IoT Part 1: What is the Internet of Things?

This post is the first in a series exploring a technology buzz phrase – the Internet of Things.

Through this series I’ll present answers to the obvious questions about the Internet of Things marketplace, following which I’m hoping to figure out how to upload a document that pulls all the separate posts together for people to download as required.

The Internet of Things, or IoT, has been getting a bit of press lately – from the hacker level who are tinkering with sensor boards and networking devices in their home, to the biggest corporations who are spruiking mind-boggling figures regarding the IoT market potential.

The most basic definition of the IoT is the networking of physical objects through the use of sensor/comm’s modules.  This definition can be expanded to include much greater levels of integration between networked devices, so that the various turns of phrase shown below describe the varying degrees to which objects can capture, communicate and respond to information.

The various terms being used to describe the 'Internet of Things'

The various terms being used to describe the ‘Internet of Things’

The variation between definitions often reflects how far this networking of objects has progressed along the stepwise path towards the final step that is the ultimate IoT vision:

  1. Connecting devices to the network (‘Smart’ devices)
  2. Making those devices talk to each other (if/then linkages)
  3. System-level interaction between devices (control strategies using analytics that draw on multiple data sources – historical, real-time and projected)
I’ve developed this understanding based upon a review of definitions I’ve collated from various information sources below:
  • ‘Smart’ devices defined by the presence of microprocessors (1)
  • Billions of connections that will encompass every aspect of our lives (1)
  • The interaction and exchange of data between machines and objects (1)
  • Smart machines interacting and communicating with other machines, objects, environments and infrastructures resulting in volumes of data generated and processing of that data into useful actions that can “command and control” things and make life easier for human beings (1)
  • Objects/things that are connected to the Internet, anything, anytime, anywhere (2)
  • Sensors and devices embedded into everyday objects/things that are connected to Internet through wired and wireless networks (2)
  • Networks of low cost sensors and actuators for data collection, monitoring, decision making, and process optimisation (3)
  • The use of sensors, actuators, and data communications technology built into physical objects – from roadways to pacemakers – that enable those objects to be tracked, coordinated or controlled across a data network or the Internet (3)
  1. What the Internet of Things (IoT) needs to become a reality, Karimi, K. and Atkinson, G., Freescale and ARM, Sept 2012 (pdf)
  2. Global Internet of Things (IoT) & Machine-To-Machine (M2M) Communications Market worth $290.0 Billion by 2017, Markets and Markets, 4 Sept 2012
  3. Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business and the global economy, McKinsey Global Report, May 2013 (pdf)
My next IoT post will examine the IoT enablers and/or challenges.
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