Fitness trackers are the tip of the IoT iceberg

By Anton Le Saux: Head of IoT for Wholesale Partners, Telefónica Digital

IoT. M2M. Smart machines that talk to each other. We’re hearing these words more and more, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that they refer to something incredibly technical and complex. But the Internet of Things is actually a remarkably simple concept, and something that’s slowly creeping into all areas of our lives.

When we talk about the Internet of Things, the “things” we’re referring to are intelligent devices. That means machines that have the ability to interact with each other without human intervention. Not just phones, but all manner of machines – from thermostats to cars, fridges to wristwatches. All of these machines are fitted with SIM cards. Because that little piece of plastic sitting in your phone or tablet can be configured and provisioned to ping data over cellular, wifi or broadband, providing the crucial link in the communication chain between machines. And that data connection is the “internet” part.

But it’s no good just sending information between machines – the data must be interpreted into something meaningful and useful. Take the world of sport and fitness as an example. Why bother tracking something if you’re not going to do anything with the information you’ve learned?

When it comes to sport, the value of IoT is often in the preparation. Athletes can track their training – heart rates, speeds, calories burnt – and ultimately use this data to improve their performance. And coaches can review the information remotely, keeping up to date on their players’ performance with minimal effort.

There are personal applications too, of course. At our annual #O2BizRugby tournament, on 12th May 2016, plenty of the participants used fitness trackers. These wearable devices are becoming ubiquitous, with over 80% of UK athletes using a smart device to track their activity. I’ve personally used a Fitbit for over four years, and was one of the early adopters of the first Jawbone fitness bands prior to that. But I’m no longer in the minority, as more and more people are embracing wearable technology every day.

And it’s not just human athletes that use IoT technology – the possibilities behind the scenes of professional sport are huge. In racing, driving information like speed and acceleration can be transmitted from cars and motorbikes to track the performance of vehicles. And would you believe that an intelligent tag on a pregnant racehorse’s ear can track her increasing temperature so accurately that it can predict when she will go into labour? This means that there’s no need for a vet to be onsite until necessary, thanks to this remote monitoring. What’s more, sports equipment can be checked remotely with predictive and preventative maintenance. This saves people time and effort, as the IoT technology will automatically alert you if something goes wrong.

So what’s next for connected devices in sport?

From where I’m standing, I think we’re on the edge of the wearables explosion. The market is already huge, and I’m expecting appetite to grow exponentially as people and businesses continue to recognise the potential in using intelligent devices to capture information. In the years to come, perhaps we’ll reach a point where automated technology replaces referees and umpires – where we rely on the Internet of Things for tracking competition results as well as personal performance. Let’s watch this space…

To find out more about the Internet of Things, visit our website and email IOT@o2.com.  And follow @O2BusinessUK on Twitter to keep up to date on our #O2BizRugby activity.