The next big thing: Mobile Internet of Things moving life into fast lane

The ownership of data that we supply to enable transactions is a gray area that awaits better legal interpretation and perhaps stricter legislation.

THE advent of mobile Internet has considerably changed our life and created business opportunities once thought impossible.

Shared bikes and food delivery are cases in point.

But with the increasing sophistication of technology, the interconnectivity that pervades our daily life is being taken to the next level: mobile Internet of Things.

To be sure, most of us now know something about IoT. An oft-cited example is the unmanned factory. Built-in chips and sensors enable robotic arms and products on the assembly line to “speak” to each other.

This process, commonly known as interface, involves the exchange of a massive amount of information by a series of complicated data transmission protocols. Everything can be connected in this way.

But this is merely the preliminary version of IoT, or IoT 1.0, because at this stage objects are largely stationary. The updated version that appears to be gaining traction is mobile IoT.

In real life, humans and objects are always on the move. The smartphones we use, the wristbands we wear, the sensors attached to the cars we drive, all generate data from a constantly changing location.

Analyzing this data may reveal patterns that are of tremendous commercial value.

At a recent seminar held by Fudan University’s School of Management, Associate Professor Liu Mingyu released a study in which he and his team discussed the development of mobile IoT in China over the past few years.

Liu said the biggest difference between mobile IoT and its precursor is that the former has a new feature — real-time positioning — apart from sensing ability and data transmission. This allows moving objects to be tracked, located and monitored.

The next big thing: Mobile Internet of Things moving life into fast lane

Invisible ‘cashier’

One has to look no further than the retail sector for evidence, said Liu. In cashier-free grocery stores, customers do not have to scan the barcodes on merchandise to ring up their purchases. Built-in chips allow goods to be detected by the invisible “cashier,” and money is automatically deducted from the e-wallets on customers’ smartphones, such as Alipay and WeChat Wallet.

Liu has high expectations for mobile IoT’s widespread application in various industries. After studying previous reports and figures, he concluded that Chinese mobile IoT might well reach a market value of 1.76 trillion yuan (US$268.5 billion) by 2020.

It’s true that the level of mobile IoT in terms of sensing ability and data transmission has grown by leaps and bounds, and China’s indigenous BeiDou Navigation Satellite System is rapidly taking market shares from GPS, but it is not yet a substitute for GPS, said Liu.

He argued that with the physical and digital infrastructure already in place, what industry leaders should now focus on is the development of applications.

As the moderator of the seminar, Professor Rui Mingjie, also with Fudan University’s School of Management, told the audience that higher accuracy is critical to the flourishing of services reliant on smaller margins of error in positioning.

Threat to individual privacy

Despite the optimism of others, Wu Jingfei, associate professor of economics with Shanghai University, expressed concern about the threat mobile IoT might pose to individual privacy.

Protection of privacy, in his opinion, is already a serious issue that has loomed large with the rise of mobile Internet.

For instance, each time we order takeout food, use a delivery service or shop online, the transaction is often taken as our tacit approval of trusting a third party with our personal information — some so sensitive that it is better left to ourselves.

But often this type of personal information falls into the wrong hands — people who pass it on to the highest bidder. As a result, our privacy is not often “ours.”

In Europe, severe penalties for breaking laws shielding customers’ personal data from data “poachers” are part of the reason why it lags behind in terms of artificial intelligence and big data, said Wu.

As Rui explained, the ownership of data that we supply to enable transactions is a gray area that awaits better legal interpretation and perhaps stricter legislation.

Apart from academics, business leaders were also invited to speak at the seminar.

For mobile IoT-powered industries to prosper, three key elements have to be improved: computing speed, the Internet and positioning accuracy, said Chen Jinpei, CEO of Qianxun SI, a firm that partners with the BeiDou system in providing high-accuracy positioning services.

He cited the example of multi-purpose commercial drones to highlight the market potential of mobile IoT. This may be a toy for aerial photography buffs, but drones built using IoT technology can replace humans in certain industries.

Among Chen’s clients is the State Grid, the national power supplier. He said more than half of its one-million-strong staff are engaged in the daily routine of checking the conditions of pylons scattered across China. Since some pylons are built atop mountains, in remote areas and often far apart, it is time-consuming to check them manually. In some cases an average worker checks a maximum three pylons a day and doing this entails great personal risk.

The efficiency of maintenance work is tremendously enhanced when drones equipped with cameras and sensors are dispatched to the scene. They are capable of collecting data sent from the pylons and relaying them to control centers for further examination and analysis, said Chen.

Indeed, for IoT to go mobile, infrastructure needs to be spruced up in time.

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