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Will Moore’s and Metcalfe’s Laws Cross the IOT Chasm?

The success of the IOT may depend more on a viable customer experience over the convergence of the semiconductor and communication worlds.

By John Blyler, Editor, IOT Embedded Systems

The Internet of Things will involve a huge number of embedded devices reporting back to data aggregators running servers on the cloud. Low cost and low power sensors, cameras and other sources will allow the IOT to render the real world into a digital format. All of these “things” will be connected together via the Internet, which will open up new business models and services for customers and users. It should greatly expand the human–machine experience.

The key differentiators between the emerging IOT and traditional embedded systems is connectivity. IOT will conceivable connect all embedded things together. The result will be an almost inconceivable amount of data from sensors, cameras and the like, which will be transferred to the cloud for major computation and analysis.

Connectivity means IOT platforms will have a huge data side. Experts predict that the big data industry will grow to about US$54.3 billion by 2017. But the dark side of connectivity is the proliferation of hacking and privacy lapses caused by poor security.

Security is an issue for users as well as for the device developers. Since most IoT devices are resource constrained, designer cannot deploy resource-intensive security protection mechanisms. They are further constrained by the low cost of mass-produced devices.

Another challenge is that most software developers are not particularly security or reliability conscious. They lack training in the use of security testing, encryption, etc. Their code is often not design nor programmed in a defensive fashion.

Finally, since IOT devices will be designed and available on a massive scale, security attacks and failures can be easily propagated. Frequently software security patches will be needed but these must be design for early in the development life cycle of both the hardware (think architecture and memory) and software.

Moore-Metcalf and the Chasm

Connectivity, security and data analysis will make IOT devices far more complex than tradition embedded systems. This complexity in design and product acceptance can be illustrated by the confluence of two laws and a marketing chasm. Let’s consider each separately.

First, there is Moore’s Law. In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore predicted that transistor density (related to performance) of microprocessors would double every 2 years (see Figure 1). While “doubling every 2 years” suggests a parabola-shaped curve, Moore’s growth function is almost always represented in a straight line ― complemented by a logarithmic scale on the Y-axis.

Figure 1: Moore’s Law (courtesy of Mentor Graphics, Semi Pacific NW, 2015)

Several years later, another technology pioneer, 3Com co-founder Bob Metcalfe, stated that the value of a network grows with the square of the number of network nodes (or devices, or applications, or users, etc.), while the costs follow a more or less linear function. Not surprisingly, this equation is show as a network connection diagram. For example, 2 mobile devices will only able to communicate with each other. However, if you have billions of connected devices and applications, connection complexity rising considerably (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Metcalfe’s Law.

Metcalfe’s Law is really about network growth rather than about technological innovation. Blogger Marc Jadoul recently noted on the Nokia website that, the combination of Moore’s and Metcalfe’s principles explains the evolution of communication networks and services, as well as the rise of the Internet of Things. The current IoT growth is enabled by hardware miniaturization, decreasing sensor costs, and ubiquitous wireless access capabilities that are empowering an explosive number of smart devices and applications…”

Jadoul realizes that the availability of state-of-the-art technology does not always guarantee success, citing the struggling growth of two main IOT “killer” consumer devices and apps, namely, watches and connected thermostats. The latter is also notorious for its security issues.

He explains this slow adoption by considering the “chasm.” Geoffrey A. Moore wrote about the gap that product marketers have to bridge for a new technology to go mainstream. Jadoul then combines these three charts, admitting the inaccuracies caused by different axis and scales, to observe that the chasm is actually the point where the shift from a technology driven model to a value and customer experience driven business needs to take place (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Intersection of Gordon Moore’s Law, Metcalfe’s Law and Geoffrey Moore’s “the Chasm. (Courtesy of Marc Jadoul blog.)

This line of reasoning highlights the key differentiator of the IOT, i.e., connectivity of embedded semiconductor devices. But the success of the IOT may depend more on a viable customer experience over the convergence of computational and communication technologies.

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