Where Canada could find some inspiration for its IoT strategy

The Internet of Things may be a global phenomenon, but analysts say China is standing out for its initiative. Here’s why

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The Asia-Pacific market has often led the way in high-tech, and the IoT isn’t any different. It’s a culture that tends to be more connectivity-oriented, said Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst with ZK Research during the Internet of Things World Forum held last month in Chicago.

“If you look at the capabilities that teenagers have on their mobile devices (in the Asia-Pacific), it far exceeds what corporate executives have here (in North America),” he said.

It’s expected the IoT will take off strongly in Asia, Africa and Latin America. But in China in particular, the government is investing heavily in IoT — in fact, there’s already an evolving domestic industry. This is where Canada’s public sector might have something to learn.

Back in 2012, for example, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao identified the IoT as an “emerging strategic industry,” with plans to invest the equivalent of US$800 million into the industry by 2015 — starting with food safety and healthcare.

Remember the milk powder incident? The IoT — through labels embedded with microchips — could help producers and regulators track origin, temperature and other food safety factors to prevent dangerous chemicals from being inadvertently added to the food supply.

Over the past couple of years, Beijing has been developing technologies that allow devices to communicate through infrared sensors, radio frequency identification and other machine-to-machine technologies. There’s even a Chengdu Internet of Things Technology Institute.

In August, China held the Shenzhen International Internet of Things Expo — the largest exhibition of its kind in Asia. But, perhaps most notably, this is the sixth year the event has taken place. We have yet to see this level of activity in Canada, though that could soon change.

Of course, China is a manufacturing powerhouse, and the IoT is a perfect fit in the manufacturing sector. But China could really use the IoT.

China’s power grid hasn’t been able to keep up with the country’s rapid pace of economic growth and urbanization, and its power supply regularly fluctuates between shortages and overcapacity. Smart meters wouldn’t just be a “nice to have” here — but a necessity for its billion-plus population.

By 2025, it’s estimated that China will have 221 cities with a population of more than one million — just imagining the gridlock is enough to give a person heart palpitations. Smart traffic and parking apps could help keep traffic flowing, but also reduce emissions and energy consumption (and perhaps even road rage).

Of course, it would make sense that Beijing wants to get ahead in the IoT race so it can set the standards, rather than follow them — like it had to in the wireless race (after trying to develop its own standards, China’s carriers switched over to 4G wireless pipelines).

And it’s got a head start. China and other Asian countries are well ahead of the rest of the world in deploying IoT. Between 2010 and 2013, China alone added almost 39 million M2M connections, according to Europe-based GSMA.

What’s perhaps most important, though, is what will be done with those connections — which devices are being connected to the network, how information is being captured and how it will be used for insight.

But IoT doesn’t have to be a “race.” Ultimately, all countries face the same challenges — and possibilities — with IoT. This includes Canada. Working together to share best practices and develop new technologies will benefit all of us.

Image: Chengdu Internet of Things Technology Institute

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