The Five ‘Things’ of the Internet of Things

Although it has been 15 years since Kevin Ashton popularized the term “the Internet of Things,” it is only now entering our popular vocabulary. IoT is now one of the hottest topics in the world of technology—with good reason. Analysts predict that up to 50 billion things (or devices) will be connected to the internet by 2020; or, the equivalent of six devices for every person on the planet. Connecting people, sensors, and machines to the internet, and to each other, will fundamentally impact society and the economy—changing our lives forever.

However, the Internet of Things is more than just “things.” With all of the focus and media attention on the “things,” or devices, part of the Internet of Things, we are really missing the fundamental technology revolutions that are reshaping our world. Radical advances in processing, storage, wireless technologies and new ways of delivering technology are reshaping our world—all at a much faster speed and drastically reduced price.

In my view, the Internet of Things is really comprised of five different “things”—or, five core technology pillars. These five things are the foundation of IoT and at the heart of the technology revolutions that are shaping a radically new, connected world.

1. Wireless

High-speed, licensed and unlicensed, networks mean that people and devices no longer need to be tethered by a wire. We can now collect and transmit information from things that are moving (e.g., automobiles, trains), things that are remote (e.g., oil wells, agriculture), or things that are too costly to wire up (e.g., city parking spots).

2. Big Data

The billions of applications, sensors, and devices connected to the internet will create zettabytes of data (1021 bytes, or 1 billion terabytes). But, while the volume of data is just astounding, what is truly revolutionary is the ability to put that data to work. Advanced data analytics is now capable of managing vast amounts of disparate data to reveal amazing relationships and insights and drastically improve our predictive capabilities. As a result, machines will be able to intelligently interact with other machines, with limited, or no human intervention.

3. Cloud

Not only does the cloud provide an efficient and cost-effective means to process and store all of the data created by the Internet of Things, but it is essentially the “glue” that holds the Internet of Things together. Cloud computing allows all of the sensors to communicate with the applications and to control and monitor devices, across multiple networks, anytime and anywhere.

4. Devices (Things)

Of course, the devices, or things, in the Internet of Things are important. Inexpensive devices and sensors that focus on specific tasks (e.g., temperature, carbon monoxide levels, heart rate) can now be made that are also economical on power consumption, or can tap into alternative sources of power. And, they are all connected—to a network, the cloud, and each other. Through compelling and easy-to-use applications, we can access and control these devices through powerful, personal devices such as smartphones, tablets, and PCs.

5. Security

The recent headlines about internet security breaches and data thefts reinforce the importance of security and guaranteeing user online privacy. Security is paramount to the growth and adoption of IoT. We have to be able to assure users that their connected car and home will not be taken over by hackers. Or, that the extremely personal data collected from medical devices is safe from prying eyes. Businesses and cities will need similar assurances that the sensors that they have deployed, and the data being generated, are 100% secure.

So, the next time you see, or hear “the Internet of Things,” don’t think of it in the literal sense—a collection of devices connected to the internet. Rather, think of it as shorthand for the five “things” or technology revolutions that are truly changing the world. It is the radical innovation and combination of these five critical technologies that are really delivering the promise of the Internet of Things—reshaping businesses, economies, and all of our lives.


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The future will flourish with machines. We've been told this in pop culture for decades, from the helpful robots of the Jetsons, to the infamous Skynet of the Terminator movies, to the omniscient "computer" of Star Trek. Smart, connected devices will be ubiquitous and it's up to us, the humans, to decide what's next. But the Internet of Things (IoT) is about more than devices and data.

Posted April 23, 2015


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