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
Building the Foundation
The IoT is an evolution of RFID rather than something entirely new, says Henri Barthel, VP of system integrity and global partnerships for Brussels-based GS1, the organization dedicated to the development of global standards and solutions to improve supply-chain efficiency and visibility. "The IoT is not, in itself, one particular application or one particular technology," he says. "It's an assembly of different types of applications, different types of technologies."

The IoT will be like today's RFID systems, only more powerful and pervasive and, in many cases, will draw from a more flexible technical foundation. While serialization will still play a major role in IoT systems, unique serial numbers won't be absolutely necessary for all tagged objects, marking a major change from traditional RFID systems. "I could create an Internet of Things application that wouldn't care which widget it was, just as long as it was a widget of a particular type," says Stephen Halliday, an RFID standards expert and president of High Tech Aid, an RFID consulting firm, in Gibsonia, Pa. A nonserialized object could be something as ubiquitous as an advertising poster that activates a video ad and discount coupon on a user's smartphone. "It could be any one of a thousand of those widgets, all the same, that would trigger an event," he says.

Local and wide area networks will form the IoT's backbone by providing a continuous blanket of connectivity. "But it is RFID—particularly passive RFID—that makes it economically feasible to bring literally any and every item into the network," Steinberg says. He notes that the widely used ISO/IEC 18000 series of RFID standards will continue to be important in the upcoming IoT world. "The ISO/IEC 18000-6 [Part C] standard for passive UHF, which is based on the work of EPCglobal GS1 and ties directly back to the Auto-ID Center, is perhaps the key standard to realize the vision of the true Internet of Things," he says.
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