Black Swan at IoT TechDay 2016

Two ‘things’ stood out firmly today at the IoT Tech Day 2016 in Utrecht. Both are potentially disruptive in nature. Ironically they are disruptive for precisely the ‘disruptiveness of IoT’ we all start to believe is actually upon us today.

First a simple but nonetheless scary observation: there is too much contention for space in the 2.4Ghz radio bandwidth range. Not just WiFi access points – 802.11b, 802.11g and 802.11n – flood the spheres but also BlueTooth devices, car alarm systems, microwave ovens, DECT phones, ZigBee devices and even home video broadcasts tend to talk heavily and loud in this part of the spectrum. So if you want to make sure that your connected thing will be able to deliver its data or collect its commands in a timely and disruption-free fashion you will have to connect your thing elsewhere. The 5Ghz range is still relatively quiet but the question remains, for how long? And what if every Bob and Alice start to connect all their gear and flood the available space?

The Dutch Radiocommunications Agency, the national expert in (and enforcer of) the regulation of bandwidth use, does not know. And they are proud to admit to their lack of insight. At this point they are not even sure if certain parts of the frequency ranges should be regulated or not. They are however currently creating scenario’s that will help them draft up policies for future regulation. These scenario’s will be based on rational and logical combinations of plausible but yet unknown variables. How many devices, what type of communication, what density of connections, which networks? Coming September they will publish their findings.

Why they do not know, you ask? Because they believe they – and we, the IoT practitioners – have stumbled upon a ‘black swan’ (Look for Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan, The Impact of the Highly Improbable). An animal so rare that it upsets all our previous observations and calculations. A highly disruptive animal because it challenges the expertise of the experts. So our Radiocommunications Agency’s advice is as simple as it is dumbfounded: “Do not trust the expert in this matter”. Try to figure it out for yourself by experimenting, joining forces with others, by failing fast and moving on.

Laughable as this might seem, they do have an excellent point: IoT in it’s current shape is unfinished business. A lot of data, yes. A lot of potential, sure. A flurry of technical excitement, absolutely. But all of this to no clear end. There are no killer apps for IoT, yet. Maybe this is an advantage, actually. If you can find a well defined problem, if you are willing and able to imagine a fitting approach toward a solution. Then you might have your killer app sooner than expected. We tend to help with that. Join us and let’s create your own scenario’s.

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