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The Limits of China's 'Internet of Things'

China's IoT sector will not lead the world until its technologies, products, costs and data collection improve, analysts say

By Zhang Qingchen Updated Sept.13

It was once humans who talked to each other, and then computers. Now it's toasters, cars, fridges and more – 'smart devices' embedded with electronics, software and sensors that allow them to share data as part of the 'Internet of Things' (IoT). With a gigantic market, solid supply chains and the world's biggest mobile telecommunications network, it's no wonder Vice Minister of Industry and Information Technology Luo Wen reportedly told an IoT expo in Wuxi this month that China will soon take the lead in the field. Yet experts see challenges ahead.

Wu Hequan of the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE), who is also president of the China Internet Society, singled out two deficient elements of China's IoT industry. First is technological: breakthroughs are needed because sophisticated sensors and other high-end tech still need to be imported from overseas. Second, authoritative standards are needed and operational systems should be unified.

Liu Yunjie of the CAE said current IoT costs – including fees for servers and equipment – price out many firms, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises. He also said there were too few technicians in China working on IoT technology. 

To Tsinghua University deputy head You Zheng, the information and statistics collected by IoT are simply not trustworthy. You cited data on pollution levels in parts of China where officials were found to have forged density readings in order to cast their governments in a better light. 

For Ni Guangnan, a researcher at the Institute of Computing Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, government support was necessary, but resources like big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence would propel China's IoT development.