You thought you already had a lot of internet devices? Within five years you'll have three times as many. That's according to an analysis of the so-called Internet of Things undertaken by Intel, which estimates that there will be 50 billion devices on the internet by 2020.

 

 Currently there are only 15 billion devices in the world, 85 per cent of which aren't connected, so expect the internet to get a lot busier in coming years.

Intel, the world's largest chipmaker, has just bought the chipmaker Altera for $US16.7 billion, in part to cope with the huge volume of data that these 50 billion devices will be producing. (Altera makes chips that allow computer programs to be encoded into silicon, where they can run much faster than if they were just programs sitting on top of an operating system on top of silicon.)

Though, in Intel's analysis, the preponderance of new devices coming online in the next few years won't be new mobile phones or tablets, but rather they'll be things such as clothes in a store, reporting their location to head office, or such as pipes in factories, which will have temperature and pressure sensors in them, sending their data up to the internet for monitoring and analysis.

It's not so much that fancy new devices are going to be coming online (though it is a but of that) but rather that old devices are going to come online, now that it's cheap enough to make it worth doing, says Douglas Davis, the Intel Senior Vice President in charge of Intel's embedded systems group, which has been renamed the Internet of Things Group now that the Internet of Things, or IoT, is a thing.

What's actually driving the IoT, he says, is a simple convergence of efficiencies. Sensors have become twice as cheap as they were ten years ago, the cost of internet connectivity has gone down fortyfold, and the cost of computing power has gone down sixtyfold. What was possible a decade ago, but unaffordable, is now affordable.

"Think of all the devices you interact with today. Multiply that times three," says Davis.

At the Computex technology trade show here in Taipei, there's plenty of evidence of that trend, even at the consumer level. Multiple vendors are selling pet collars that connect to the internet using the mobile phone network, reporting the pet's location every minute, or every five minutes, or every two hours, depending on how much data the owner is willing to pay for. Other vendors are selling urine sensors - small disks that parents can insert into nappies, that report to an app when the nappy needs changing.

Not everything need report all its data to the internet all the time, though. In factories and in shops, for instance, the gateways that receive the radio signals from the sensors in the Things will filter out most data before it gets sent to the data centre, says Joe Jensen, the vice president of Intel's IoT group.

An article of clothing in a shop might report its presence to its gateway device every 30 seconds, for example, but it will only be when its status changes that the gateway will bother passing that information back up to the store's data centre, he says.