Prediction: there won’t be 50B connected IoT devices by 2020

In 2010, telecommunications equipment maker Ericsson released a study estimating that there would be 50 billion connected devices by 2020. Last year, Cisco piggybacked on this prediction to make its own estimates on the number of devices set to be connected to the internet. Intel has been touting the 50 billion device estimates since 2014 as it tried to market its own skills in the connected device space.

But those building a business and tracking the internet of things should toss that number aside just like the industry is tossing the Z-wave standard. According to analyst Chetan Shama, that number looks unlikely. He estimates that there were roughly 16 billion connected devices last year, and says adding 34 billion new devices in under five years would be a “tall order.”

Devices such as this connected home hub from Silk Labs will be part of the internet of things. --Image courtesy of Silk Labs

Devices such as this connected home hub from Silk Labs will be part of the internet of things. –Image courtesy of Silk Labs

Ericsson revised its estimates down last November to 28 billion connected devices by 2021, while McKinsey believes that the internet of things will have between 20 billion and 30 billion devices by 2020. Gartner says we’ll have 21 billion connected devices by 2020. These numbers might be more realistic, but they are nothing to scoff at. As of 2015, there were a mere 3.4 billion smart phone subscriptions in the world, a number that is expected to almost double to hit 6.4 billion in 20121, according to Ericsson.

The growth of all those phones in the last few years has significantly changed how networks are built as well as the way software and services are delivered. When you add 3 billion more phones, plus what could be an additional 5 billion to 14 billion additional connected gadgets and sensors, the possibilities are endless.

The telecommunications industry is already adopting more agile network infrastructure using software-defined networks while cloud giants have built platforms that can handle terabytes of data and spread the workloads out across the world. New protocols such as Thread and revisions to existing ones such as Bluetooth are adding direct access to the internet with IPv6 capabilities while the cellular network standards put forth by the GSM are trying to lower their costs and power requirements to help keep cellular providers in the game. Even the Wi-Fi Alliance is horning its way into the internet of things with Halow, a standard that increases coverage options for Wi-Fi.

But there is still so much work to do when it comes to managing up to 30 million connected devices, securing them and even adding them to a network without breaking the bank. Maybe we should be glad that 50 billion number was overstated.