The Internet of Things

From concept to reality: Plans for a network that connects everything and everyone everywhere are well under way.
By John Edwards
The basic IoT concept has been knocking around for more than a decade. In 1999, several RFID visionaries created the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which was sponsored by several organizations and corporations, including Motorola. "This was important in the evolution of RFID technology, as it created a center that brought industry, academia and the standards communities together with an express goal of making RFID technology ubiquitous," Steinberg says.

Kevin Ashton, a cofounder of the Auto-ID Center, is generally acknowledged for coining the phrase the Internet of Things. "Kevin has been one of the key visionaries in our field, and was among the first to see the vast potential of RFID technology," Steinberg says. "He foresaw the myriad applications possible and their potential to benefit society."

Of course, connecting everyone and everything in the world isn't simple or easy. Transforming the IoT from an interesting concept into reality requires the development of a complex technological foundation based on standards covering a wide range of network and device operational and compatibility requirements. This work is already under way. Steinberg says: "In addition to the wired backbone of today's modern Internet, there are four wireless technologies that are enabling the Internet of Things: LAN [local area network], WAN [wide area network], short-range device-to-device [communication] and RFID."

Looking into the future, the IoT's sheer scale involves numbers usually reserved for discussions on the nature of the universe. "One analysis put forth the estimate that [the IoT will include] connectivity among 50 to 100 trillion different objects, with each human being surrounded by 1,000 to 5,000 distinct objects," Steinberg says. "RFID, which imposes a cost of only pennies per tag, enables the cost-effective connection of such a large number of objects."
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