The Internet of Things looks set to transform how we use mobile technology. Will it also transform your cellular data bills?

The Internet of Things (or IoT, or M2M for ‘machine to machine) is all the buzz at major tech and telecoms events this year. The idea is to computerize all sorts of otherwise mundane household goods—washing machines, refrigerators, thermostats, televisions — and then connect them to the internet.

In the future, your (by then quite fashionable) Google Glasses could be in regular contact with your refrigerator via your mobile and prompt you when you’re low on butter. From there, you could tell the fridge to tweet your spouse and ask them to top-up the groceries on the way home. If he or she forgets to lock the car, the TV will flash a warning.
As more companies build these capabilities into everyday items, it won’t be long until everything in your house is communicating with you through your phone.
Gartner is predicting that the internet of things will add $1.9 trillion USD to the global economy by 2020. Whilst on a basic level, some home appliances are already ‘smart’, from Nest thermostats controlled from smartphones to Samsung’s Internet-connected refrigerator, which tweets and streams music from Pandora. If the interoperability challenges can be overcome, all of these devices will eventually speak to one another — constantly.
For mobility managers the worry has to be ‘how much of this constant chatter between devices and owners is going to be directed through smart phones?’, because remote control and always-on management by mobile is one of the key drivers of the technology. The internet of things looks to be another major source of bill shock and security worries.
The first ‘fridge-based botnet’ has already been detected and it’s a safe bet that limited computing capacity will make early stage smart appliances less than secure. The influx of new sources of personal data onto the net will be irresistible to hackers, creating new vectors of malware infection — and new data leakage concerns for corporates.
None of that is likely to slow IoT’s momentum. Mobile operators see the internet of things as a huge revenue opportunity and they will do everything they can to facilitate and monetise the expected rise in data traffic. Handset manufacturers and app developers will be busy creating smart device remote control consoles for every major mobile OS.
Gartner estimates that by 2020, the Rise of the Machines will drive 22 times as much data traffic as exists today. We wonder what the multiple on mobile data bills will be.

Attending this year’s Mobile World Congress? Check out the session on how operators will respond to the Internet of Things on 27th February.