepping up their engineering efforts to support their global customers. America II Electronics historically has been an independent distributor that buys and sells excess component inventory. Now, America II has added franchises to its model and has become a “blended” distributor. Suppliers that franchise distributors usually expect their partners to push their technologies in the market. That, in turn, requires a more technical salesforce.
“We have component engineers on staff,” said Brian Ellison, president of America II, "and technology is part of the discussion we are having with suppliers. We need to offer engineering services, and with our salesforce, we have a solid base. Our employees know how to discover opportunities; have industry knowledge; and the field teams are accustomed to dealing with engineers. They know what products the manufacturers offer. And if necessary, we can always fall back on our suppliers for [additional] support.”
For all the hoopla surrounding the IoT, consumers have significant concerns about their connected devices. In the U.S., element14 found more than two thirds (68 percent) of respondents are concerned about notification overload as an effect of connected devices, highlighting the need for intelligent automation and minimal interaction in IoT technology.
With regards to the privacy implications of IoT, France was revealed to be the most concerned nation with 81 percent agreeing this was an issue for them. The average number was only marginally lower (77 percent), showing IoT technologies must be transparent and address privacy concerns.
“The IoT has immense potential, but individuals and companies also have very valid concerns about security and privacy in an interconnected IoT world,” said Dr. John Barrett, Head of Academic Studies at the Nimbus Centre for Embedded Systems Research at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and Group Director of the Centre's Smart Systems Integration Research Group, in a press release. “In Nimbus, security and privacy are an integral aspect of our research and application development, and worthwhile IoT devices need to reassure users they will get something they value in return for allowing their data to be collected. I’m very much looking forward to what participants in the Enchanted Objects Challenge produce.”
The Enchanted Objects Challenge is a design contest sponsored by element14. The challenge will be judged by a panel of IoT experts including Dr. Barrett. To learn more about the Enchanted Objects design challenge, visit the homepage.
Most analysts are projecting explosive IoT growth over the next decade, which bodes well for companies playing in the electronics field, said Future’s Casey. Electronics companies were at the forefront of globalization. The ability to serve global customers will result in more customers, more suppliers, more consultants and many new innovative products and applications, he concludes.