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The Internet of Things (IoT) – Something old, something new???

Pardon my skepticism, but it seems like IoT is just another catchy phrase to describe something that has been around for a while.

Coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, IoT refers to the connection of devices like house- hold appliances (washers, dishwashers), transport vehicles (automated carts and vehicles), sophisticated equipment (heart-monitoring implants), etc. to other devices or users through the Internet.  Basically, these items operate autonomously, but can report on their status and can permit adjustment, intervention, and remote control while performing their programmed duties.

Wikipedia describes IoT as “…the network of physical objects or “things” embedded with electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity, which enables these objects to collect and exchange data… resulting in improved efficiency, accuracy, and economic benefit.  Each thing is uniquely identifiable… but is able to interoperate within the existing Internet infrastructure.”

There are many older IoT-type applications already in use:

  • A Coke machine reported on quantities and temperature. (This was first demonstrated in 1982 at Carnegie Mellon University.)
  • Home-based equipment, from your shades to your alarm system, can be controlled from your smartphone (since the 1990s).

What exactly is new?  Growth!

These early attempts were focused primarily on single applications for a limited audience; they basically feed unprocessed data forward or permitted single-user control.  Current IoT efforts dream of utilizing big-data processing to unite information and disparate devices with a large population of users.

New and useful applications will arise and be connected, linking us to a brand new world.  And, it will not be just embedded electronics in stationary devices, but also wearables (watches, health monitors, wireless cameras, etc.) and drive-ables (from vehicles with embedded computers to Google’s driverless cars) making up the IoT population.

The expectation is somewhere between 26 billion (Gartner says the Internet of Things will be 26 billion by 2020 by Gartner, Inc.) to 30 billion (More than 30 Billion devices will connect wirelessly to the Internet of Everything by ABI Research) IoT devices will be functional by 2020.  Interestingly, the USA, at 24.9 online IoT devices per 100 inhabitants, currently lags behind South Korea (37.9), Denmark (32.7), and Switzerland (29.0) according to the OECD’s Digital Economy Outlook 2015, Chapter 6; Figure 6.6.

IoT Usage By Nation Chart

Issues

With tremendous growth comes great and, sometimes, undesired consequences.  Issues being discussed and addressed include:

  • Data will explode, requiring greater storage, access, and processing
  • Internet bandwidth will be consumed and, at times, found lacking
  • Wireless networks should expand and improve
  • Security may be compromised
  • Legal challenges shall multiply
  • Electricity use will change
  • Privacy will be invaded

Data will explode, requiring greater storage, access, and processing

Where is all of this data going to be stored?  Who will have access and how will it be enabled?  What processing capabilities will be required to make sense of it all?  After its useful life, how will data be removed (or at least archived)?

Internet bandwidth will be consumed and, at times, found lacking

Seems like bandwidth is already constrained in my home; will I need to unplug my refrigerator to watch Netflix?  Will there be enough bandwidth not only inside the home or office, but also connecting the home/office to the Internet?  Will Internet Service Providers be able to handle this coming surge in demand?

Wireless networks should expand and improve

Things don’t connect unless they are wired or have available wireless access:  Will wireless networks be there when they are needed?  Will they be able to provide sufficient bandwidth and coverage areas?  Who will own them?

Security may be compromised

How will you safely authenticate devices against other devices and against multiple users?  Can these devices be patched and/or updated in a secure and consistent manner?  What if you purchase a smartHome and the previous owner does not release the smart technology; will you need to replace these items, or will there be a master override?  (Marilyn Cohodas comments on some of these issues in her article: “4 IoT Cybersecurity Issues You Never Thought About” in the 9/24/2015 issue of InformationWeek DARKReading.)

Also, a July 2014 study by Hewlett-Packard found that six of 10 popular IoT devices surveyed were vulnerable to significant security issues and that seven of these devices used unencrypted network services.  (See the article: “Popular Internet of Things devices are not Secure” by Lucian Constantin in the 7/30/2014 edition of ComputerWorld.)

Legal challenges shall multiply

What if your home-based device sent forth information you agreed to provide, but other family members of visiting friends did not wish to provide?  Who is liable when this information ends up in the wrong hands?

Please review “Top 5 Legal Issues in the Internet of Things, Part 1: Data Security & Privacy” by Brian Wassom at Wassom.com.

Electricity use will change

Unless unplugged, electronics-enabled devices are connected 24×7, consuming electricity the entire time.  Multiply this usage against billions of devices and our power needs and power consumption may change dramatically.

One promising note:  Energy use will be monitored closely, with the likely result that optimization will occur, balancing power generation with energy use (and even decreasing energy use in some situations).

 

Privacy will be invaded

When my blender rats me out and tells the world that I made a chocolate shake after midnight, what will manufacturers conclude about me and my habits and who will they tell?  Also, can I trust these manufacturers to use my household data wisely and keep it secure? Do standards exist to protect me from snooping?

 

See Brian Wassom’s article: “The Internet of Things that Eavesdrop and Invade Privacy” on 7/30/2015 at Wassom.com.

Evolving regulations and standards

Fortunately, the US Federal Government is addressing these areas with new insights and rulings:

Organizations and manufacturers are also upping the ante:  IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, and many others are all weighing in with new technologies, products, and services.

The IoT is here now; it will get better with time, but make sure you know the risks and potential consequences when you enable it in your home or office.