The Middle East is at the cutting-edge of technology when it comes to Internet of Things adoption, and is creating references for other regions to follow
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the future. That's the view of Alaa Alshimy, vice president of HP's MEMA Enterprise Group and managing director of HP MEMA, anyway. He describes a vision where all smart systems and connected device applications are brought under a single architecture, which can be fully automated and controlled from a single location. And he believes that we are on the road to that future.
But even though there is still a way to go in terms of realising the ultimate vision of the Internet of Things, Alshimy is also quick to point out that, in the Middle East, the essential building blocks of the IoT are being laid out.
"You will see that some of it already exists - there are a lot of connected devices with the right communications, and they have some applications and some good use cases. But you don't have everything ‘connected' the way it's expected to be, and this is the future, this is the IoT," he says.
"Of course we still have limitations from the technology point of view, which is IPv6, where you'll be able to connect maybe millions of IPs. When you want to connect all of the devices and traffic lights and street lamps, and houses and smart meters, and everything in the city, the number of IP addresses will be huge. You need to have the technology to support that. I would say that it's already started, but it is not really the internet of things per se, where you have the entire thing connected on IP."
Around the world, Alshimy says that there are plenty of examples of cities and organisations taking steps towards this future. He cites a project in Auckland, New Zealand, where the transportation system is connected to, and monitored and controlled from, a single control centre. The system is fully automated, and based on data collected from traffic lights, road cameras, parking slot sensors, traffic within the city can be managed more effectively. Meanwhile, there are projects in Tokyo, Japan, that see the delivery of smart government services to citizens. And in Rome, Italy, Alshimy notes a project around smart health solutions.
Each of these projects uses IoT technologies to solve standalone problems, which Alshimy says is perfectly natural. He explains that each organisation exploring the IoT is using currently available technology to build out use cases based on priorities. However, in the future, he maintains, many of these projects will join together to create a broader-based smart city concept powered by the Internet of Things.
"Customers and governments and cities are going by use cases based on their priorities and needs. The future will see more and more of that coming together, providing more benefits, more cost savings, and creating a better impact on the environment. It will result in better services for citizens, and happier citizens. The connectivity of all these use cases together, and implementing it all, this is the ultimate internet of things," he explains.
Of course, the Middle East has its own set of priorities, and according to Alshimy, the biggest use case of the IoT has come with the smart education drive of the UAE government. He says that this is probably the most prominent application of the IoT across the region, out of any industry operating here.
"You have 25,000 students, thousands of teachers and at least hundreds of schools connected together. Students can attend the classes through their smart devices, whether they're in the car, or at home, and the teacher is able to see what they're doing all of the time. The principal of the school can see the performance of the different teachers, the different students on different curriculums. It's the same for the minister; he can see that for the different emirates, different provinces and so on and so forth. That's implemented, that's live, and that's delivering a lot of value to the education sector," he says.
Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, Alshimy points to a drive from Saudi Electricity Company, which is investigating smart electricity meters. And naturally, he also alludes to the various drives within Dubai, the leadership of which has pledged to the city into the smartest city in the world. He says that to achieve this, Dubai will need to have connected everything, from security and traffic lights, through air conditioning and digital signage, to electricity switching and water distribution. And at the centre of it all, he says, needs to be the drive to improve citizens' lives.
"You will always have the citizen in the middle - it's all about the happiness of the citizen. If these use cases are not delivering value to the citizens and to the environment and to the society, then it is not a viable solution. We talk about solutions and use cases that will really bring value. It is not just about connecting everything and having the best technology, and having a fancy solution. It's about the use case and the value it brings to citizens at the end of the day," he says.