If we could better control the physical world, how might we improve our lives? This question is being asked by daring mobile innovators in laboratories, startups and garages across the country as the connected revolution moves from smartphones to the world around us.
An exploding ecosystem, already numbering 10 billion connected devices, is a prime venue for economic transformation and exponential growth. We are on the verge of another wireless-driven technological revolution fueled by a vast sea of connected devices. Today, total global revenue from the internet of things is $200 billion. By 2020, that revenue is estimated to reach $1.2 trillion.
This revolution isn’t just about connecting clever gadgets and digital devices to the internet; it’s about connecting people to untold new opportunities. It’s about a chronically ill person whose doctor is automatically notified by a wireless device if her medical condition changes. It’s about cars that automatically call for help after a crash. It’s about smart buildings that monitor the weather to adjust thermostats and blinds for optimal energy efficiency.
Entrepreneurs are taking everyday items and making them infinitely better by adding computing power and internet connectivity. Computing intelligence is being infused deeper into the systems and processes that make the world work and connecting unlikely items to the internet — power meters, cars and trucks, containers, pipelines, home appliances, wind farm turbines, vending machines and almost any electronic device that can benefit from a wireless connection.
Pragmatic policy choices can help ensure continued American leadership in the innovation economy. Already in the U.S., there are more connected devices than people. Connected device traffic will grow 24 times over the next 5 years and, by 2020, is estimated to double 2012’s traffic.
This newfound digital opportunity requires critical policy choices to keep the innovation pipeline running. That includes targeted research to stoke the innovation bonfire; the advancement of enlightened internet policy; enablement of capital formation and investment; expansion of high speed networks that can go faster and farther; and assurance that there are enough STEM graduates.
To advance the emerging connected device revolution, we need to continue to free up spectrum for commercial wireless use, and accelerate the transition to IP networks. At GigaOM’s Mobilize conference on October 16, I’ll be talking about some of the ways we can do this. President Obama has already taken important steps to make more spectrum available and accelerate the transition to faster and more capable next-generation IP-based wireless LTE networks. It is absolutely essential that we continue to invest and upgrade our next-generation networks today in order to keep pace with innovation and meet the wireless demands of consumers and businesses tomorrow.
To amplify the benefits when things start talking, policymakers need to start talking too. They need to ask for a bigger vision and bolder action for a brighter connected future. With pragmatic policies that tap our talent and tenacity, harness innovation and investment and expand wireless capacity and digital networks, the coming connected device decade will forever change our daily lives.
Jim Kohlenberger is a former White House policy advisor to two U.S. presidents and is president of JK Strategies, a public policy consulting practice. He serves as executive director of jobs4america and serves on the board of the Benton Foundation and the Advisory Board for Mobile Future.