Google officially saw the light of day 20 years ago. For the general public, hundreds of thousands of companies suddenly became easy to find on the Net. Today, we are again faced with another similar technological revolution - possibly an even greater one. Because the Internet of Things train, where billions of objects are connected to the Internet, has left at full speed. It is now up to Belgian companies to jump on that train - before it really is too late.
Sam Schellekens, Senior Business Development Manager, Telenet
The Internet was opened to the general public 25 years ago. The first graphic browser, Mosaic, followed a year later, and the first commercial website came online in 1995: that of PizzaHut. Google was officially registered as an enterprise in 1998, and hundreds of thousands of companies went online in the following years. The advent of Google meant that you no longer had to type the full web address into the browser's address bar, but could search for websites via keywords and a simple search bar.
The Internet has evolved with the speed of lightning since then. Four years ago, the web counted more than 8,000 exabyte of data, or 8 billion terabytes. If we could convert this data into books, they would stretch to Pluto and back sixteen times. Nowadays, we all use 44 billion gigabytes of data every day, and that will be up to 463 billion gigabytes by 2025. This just goes to show: our society has changed immensely over the past 25 years.
An O2 Mobile study even showed that 96% of millennials would rather share their toothbrush with a complete stranger than their mobile phone. The Internet - and the accompanying advent of the smartphone - have become the center of our lives. We open doors with it, use it to communicate and watch TV, arrange our banking business or use it to show us the way.
Tricorder from 2260? Today a reality
Today, with the 'Internet of Things' (IoT), we are at the beginning of a new phase. Experts predict that its impact will make everything we have known so far seem trivial. We are about to connect the physical world with the Internet. That means: the planet and everything on it - from chairs and trash cans, traffic lights and street lighting to plants and cars.
That devices can communicate with each other is not so new, but everything takes on a new dimension with the arrival of big data. Think of devices and appliances that adapt smartly to what we need. Parking sensors that can indicate whether there is still space from a few kilometers away, tracking systems that know at which yard the building material is located, sensors that measure the air quality in offices or the crowds in a street or shop. Star Trek was supposed to be in the year 2260. Dr. McCoy’s tricorder, a device that scanned the environment and objects and analyzed the accompanying data, seems to be as good as reality today.
Wait and see?
Some countries immediately started to experiment with the Internet of Things. South Korea was one of the early adopters and, according to OECD figures, has the most developed Internet of Things in the world. For every hundred residents, 39.7 devices are connected to the Internet. Denmark and Switzerland complete the top three. Belgium is in eleventh place, with 15.6 connected devices, and stands behind its neighboring countries of the Netherlands, Germany and France.
But our country is not doing too badly. Think, for example, of the city of Antwerp, which has the ambition to become a smart city, or the plan of Flemish minister Philippe Muyters to extend the City of Things project across Flanders. Nevertheless, many Belgian companies were a bit cautious and reluctant with regard to the technology at the beginning. We preferred to sit back and wait, and observe where others make mistakes. Because such a technology also brings bottlenecks with it, of course.
Can there, for example, still be something like privacy when everything and everyone is connected to each other? Businesses and consumers will always have to weigh up the extent to which they want to be connected, and what information they thereby want to make available. There will also always be people who have other intentions for that data. And that’s why it’s extremely important to invest sufficiently in the security of your Internet of Things solutions. From this year, as a telecom operator, we have been using Telenet Tinx to help ensure that these thousands of different sensors with different standards can respond smartly and easily to each other. And cyber-security is also an essential part of this.
For the time being, the IoT is still too much in the gadget area for the consumer. A smart fridge or washing machine are nice things to have, but the necessity is not there yet. But if more and more companies start working with it, the numbers of connected devices that can communicate with each other will become enormous, and the added value will only become clear then. Ericsson and Gartner expect more than 20 billion connected devices by 2020. Most companies have now luckily understood that technology can help them make their activities more efficient. And that they can learn new things from the flow of data, in order to improve their customer experience.
Let me be clear: you do not always have to be the first on the market. But we also can’t afford to delay. We have seen enough examples. We know where the bottlenecks lie and can handle this carefully and thoughtfully. Don’t try to get everything right from the start. After all, the technology is evolving very quickly, so there are plenty of opportunities to make adjustments during the project. 2018 is the time to jump on the Internet of Things train. If we don’t do that, we will lose our competitiveness, and the next train station will seem to get further and further away.