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Why the Internet of Things may never happen

Mike Elgan | Sept. 30, 2014
The Internet of Things is the grand idea of our time. Unfortunately, that vision may never become reality.

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The Internet of Things is great -- if, that is, you like the Internet and you also own some things.

Until this week, the Internet of Things vision had a fatal flaw. But now, it has two fatal flaws.

To avoid hyperbole, let me be clear that these flaws are fatal to the vision, but not necessarily to your things that are connected to the Internet.

Hoo-boy. Three paragraphs in, and I've already got a lot of explaining to do. But stick with me. The payoff is worth it.

I'm going to describe the vision, then the flaws. And then I'm going to tell you what I think is actually going to happen.

The Internet of Things vision
The Internet of Things idea is poorly understood. So I'm going to attempt the clearest explanation I can.

Because the component parts of computers (wireless chips, sensors, memory, storage, CPU and so on) keep getting smaller and cheaper thanks to Moore and his law, it's becoming increasingly feasible to build computers into random "things," such as lamps, toasters, garage door openers, water fountains, skateboards, shoes, sunglasses, air conditioners, coffee cups, refrigerators, door locks, kitty litter boxes -- just about anything, really.

Helping the revolution along is the emergence of extremely low-powered wireless radios, Bluetooth LE technology, the new Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) -- because otherwise we'd run out of IP addresses -- and a host of new architectures, frameworks and protocols.

OK, that's not clear enough. So let me say it this way: Many different devices will become Internet-connected computers. That will make them "smart," which means that they'll communicate with other computers and with humans, and that they can be automated.

The end result of having everything on the Internet and loaded with sensors is that we will save energy, money and time, and our lives will be better because everyday chores will be done for us. Our Internet-connected things will keep us in touch, so we'll always know what's going on with the stuff around us and the stuff around us will always know what's going on with us.

That's the vision. The reality is starting to look different.

Flaw No. 1: Too many standards
I wrote a piece back in January called "Why the Internet of Things May Never Happen."

In that column, I pointed out both why the "Internet of Things" label is grossly misleading and also why incompatible standards will probably prevent the vision I articulated from ever coming into existence.

Those two ideas are connected. I believe the "Internet of Things" label came about as a bit of wishful thinking on the part of advocates. (The phrase was coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, an MIT scientist and creator of the Belkin WeMo home automation system.)


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