Wireless and Digital Services

A trillion things I’d like for Christmas

By Robert Milner - Last updated: Monday, December 19, 2016

thinkstockphotos-629448130-xmas-lightsThis weekend we did the Christmas decorations. As some of our decorations are now a little bit old and tired we headed off to the shops to restock. It’s easy to miss the change in Christmas lighting over just a few years. Our old lights still had bulbs – probably because at the time we bought them LED lights were too expensive for use once a year.

Now everything uses LEDs and the selection on offer is astounding. This has happened because of the massive improvements in the industrialisation of LED technology over recent years, powering several large markets such as mobile handsets, TVs, lighting, automotive and the plethora of everyday devices that now have an LED indicator on them.

So what could this tell us about the IoT? The lights I ended up buying had about 1000 LEDs for £30.00, so 3 pence per device or just under 4 cents at the current exchange rate. Each one of these LEDs is a small piece of semiconductor integrated into a circuit that provides power and then encapsulated into a housing that makes them weather proof. This is quite close to the minimum viable IoT product. Such a product has power, housing and its light radiates out into the distance and has a useful range. Sensing, communications with useful range and processing can all be integrated onto a single chip and this chip needs to be connected to power and housed to create the core of an IoT product.

Connected devices at the price point of a few cents would cause an explosion of applications. SoftBank’s CEO draws an analogy to the Cambrian explosion of life on earth. To extend his analogy, the Cambrian explosion did not begin with the biggest and most impressive of creatures, but with their evolution out of a primordial soup of much smaller organisms. If we can take the cost out of useful connected devices then the ambition of 1 trillion connected devices could prove to be a little modest.