Ok, everyone who bought into the notion that IoT is the biggest thing to hit the technology world since the Internet.....please raise your hand. Now, now, I think some of you are failing to be honest and keeping your hands down. I am talking to you, CEOs of some of the largest companies in the world.
I bring this up on the plane ride back home from DistribuTECH, which was held in surprisingly chilly Orlando this year. The show, as always, provides an excellent platform to reach key customers. Unlike most trade shows that are often filled up with students and retirees, both looking for a free meal or contacts, this show tends to draw a higher level of customer, often even the decision makers themselves.
If you flash back a number of years ago when I started to attend, you would have found a lot of cool, but kind of nerdy displays. Transformers, meters and other kind of cool electric things that I have really no idea what they are used for. I think I was one of the first communications-only people that started to attend. Enter IoT....now, it is not cool to be just a hardware providers. Everyone is touting their cloud-based, connected offerings as part of a service.
It seems that many of the executives at some of the world's largest Industrial companies (who are in fact some of the largest companies in the world period) have made IoT their future saviour....yet, where is the revenue to date to justify these enormous investments?
I have talked about this before, how IoT is not delivering nearly the growth that everyone (especially the analysts and CEOs) had projected. This is in spite of some major purchases, such as Google's purchase of Nest a couple of years back.
The most recent thing being touted as the next catalyst to launch IoT into the stratosphere is the newer versions of LTE. Newer, but better? I am not sure. You see, every new generation of cellular data technology has vaulted us forward....faster speeds, lower latencies and better capacity. This newest technology is actually slower, much slower in fact.....so, will it work?
Cat 1 LTE takes us back down a bit....slightly lower speeds with the enticement of a lower cost piece of hardware to base your solutions on. This makes sense....many applications run well on even a fraction of the speed provided by today's 3G technology, so Cat 1 is more than quick enough. It also provides a long building base of network availability which many companies desire today. Last but not least, it makes Cat M look like a rocket...
Cat M offers speeds that hark back to when I used to have more hair and before these loud creatures called me Dad and constantly invaded my wallet. It seems to appear to be slowing things down a bit too much for some, but it looks like it will offer a compelling balance of longevity (4G is still early on), cost (numbers I have heard may open up some brand-new markets) and performance (you're not going to stream Netflix on it, but it will effectively deliver enough bandwidth for a large amount of IoT solutions).
The Bottom Line
Is Cat M (or Cat 1 today) enough to truly kick-start IoT to the level that it was projected to be? Well, having a lower cost technology does open up new areas, so that might help. As well, it may help people make the move from Wi-Fi to cellular, as it brings costs down to a price point that makes it compelling to "throw it in" for many applications. However, I don't think it on its own will do the trick. As an industry, we need to do a better job getting customers to understand (and be willing to pay for) this emerging technology. Until then, I look forward to continuing to see how DistribuTECH further moves into being a communications show....hopefully, it will be warmer in San Diego next year!