Back in 1997, Wired picked 2020 as the year humans were to officially arrive on Mars. Right now, we have self-driving cars and flying taxis in the wings, so we could almost make it there.

However, there are other important Internet of Things (IoT) developments predicted for 2020 that are just as eye-opening.

5G Wireless Technology

This fifth-generation cellular network technology (5G) gives us faster speeds, lower latency, and better connectivity than its predecessors (4G, 3G, and 2G.) Its unprecedented speed frees your network to stream more data, while its low latency improves network responsiveness.

5G also allows connectivity on far more devices than did 4G, which means that IoT innovations, like driverless vehicles, will finally have a technology that can handle their needs. (Read Driverless Cars: Levels of Autonomy.)

The technology’s reduced power consumption also unleashes energy savings and cost reductions that will make IoT more widely used. (Read What Are the Top Driving Forces for the Internet of Things?)

5G and blockchain are a perfect match according to Alan Haft, President of Trivver, an advertising exchange for Extended Reality (XR) environments. Haft said he sees a growing number of network operators, such as Orange and MTS Russia, layer their blockchains on 5G. (Read 6 Ways Blockchain Is Being Used That Will Help You Understand It Better.)

The improved wireless technology enhances node participation and decentralization, allows for shorter block times and increases on-chain scalability.

Adopters report that their 5G-blockchain combination improves the speed, capacity, and security of IoT sensory devices.

Edge Computing and Mesh Networking

Right now, we’re mostly centralized using select cloud providers like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google that do all the computing at their particular data centers. With edge computing, we can move our IoT data computing closer to the source of the data, which gives our computing greater security, improved latency, and more bandwidth, among other features. (Read Edge Computing: The Next Phase of IT.)

2020 will also see the growth of mesh networking (a type of IoT computing that knocks out the internet altogether.) With mesh networking, transmission of IoT messages is done through a network topology of radio nodes, where each node transmits data to the next through either a flooding or a routing technique.

With the flooding technique, data floods all routers on the network, while with the routing technique, data hops from one node to the next until it reaches its destination.

Gartner predicts a shift from edge computing to mesh computing by 2023.

Silicon Chip Innovation

IoT endpoint devices need processor chips with stronger memory capabilities and newer learning design than the low-power (mostly ARM architecture) silicon chips we have now.

Waiting in the wings for 2020 are more powerful chips that will reduce the power consumption required to run deep neural networks (DNN) and that will be able to support a range of new IoT capabilities. (Download A Laymen's Guide to Neural Networks.)

Some companies plan to replace silicon altogether. IBM, for example, plans to release commercial computer transistors made from carbon nanotubes that will make transistors both smaller and faster.

Oxford University’s Government-funded project deliberately called the 2020 Processor — poised for the year 2020 — has super-small quantum processors ready for unrolling that will do things you can’t do with ordinary technology.

Infonomics and Data Brokering

Gartner’s 2017 IoT survey showed that 35% of respondents were either selling or planning to sell data collected by their products and services. Infonomics and data brokering is big business with companies accruing, quantifying, accounting for, managing and selling Big Data.

The rise of Internet-connected devices has fuelled a sweep of “cross-device tracking” that collects people’s data from devices like smartphones, tablets, televisions, and so forth.

The result makes brokers such as Acxiom, Oracle, Experian (or Amobee, a lesser-known US company that sells advertising insights to Airbnb) enormously wealthy.

Data brokering unleashes controversy, as infamously demonstrated with the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal last year. Watch for more assaults on their industries in the coming year, as the internationally fragmented industry of around 5,000 brokers will consolidate and make organizational changes in response to an increase in data privacy regulations.

The IoT Future of 2020: General Trends

Back in 2000, futurist Paul Saffo warned that in 2020, we’ll be “living in an age of technologically induced creative destruction.”

We're far from that. Expect a year of technologically induced growth.

These are some of the trends:

Smart Cities

We'll have spent $135 billion by the end of 2020 for smart cities, according to a report from the International Data Corporation (IDC). The original smart cities were introduced by Europe, starting with Amsterdam in 2009, with the United States picking up the trail with its Smart City initiative in Columbus, Ohio, in 2017.

By 2020, smart cities may dot 100 cities in America, created through the confluence of public and private partnerships. Your typical smart city is one where mobile apps will allow you to do everything from avoiding traffic jams, to finding a parking spot, reporting a pothole, or warning pedestrians on an overflowing dumpster.

The underlying IoT devices make cities like Harlem, NY, or the South Side, Chicago, more sustainable and efficient, saving your city millions in dollars, opening up jobs and improving your quality of life.

In Europe, tertiary institutions plan to transform their university campuses and islands into smart communities. 2020 is the year where this smart city technology will be replicated on a larger scale.

More Appliances on the Internet Than People

Back in 2015, Ericsson Mobility Report predicted there would be 23 billion devices in use by 2020. Well, we’ve long surpassed that milestone with more than 26.6 billion IoT devices at the start of 2019. In fact, according to Gartner, there will be 26 times more connected things than people by 2020.

Every second, around the world another 127 devices are connected to the internet around the world, per a McKinsey report. China, North America, and Western Europe make up 67% of the IoT-installed base.

Internet of Things appliances includes consumer appliances for smart homes and the humongous field of sensors and smart technologies for industries.

Shift to Industrial IoT

The year 2020 will see an intensified shift from consumer IoT to industrial IoT, where IoT will be used in fields that include the following:

Healthcare

You'll likely see more IoT innovations in healthcare than almost any other field. IoT-enabled devices reduce healthcare costs, increase patient engagement and satisfaction, unleash new methods for disease prevention and diagnosis, and improve treatment outcomes.

More specifically, IoT helps doctors monitor patients’ health, help healthcare institutions track medical devices and staff, and assist health insurance companies with detecting fraud claims, among other benefits.

According to Statista, there'll be almost 161 million healthcare IoT devices by 2020.

These include:

  • Remote Monitoring — where special telehealth computer systems or software, installed on mobile devices, send patient-generated health data (PGHD) to healthcare professionals.
  • Wearables — where devices worn by the patient monitor their daily activities and health. These alert family members and concerned health providers and help physicians keep track of their patients’ health. Wearables, such as devices that monitor blood pressure and heart rate, can also be tuned to remind patients of calorie count, appointments and the like.
  • Asset Monitoring — where hospital equipment tagged with sensors are connected to IoT devices. This helps healthcare institutions monitor medical equipment, like defibrillators, and catch defects in real-time. Institutions also use this technology to assess the real-time deployment of staff.

Retail

According to the retail magazine, TotalRetail, the expansion of IoT technology in retail is expected to reach more than $35 billion (USD) by 2020. IoT innovations include the following:

  • A wave of new generation applications and devices — helped by the convergence of AI, Big Data and other innovative technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and blockchain.
  • Better data analytics — helped by innovations like edge computing and 5G that will improve network responsiveness, connectivity, and speed.
  • Software-as-a-service (SaaS) becomes the norm — A growing number of third-party providers will host applications and make them available to customers over the Internet.
  • Voice recognition — Projections show that by 2020 at least 50% of internet search and IoT devices will be conducted through voice recognition. Technology includes smart speakers (e.g., Apple HomePod) and ML translations. Voice support will also go multi-lingual, allowing you to search or issue commands in more than one language.

Agriculture

Consider that the global population is expected to reach 9.6 billion people by 2050. That’s where IoT really makes a difference, chopping costs and saving time while helping us feed that many people. By the end of 2020, the adoption of IoT devices in the agriculture industry will reach 75 million according to a Business Insider Intelligence survey.

Smart farming innovations like sensors, robotics (e.g., drones), autonomous vehicles, automated hardware, variable rate technology are used for areas that include the following:

  • Precision farming — where devices make farming methods more controlled and accurate when it comes to raising livestock and growing crops.
  • Livestock monitoring — where farm owners use sensory IoT applications to collect data on the location, well-being, and health of their cattle.
  • Smart greenhouses — where remote monitoring systems are used to protect valuable plants from extreme temperature fluctuations.

Matt Peskett, a recognized horticulturalist in Surrey, England, said there’s a strong interest in IoT-enabled devices from agricultural machinery suppliers, notably John Deere, as well as from agri-food giants like Monsanto.

He believes companies such as these will intensify their IoT explorations in 2020.

And in Your Own Home?

By 2020, IoT devices for the home will soar in popularity, become more sophisticated and include the following:

  • Smart door locks — Aside from remotely locking your door, you’ll also be able to do other things like providing one-time only codes for visitors.
  • Smart toothbrushes — Battery-free, powered toothbrushes with sensors that help you (and the dentist) with your dental health.
  • Smart kitchens — Kitchens that include incredible sensors, like those that let us know whether a stove has been left on or utensils that can count calories
  • Smart thermostats — Devices that allow us to remotely turn our homes’ heating and cooling systems on or off, which can lower the electric bill significantly.
  • Delivery drones — that deliver our orders faster and safer than any human could.

Devices will not only become more functional and safer (such as dryers that will warn you about dangerous accumulation of lint), but they’ll also save energy and reduce your bills. Small wonder that Statista estimates that during 2020, the number of connected devices worldwide will grow to almost 31 billion.

Iot Trends 2020: Social, Legal and Ethical

As IoT grows apace, there will be more social, legal and ethical issues. These include ownership of data and the deductions made from it; algorithmic bias; privacy; and compliance with regulations such as the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). (Read 5 Common Myths About the GDPR.)

Research will focus on the following:

  • IoT Governance — The need for a governance framework that ensures appropriate behavior in the creation, storage, use, and deletion of information related to IoT projects will become increasingly important.
  • Mandatory regulations for security — Conventions for network security that include rooting out malware and fraud detection.
  • Enhanced data security with auto-machine learning — Innovative methods for securing data and preventing leaks and hacking. One such focus will be the blockchain.
  • Unified integrated framework — A centralized platform that will contain the diverse IoT applications, frameworks, and protocols, where industry players work together to share their solutions and to advance their respective fields. For many, that platform is the blockchain.

Final Thoughts

By 2020, IoT will enter a new phase of opportunity. While not exactly putting us on Mars, smart IoT solutions will affect all aspects of our lives, from improving our pivotal industries to reducing our environmental footprints and enhancing our cities.

2020 is certainly a year to anticipate.