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Internet of Things: in need of a definition

This month Bret Kinsella attended the M2M & Internet of Things Global Summit for RFID 24-7. Unfortunately, some key speakers did not attend due to the government shutdown. The event left Bret wondering what the true definition is for the Internet of Things.

By Bret Kinsella

The striking thing about the Internet of Things (IoT) is how no one can seem to agree on what to call it, much less define it. I had the chance to attend the recent M2M & Internet of Things Global Summit in Washington, DC and InterOp in New York City. At InterOp, Cisco CEO John Chambers touted the Internet of Everything (IoE). Someone from Microsoft at the Washington conference offered another label, Cloud of Things (aka CoT?). So what is it? M2M (machine-to-machine), IoT, CoT, IoE or something else?

Are People Involved in IoT?

The Washington Conference exemplified the challenge, as M2M and IoT were used interchangeably. It makes sense; could IoT be anything other than M2M?  Well, if you work for the World Bank, you might classify a text messaging solution for tracking banana blight in Tanzania as IoT. While it represents an innovative tool to fight a vexing problem in Tanzania, I have a hard time seeing this as IoT. While the mobile device to server communication was technically M2M, nothing happed without a person entering data into the text.

Cisco would have no problem with this. That is why it coined Internet of Everything. Under the Cisco construct, IoT can be best described in a larger framework of people, process, data and things. This is a nice extension of the old people, process and technology model. With that said, what is unique about IoT is the M2M aspect that eliminates the need for people. IoT has its own segment in the “Things” element of the Cisco model.

In need of a Champion

There is no doubt that Cisco’s focus on IoE/IoT is important. From Cisco’s perspective this is leading to an acceleration of data nodes and data generation that will clearly benefits its core business. No matter the motive, new technology segments benefit from attention by large incumbents. In the RFID market, the entrance of Motorola, IBM and later Cisco, helped drive market acceptance. Large incumbents evangelize new technology, lend it credibility and invest in innovation. They also tend to only look at industries that are large and help move technology beyond niche applications. Cisco’s attention to IoT is great validation for the market.

Is IoT on the Rise?

There is no doubt that IoT is growing even by the more narrow definition. Connected devices, which include mobile phones and tablets, are growing rapidly. IDC’s Rohit Mehra estimates that nearly 30 billion connected devices will be on the Internet in 2020. When you focus only on the machine-to-machine interface devices, the number still comes in at 17 billion.

Cisco’s estimates are even higher. Its research suggests there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020. Cisco has a connected device counter that you can check out here. It suggests there are a little over 10.6 billion connected devices globally today.

The Future of IoT

IoT is becoming pervasive. You need to look no further than SmartThings, Nest, IFTTT and Kickstarter to see how quickly smart, connected devices are proliferating in consumer applications. The World Bank’s Chris Vein at the M2M & IoT Global Summit did lend a clear example of enterprise scale IoT in Tanzania. The organization helped finance the placement of thousands of sensors throughout the country to monitor water status. The data is aggregated in a real-time dashboard that offers insight that can help signal drought conditions early.

IoT solutions enable us to inexpensively control and monitor the status of our environment, networks and machines. Most of the services the technology provides would be cost prohibitive if people were required. The technologies underlying IoT, such as RFID for example, are now mature and cost is rapidly decreasing. Adoption is being driven by both strong consumer and business applications. When you combine these factors, it is not hard to believe that 20-30 billion intelligent devices will be used on a daily basis in under a decade. That looks like a bright future for IoT no matter what we call it.

Bret Kinsella is currently interim CMO at Kit Check and XappMedia. He has been published on a broad range of topics including enterprise mobility, branding, technology, RFID and supply chain.

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