Virtual1 (en-GB)

Messages from beyond the fridge


James Hickman - CTO at Virtual1

In 1968, a little known company called Viatron used the term “microprocessor” for the first time and thus heralded the modern computing age. Early designs were power-hungry, painfully slow by modern standards and used to run computers and not much else. Eventually these things started running non-computer devices like washing machines, lifts, satellite receivers. There are just what we called “Embedded Systems”.

In 2000, LG Electronics gave us the first Internet-enabled fridge. Suddenly any busy consumer could have the stock level of their chilled items maintained automatically. There were a few problems though. The average Internet connection in the UK at the time was dial-up with less than 1% of the population being able to afford ADSL. The fridge didn’t integrate with anythingelse, so to use it, you stand in front of it. Oh and it cost over £10,000.

Fast-forward to 2016 and there are daily emails from analysts and vendors about “TheInternet of Things”. This new whizz-bang technology is well, to be honest, old technology. It is the same idea. Microprocessors inside a thing that isn’t acomputer, connecting it to the outside world. So what’s different?

The cost of the technology has dropped and we are more used to using things like tablets. The technology doesn’t feel so invasive anymore. Less gimmicky. But the real breakthrough is the connectivity. We have decent, secure Wifi andprotocols that tie together devices from different vendors. Anybody that can’t control their heating from their phone is a little bit old fashioned now.

As providers of technology, we facilitate all this stuff. We have challenges with an aging copper infrastructure and a rapidly diminishing IP address pool, coupled with an ever-increasing demand for bandwidth. By 2020 it is predicted there will be 5 billion Internet users, about three times as many as we have today. Each of those will use more than one device or have a few things theyuse which are Internet connected. As the technology becomes cheaper and leaner, there will be sensors in everything, spewing out large amounts of data. Which is good news for anybody selling network services.

We sometimes take the connectivity for granted, but it is essential for all the Internet-enabled world we live in. We’ve come a long way in just under 60 years. And these Internet things are not going to slow down now. Just think about that when you are trying to remember if you need to buy milk on the way home.