How much data does the Internet of Things consume?

As the number of devices that connect to your home or business Wi-Fi increases, so too will the amount of data your internet connection consumes.

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to technology that connects to the internet. The term was coined thanks to the rise of technology going online – technology not traditionally thought of as being connected, like fridges, air conditioners, windows and security cameras. The term sits like an umbrella over the entire IoT phenomenon – and, make no mistake, it is a phenomenon.

By 2021, it’s estimated that the average Australian home will have more than 30 connected devices, which is almost triple that of what we have today. At the most simplistic level, the Internet of Things is a movement driven by convenience. It allows us to log on to our coffee machine while we’re still upstairs in bed and turn it on. Or power up the heater when we’re half an hour away from home.

Dive a little deeper and it also becomes about efficiency, about being able to issue voice commands to an Artificial Intelligence (AI) and have it operate devices throughout your home. Or receiving notifications when you have left the lights on, asking if you want to turn them off. Maybe it’s your car being able to send back diagnostic reports to the cloud, which can be analysed to ensure you only service your car when it’s actually required.

In the more distant future, it will be about machine learning and quality of life. It will be about your devices understanding you and your lifestyle, and adapting to meet those needs. Where you don’t need to tell it on a 30-degree day that you like the air-con to run at 22-degrees – it already knows. And where your air-con is smart enough to tell the blinds they should close to increase the shade.

There’s an exciting future ahead, assisted with an nbn™ powered plan from a phone and internet provider, and, if you want to lose yourself in the crystal ball, read our stories about life in 2027 when you first wake up in the morning and your first day at your new job. But, for now, let’s focus on how much data IoT typically consumes…

Typical data usage of Internet of Things devices

While a significant and growing portion of nbn™ powered plans offered by retail service providers include unlimited data, your bandwidth use is still something to consider.

The pipeline through which the internet enters your home is only so wide and, the more devices you have sending information down that pipe, the more congested it can potentially become.

You may also log in and use your mobile or tablet to interact with IoT devices while on a phone network like 3G or 4G, where data allowances remain limited.

The first trick to understanding how much data your devices will consume is knowing what kind of data is being transported to and from the device through the internet. Is it text? Is it audio? Is it video? Then, it’s knowing how often that data needs to travel to and from your device.

It’s estimated that 400 zettabytes of data will be sent from IoT devices across the internet in 2018. A zettabyte is a trillion gigabytes or 1021 – that means 21 zeroes!

However, it’s likely that most of your common home IoT devices will not be massive consumers of bandwidth. Here are a couple of rules of thumb that can help you understand what data pressure an IoT device may put on your service over the nbn™ access network.

Low usage

Devices that require little interaction, and produce minimal data, are going to have very low bandwidth cost. For example, devices you log on to with an app to turn on and off – such as light bulbs or an oven – are very simplistic.

Other than, perhaps, small amounts of diagnostics data that’s available on request, like the current oven temperature, these kinds of devices are nearly invisible on your data cap. Even current-era AI assistants like Siri use minimal data.

If you made 10 to 15 queries to a virtual assistant each day, that would still struggle to dent your data cap by more than 30MB a month. Chicken feed, really!  

Medium usage

This category will include devices that need or want to send data to and from the internet regularly.

Potentially, even in real-time for those that are ‘always on’. For example, health watches that monitor your vital signs and constantly ping data back to the cloud to examine for potential concerns.

Smart clothes or shoes that track your movements through GPS technology. Renewable energy solutions that provide minute-to-minute updates on your acquired and used energy, and manage that with the overall grid.

High usage

As soon as an IoT device begins sending or receiving data that isn’t simply text or numbers, you begin getting into higher bandwidth usage.

Especially when that data is video.

For example, a security camera that uploads and saves its feed to the cloud will be high usage.

Baby monitors that give you a window into your little one’s crib from anywhere in the world are another. And, in the future, smart glass that can embed streaming media content.

Extreme usage

While not typically available yet for standard residential use by the average citizen, there are some IoT technologies that will have extreme bandwidth requirements.

These are generally more complex devices that track a huge amount of data points communicated to the cloud in real-time. For example, connected cars are expected to use a lot of data.

With more than 60 microprocessors and sensors acquiring and sending back data to the cloud, it’s estimated that up to 25GB of information will be sent to and from a connected vehicle in an hour-long trip. If you drive an hour or more to work in the morning, well, you can do the maths.

Mooted Virtual Reality social hangouts – such as a virtual pub to visit with friends from overseas – would also be heavy users, requiring sophisticated software, video and audio connectivity in real-time.