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Internet-Connected Things Will Soon Outnumber People

The growing Internet of Things brings new opportunities and challenges.

The Internet of Things is growing faster each year. The number of Internet-connected devices is projected to reach 4.9 billion in 2015 and 25 billion by the end of 2020, according to Gartner, which also estimates the market will support $263 billion in services spending by 2020. 

The consumer segment is expected to show the most growth, as ordinary objects are increasingly sold with digital connectivity capabilities. The growing number of Internet-connected devices are also expected to generate new business models through the creation of new services made possible by the devices, according to Gartner.

While organizations recognize the value of services and opportunities brought by a growing Internet of Things, Gartner reported, there are also increased security risks, and 20 percent of organizations are expected to run digital security services dedicated to the Internet of Things by the end of 2017.

The increased network traffic brought on by the explosion of devices, like cameras, will create many new problems, said IT Analyst Rob Enderle. In November, news of a Russian website streaming thousands of live video feeds in homes and businesses around the world showcased one vulnerability in particular, which is that many users don’t change the default username and password on their device.

“And getting all that stuff to work together is going to be part of the problem we have," Enderle said. "Yeah, everything is connected, but how can we make it a benefit as opposed to one additional mammoth headache?"

As Gartner predicts, the industry will support billions in new services, while Enderle predicts that consumer services will appear in the form of cloud services that help consumers manage the devices in their homes and cars, and on their bodies. The emergence of artificial intelligence could assist with those services, too, he said.

For government and business, the challenges will be the same as they’ve always been, but now there’s more to worry about. “Government facilities are typically attacked by other governments," Enderle said, "which tend to be much more capable than the criminals that us consumers have to deal with."

Few municipalities have expanded their services into the Internet of Things, but smart light pole pilots run in cities like Chicago are demonstrating what’s possible and exciting IT leaders. Pasadena, Calif., CIO Phillip LeClair noted that everyone is hungry for data, and deploying sensors around the city can help leaders obtain a granular understanding of what’s happening in their communities.

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.