It seems that one can hardly take two virtual steps around the telecom sector these days without running into Cisco's now-canonical statistic that there will be 50 billion connected devices in the world by the year 2020.
As recently as May 6, AT&T Vice President of Security Solutions Jason Porter repeated this Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) stat in one of Light Reading's Upskill U lectures -- further noting that a recent AT&T survey found that 32% of respondents have a minimum of 5,000 connected devices in their organization.
At the same time, underlining the uncertainty as to the precise size and growth of the IoT market, the AT&T survey data that Porter presented went on to note that 35% of respondents have no idea how many connected devices are in their organization.
Indeed, what's often missing from the articles, tweets and presentations citing Cisco's 2020 statistic is that Cisco concurrently predicted in April 2011 that we would have 25 billion connected devices -- half of the 2020 figure -- by 2015. The prediction was far too optimistic; at this time last year there were only, according to a report-cum-concession by Cisco and DHL, about 15 billion connected devices. Of those, according to a November 10 Gartner report, just over 4.9 billion -- or close to one third of all connected devices -- were actual IoT "things."
Meanwhile, Gartner Inc. analysts seem to agree with Cisco that a massive IoT explosion is imminent. 2016 will see nearly 6.4 billion IoT-specific devices globally, reports Gartner, requiring $1.414 trillion in endpoint spending.
"In 2016, 5.5 million new things will get connected every day," reads Gartner's report.
Gartner is not alone in making bold prophecies that counter its analytical competitors' more unadventurous estimates. IDC outright rejected Cisco and DHL's study and Gartner's recent report preemptively by reporting a whopping 9.1 billion Internet of Things "Things" -- let alone connected devices of any kind -- installed as early as 2013. This figure represents nearly double what Gartner reported for 2015 -- two years later.
IDC's enthusiastic IoT prediction for 2020? 28.1 billion installed and connected "Things." (Not devices as a whole. Actual IoT Things.)
Other sources have been more restrained in their IoT estimates. Some anticipate as few as 25 billion connected devices by 2020. Ericsson's Mobility Report from November 2015 -- cited in another Upskill U lecture on IoT by Martin Zander, vice president of Ericsson's Group Function Strategy (archived here) -- indicates 28 billion connected devices in 2021, with only 15 billion of those devices being IoT-specific (apparently discarding Cisco and DHL's 2015 estimation of then-present connected devices).
Sorell Slaymaker, an evangelist at 128 Technology (a network security firm that works extensively in the telecom vertical), pointed out in an interview with Telco Transformation that Gartner -- where Slaymaker used to be an analyst -- had different numbers even among its own forecasts.
"There is a difference between forecasts and predictions. Forecasts occur in mature markets and are based on trends and hard facts[.] Predictions are for new markets and are subject to greater variability," said Slaymaker. "Sometimes the question is not what will happen, but when. This is one of those things."
Wherever the precise truth lies, however, it likely matters but little.
"[While] the various [reports] all take differing views of the IoT opportunity, they all agree that the market will be enormous," Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of cloud and IoT consultancy THINKStrategies, told Telco Transformation. "However, they don't take into account the technological, organizational and psychological obstacles that still need to be overcome to make these predictions a reality."
To overcome these obstacles, said Kaplan, businesses will need to integrate all of their business functions organization-wide while leveraging IoT connectivity accordingly "to better understand" customer interaction and behavior. Kaplan added that this requires undergoing a multistep process to implement IoT-enabling hardware and software solutions that are right for one's own organization.
Russ Fadel, president and general manager of ThingWorx, took these software and connectivity prognostications even further during his keynote at last year's LiveWorx in Boston, announcing that 2020 will herald an additional 5 million new apps to support the 50 billion connected devices Cisco predicts. By 2030, Fadel said, we will go from 2020's 50 billion connected devices (per Cisco) to 1 trillion connected devices -- and that, to justify their value, with those devices will come 500 million new apps.
"What's [been] missing is that no one was talking about the application," Fadel told LiveWorx 2015 attendees. "No application, no value."
The other primary factor needed to support this immense IoT growth? Money, of course. According to Gartner, in 2020 the world will spend more than $3 trillion on IoT endpoints in support of almost 21 billion "Things" -- apparently rejecting the more conservative studies.
Conservative estimates and liberal estimates aside, Slaymaker emphasized that the real focus should be not on the if but on the when.
"I usually go with more conservative numbers [because] change occurs slower than planned in most industries, [but] I would be very comfortable with predicting that there will be 100 [billion] IoT devices by 2030," said Slaymaker. "The trajectory of the curve is what varies the most, not where we will be long term."
Kaplan succinctly drives the point home.
"No matter what [IoT] forecast you see," said Kaplan during an April 26 webinar presentation on IoT and related topics, "you will find that the curve will be dramatically up and to the right."
— Joe Stanganelli, Contributing Writer