As world leaders gathered in late 2015 to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there was much recognition that the tools for eliminating absolute poverty have dramatically evolved since the year 2000 when the original Millennium Development Goals were articulated. Over the past fifteen years, information and communication technologies (ICTs), particularly the Internet, have catalyzed major shifts in the global economy and ICTs are playing a transformative role in improving economic and social outcomes for low income and marginalized populations. A new report by Cisco and the UN ITU looks ahead at a new group of ICTs, the connectivity technologies associated with the Internet of Things, that are poised to reshape development and significantly contribute towards achieving the SDGs.
Since the post-WWII era, ICTs have played an integral role in economic growth and productivity increases. For the global development community, basic ICTs such as computing, telephony and Internet access have long helped to advance development assistance. Today, mobile telephony and broadband are in the 'mainstream' of development assistance work, a burgeoning cross-discipline known as ICT for Development (or ICT4D). For example, Carolyn Woo, CEO of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), identified 157 new CRS development assistance projects in 2014/2015 that incorporate ICTs (primarily mobiles). Similarly, as of May 2015 at Johns Hopkins University alone, there were over 140 mHealth (mobile phone-enabled healthcare) project implementations in the developing world. Mobile telephones - basic and Internet-enabled - are already highly integrated in development projects.
Connected sensors and machine-to-machine connectivity, however, represent the next frontier in the ICT4D story.
The emergence of the IoT is due to the same factors that have driven the widespread adoption of mobile technology: declining costs and miniaturization of computing, and the expansion of connectivity coverage. Since 1970, the cost of computing power has dropped by at least a factor of a million, while the number of Internet connected devices has grown from almost zero to over 14 billion. Sensors today are sophisticated, yet small and affordable enough to attach to connectivity devices. They are deployed to remotely measure everything from acceleration to velocity.
Similarly, the plethora of wireless connectivity technologies is extending the geographic range of Internet access for devices. These technologies include licensed spectrum technologies (such as mobile 2G, 3G and LTE), as well as spectrum license-exempt technologies such as Wi-Fi, LoRa and others. Combining sensors with connectivity creates the ability to capture machine-generated data and transmit remotely over the Internet.
So how is the IoT improving global development?
Our new report, "Harnessing the Internet of Things for Global Development," highlights how sensor deployments are improving development activities in research, policy formulation, service delivery and monitoring and evaluation across a range of different sectors including agriculture, sanitation, natural resource management, and energy, amongst others. The report highlights current examples where low cost sensors and connectivity are improving lives, such as:
• In healthcare, where cellular enabled thermometers are helping to protect the 'cold chain' of critical vaccine delivery to remote and rural areas via real-time monitoring of temperatures in cold storage units;
• In water delivery, sensors that monitor and water flow are tracking when village hand water pumps break and then alert local authorities, municipal utility providers and donor agencies, helping to reduce the downtime of water pumps providing critical water service; and
• In densely occupied informal urban settlements, networked smoke and fire sensors placed in homes are able to signal and warn residents, and neighbors, of potential fast moving fires, saving lives and property.
Across the SDGs, the IoT is helping to achieve and advance progress.
The application of sensors in development, however, is still at a nascent level. There are many obstacles to widespread deployment, from technical challenges (e.g. reliability, power, connectivity) to policy issues (e.g. interoperability, security, privacy).
In advanced economies, and across industrialized sectors, the Internet of Things is already a major productivity driver. The challenge for the global community today is to ensure that this new wave of technological progress is directed towards solving the obstacles facing the over 700 million people still living in absolute poverty and the over 4 billion people without access to the Internet. "Harnessing the IoT for Global Development" highlights how the IoT can tackle the most pressing development obstacles and articulates how the global community can deploy connectivity technologies towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.