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Connecting Britain: What are we connecting and why?

Matt Spencer, O2’s Head of Public Sector Sales, discusses connectivity, the Internet of Things, and what it means for us all.

Last month I reported from O2’s Blue Door Conference about how connectivity has evolved from a luxury or a business need, to being utterly essential for everyday life. I also outlined what we at O2, and the mobile sector as a whole, are doing to help connect the unconnected. In this post, I want to look in more detail at the Internet of Things (IoT): What are we connecting? Why are we connecting it? And what role does 5G play in its future?

If we think about the media coverage that the IoT has generated so far, it has largely been focused on domestic connectivity. Our connected appliances will simplify our lives, our smart meters will save us money, and before long, our connected vehicles will keep us safer on the roads. However, within the context of Connecting Britain, 5G and the IoT will enable new services, improve productivity and make efficiencies in every area of business and our working lives. There are already thousands of real-world, economically viable IoT applications deployed in our businesses, as our Connecting Britain deep dive panellists at the Blue Door Conference testified. Here are four current examples:

Delivering real time telematicsO2 Smart Vehicle is a simple device that transmits vehicle and driver information, in real time, making industry-leading vehicle telematics easily accessible for fleet managers and vehicle leasing companies. It gives fleet managers live visibility of every vehicle and driver and uses real-time data that enables predictive maintenance schedules.

Transforming local authority services – Geoff Connell, Head of Information Management and Technology at Norfolk County Council, summarised how low-cost road surface temperature sensors were embedded in roads in Yarmouth in a pilot study last year. They gathered data that was used to determine when and how often the local roads needed to be gritted. The study showed that the council could save salt, fuel and driver time, whilst also bringing environmental benefits, including a reduction in carbon emissions.

Improving compliance and record keeping – Our own O2 Smart Compliance helps Scotrail to deliver real-time records of safety and security checks, with time-sensitive prompts and tamper-proof records. It uses IoT sensors and regular hand-held devices for data collection, enabling field workers to complete business-critical safety and compliance tasks, capturing and processing data securely in real-time.

Helping people live independently – By using IoT sensors in and around the homes of the elderly, vulnerable and disabled, MySense learns the behaviours of the occupant and can detect and alert if there are changes which could indicate a problem. For example, wristband sensors measure heart rate for drops or elevations that could indicate stress, illness or other abnormalities. And door sensors monitor unusual or even a lack of activity on front doors or fridges that could be signs of mental or physical issues. It helps carers to develop a better understanding of an individual’s movements and habits, and to respond to their needs quicker and more effectively.


5G as the IoT enabler

As transformative as this current crop of applications is, the most exciting IoT opportunities in the future rest on the high speed and low latency of 5G. For example, O2 has been trialling a new ‘Smart Ambulance’ at Millbrook Proving Ground this year, which has the potential to revolutionise patient diagnosis, transport and treatment. The project involves equipping a standard ambulance with state-of-the-art devices and connectivity to create a ‘Smart Ambulance’ that transforms the vehicle into a unique remote consultation room. With the reliability, speed and low latency that 5G delivers, there’s nothing to stop patients undergoing remote surgery and operations in the future.

5G and the IoT form a formidable partnership, but it will take Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to process the vast amounts of data that our connected devices will generate. The union of these four technologies will see us develop machines that learn for themselves and that are capable of making business decisions. It’s what enabled Google DeepMind, for example, to optimise the cooling system of Google’s data centres. A range of sensor data was collected, including temperatures, the number and location of open windows, the routing of network data traffic and the workloads of individual machines. DeepMind’s AI system trained itself to control these variables in order to reduce cooling energy consumption, and achieved a 40% reduction, resulting in a 15% saving in the overall cost of running the data centre.


IoT and AI

Back at the O2 Blue Door Conference, our keynote speaker was Doctor of Technology, Spencer Kelly, who highlighted a number of opportunities for using AI to analyse and interpret data collected by connected sensors. In agriculture, for example, networks of sensors in soil could monitor irrigation, nutrient and pesticide levels. Meanwhile, food computers will control temperature, light and humidity, resulting in abundant, nutritious food grown more efficiently, in any climate and using fewer pesticides.

Some of these applications are still some way off, but they are closer than you might imagine. Gartner recently set out that emerging technologies such as digital workplace, Industrie 4.0, Intelligent Applications and Augmented Analytics are all positioned to make an impact within the next three years. And over the following five years, applications will emerge that we will increasingly find hard to distinguish from human to human interactions, in areas such as diagnosis and machine-driven creativity. In our connected world, the step change comes when sensors and large data sets provide input to learning algorithms that will make decisions on our behalf.


To find out more about how the IoT can benefit your organisation, click here.

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