The companies and engineers that will commit to that effort will have to be comforted in the knowledge that their investment is protected and yielding value. Real, economic, fungible value that can be traded, transacted and monetized in some way, shape or form. The current very fashionable effort to eliminate the value of intellectual property should be of concern to anyone who sees the IoT opportunity and wants to see it materialize soon, now, without delay, and in a form that can sustain explosive growth. For all the various lawsuits and actions we’re seeing in wireless, the protection that companies have gotten in developing core technologies has resulted in a system that has gotten us from the Nokia 3310 – with its black and white screen and snake game, to the iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy and other smartphones – not to mention the application industry that’s been built around it – in ten years flat. And that’s been a beneficial thing for everyone.
Before I sign off, and to just close off on the eulogy theme that I began with, I’d like to offer a prediction. It’s a prediction that’s based on a look at the big names in computing technology before the era of interoperability that came to define it, and also based on the mobile industry as it transitioned from a vertical supply chain to a horizontal one with the advent of standards. Some of those names were remarkable, absolute giants in their day who simply were unable to adapt to a changing world.
In 1982, the same year AT&T decided to give away their wireless spectrum to the Baby Bells, DIGITAL Equipment Corp was one of the world’s largest makers of computer systems – those of us who’ve been in the business for a few years either know a number of former DEC folks, or are among that number ourselves. Well, in that same year of 1982, Digital released not one, not two, but three microcomputer systems that were incompatible to each other, incompatible to anything else in the industry, and tied to proprietary platforms that meant that if you wanted an actual program to run on those machines, it had to be custom-developed by DEC. And even though those machines easily outperformed their competing PCs, they fell by the wayside, for reasons that are obvious to us today. The same story is told a million times, stories of absolute dinosaurs of the industry that may have ruled the earth, but couldn’t evolve: Burroughs, Wang, DEC, Control Data, Osborne… the list goes on.
And those names that did survive did so by adapting aggressively, and becoming very different businesses today than they were then.
So back to my prediction. If history holds true, and standards and platforms do have the same effect in M2M as they’ve had throughout technology history, I’m going to predict that the vast majority of companies that have been involved in M2M to date – doing custom integrations, building proprietary solutions, deploying systems soup to nuts – will disappear within the next decade or so, unless they make a substantial change to their business. A change so substantial that it involves basically revisiting everything they’ve done to earn a living to date and accept to step into the new world of the Internet of Things with their only advantage – although it is a considerable one – being the vertical industry understanding and experience they’ve gained.
Other than those companies, what we will see in a decade or even much less is a new list of players, doing things a new way. For many it will be a considerable challenge. But for all of us it’s a huge opportunity.