The retro quality extended to the catering, and to the acoustic set-up, so that audience, chair, speakers and panellists all struggled to hear each other, making any kind of interaction beyond set-piece presentations almost impossible. At one point Neil Postlethwaite of IBM asked the audience who had heard of Linux, and only two hands went up. Of course it’s possible that everyone had been on a desert island for the last fifteen years, or that they were a uniquely ignorant group of technology-watchers, but it’s more likely that they just didn’t hear the question.

Naturally, some of the content was quite retro, even timeless. There were some very large forecasts of connected objects and value to be created by the internet of things, supported by reference to reports like this three-year old one by General Electric and this rather newer one by the World Economic Forum. There was some very general discussion about security, and how it was jolly important and being taken very seriously, and everything was going to be all right.

Big data binary code futuristic

There was a “day-in-the-life” presentation by Shawn Sanderson, VP of IoT at Canada’s Telus, in which some poor sap’s connected alarm clock reads them their emails and tweets before they’ve even emerged from under the duvet, switches on the shower ‘so that it can warm up’ in case all they were thinking of having an extra fifteen minutes in bed, and then sets the coffee pot going. If I hadn’t seen these for the last ten years it would have been a bit creepy. When I chaired my panel, which included Shawn, I asked the audience how many people found the vision attractive, and only two hands went up. Sportingly, Shawn suggested that they were probably the other Canadians in the room, but perhaps they were the only ones who had heard the question.

Several global telcos explained that their role in the provision of Internet of Things services wasn’t going to be that of a bit pipe, because they didn’t want it to be and that was that. Several spoke about their partnership programs and ecosystems, and how they were going to be the Grand Architect that brought it all together and served it up for the customer – well, perhaps all that freemason stuff was getting to them. At least one said that it aspired to be the “one back to pat” for the internet of things, since the idea of being the “one throat to choke” seemed a bit negative.

Given all that, the presentation from Rami Avidan, Commercial Director of M2M for TELE2, was like a blast of fresh air – firstly, because it began with this very funny video, and secondly because it was absolutely clear that TELE2’s aspiration was precisely to be a bit pipe. A good pipe, a pipe with smart features like device management and connectivity monitoring, but a pipe nonetheless – the “2 in M2M”, in Avidan’s words. What’s the point, he said, in making the effort to recruit a set of vertical solution partners and then going in to competition with those partners?

Actually there were some very interesting presentations. Neil Postlethwaite from IBM gave a really good update on all the new things that Big Blue was doing in the IoT – including the IoT Foundation Service, BlueMix, and the re-organisation to create a new IoT Business Unit within Analytics. Deutsche Telecom presented on the Quivcon home automation ecosystem, and Oracle explained how its ‘white label’ IoT services work. Ericsson reprised its presentation on the Connected Vehicle Cloud, but added a nice proof-of-concept design for a connected bicycle helmet. It wasn’t a bad conference for cycle enthusiasts, because Vodafone also explained how it was supporting the Vanmoof connected bicycle offering, which had already evolved from a simple anti-theft proposition to a P2P bike-sharing scheme. Ben Salama of Accenture talked about the opportunity of instrumenting ‘dumb’ industrial machines through after-market devices such as vibration detectors, and hinted at the possibility of a double-sided business model and ‘unconventional’ revenue sources from the sale of IoT data – something that I’d like to hear much more about. John O’Donnell from Cisco spoke eloquently about the idea of a ‘fog’ infrastructure, nearer to the ground than ‘cloud’, whereby data could be stored and processed closer to the source.

So all in all a rather interesting event, with some real nuggets of value…and after all, some people really like retro themes. Maybe there’s an opportunity here that’s been missed for a steampunk IoT event…