IoT emerges as the 'Internet of everything to everybody' at CES

Monica Alleven, FierceWirelessTechYou'd have to be hiding under a blackjack table to miss the barrage of Internet of Things (IoT) rhetoric pouring out of the panels, press conferences and exhibitors at the Consumer Electronics Show this week. Actually, scratch that. Even if you're under a table, the casino is likely tracking your every move, so you, too, might be counted as part of the IoT, depending on your definition.  

I didn't attend the confab this year, but I remember the first time I went to a CES, back when big, high-def TV screens were all the rage and little "things" not so much. Back then, we wore pagers as we darted around the show floors, trying not to wander into the wrong wing of the convention center lest we get crushed in the crowd between the lavishly dressed (or underdressed?) stars and their fans. Yes, those were the days.

For a time, it was a relative novelty to see much if any cool new wireless handsets at CES--vendors and carriers saved that for the big wireless industry trade shows like CTIA. Then somewhere along the way, CES became the launching ground for hot new handsets and devices--until handset makers and service providers got the idea, perhaps from Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), that maybe staging your own event away from the big show would produce more bang for the buck.

But this year, IoT was a clear and present theme. Kicking it off in an opening keynote, Samsung Electronics co-CEO Boo-Keun Yoon made clear that Samsung wants to be the leader in the IoT of the future. By 2017, the company expects 90 percent of its products will be IoT devices, and it plans to make that 100 percent within five years. That sounds pretty astounding at first glance, but when you think about it, if everything is getting connected, then reaching 100 percent isn't all that astonishing.

Another strategy that makes a lot of sense came out of BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY), which many had written off long ago as a has-been. Shrewdly, it's leveraging its security heritage and technology portfolio to make its new IoT platform a powerhouse with which to be reckoned. Security will have a huge impact on the success of the IoT. And yeah, it's an underdog--even though at one time Blackberry boasted security good enough for the President of the United States. If it can play its security card in the IoT, there could still be hope for BlackBerry yet.

For the ecosystem at large, plenty of interoperability and other challenges remain around the multiple IoT platforms. With so many protocols at various layers vying for dominance, it will take time for competitors to work it out for the greater good.

On the show's sidelines, it was interesting to note John Donovan's comments during Citi's 2015 Global Internet, Media & Telecommunications Conference. The senior EVP of technology and network operations at AT&T (NYSE: T) said 5G is taking shape and the technology is probably a decade out, but the real trick will be in the timing.

"There is a penalty to being early and there's a penalty to being late," he said, so picking the right time is probably more important than dwelling on which technology will prevail. At some point, the technology choices will become clear enough, he said.

AT&T is designing all of its networks with video consumption at the front and center, and the Internet of Things is the "polar opposite" of video. "Video is fat, sticky bits, set up a session, stream," he said. "The Internet of Things is chatty, back and forth, back and forth… It's really an interesting problem for network people to deal with," where one is dominated by the control plane the other is data-plane intensive. "We've never really had them both hit us simultaneously. So it's an interesting problem for us."

Another interesting thing to ponder is exactly what gets included in the IoT. Cisco CEO John Chambers used last year's CES keynote to zero in on the vastness of the "Internet of Everything," (IoE) which Cisco defines as bringing together people, process, data and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before--"turning information into actions that create new capabilities, richer experiences and unprecedented economic opportunity for businesses, individuals and countries."

That description is noteworthy because the IoE is not exactly the same as the IoT. The economic opportunities are a lot bigger when you include items touched by "people" in the IoT equation.

It's tempting to brush off the IoT-versus-IoE debate as trivial or one based on semantics. But maybe Cisco's onto something here. Cisco predicts that between now and 2022, $19 trillion is at stake for organizations willing to take advantage of the IoE opportunity. When you put it like that, it's easy to see why everyone wants a piece of the pie, and presumably, the bigger piece the better. Judging by the clamor from this year's CES, the IoT includes pretty much every "thing."--Monica