Back in 2013, I wrote a column discussing the Internet of Things (IoT), and how it had become the new source of hype for the IT industry.
Fast forward just over a year, and the trend continues with ever more debate over what it all means, whether it will be a blessing or a curse, and who will dominate it.
As I pointed out in that earlier article, the IoT is really just the same old internet that we're already used to, but with new kinds of devices getting connected, which is expected to lead to new usage models and applications.
If you find this hard to get your head round, just consider that the internet we are all familiar with is made up of computers all connected together as if they were all on one single, giant network.
Some of these computers are servers that provide services, such as hosting web sites, while others are devices used by you and I to access those services.
The Internet Protocol is the key piece of technology that holds it all together, enabling two devices to communicate regardless of whether one is connected wirelessly to a 4G mobile network while the other is connected via a local area network in a data centre or office.
With the IoT, a whole new set of devices are starting to be connected, the difference being that these devices may not be under the control of a human user, but could be objects such as weather sensors programmed to feed streams of readings back to a server or cloud service via the internet, or a thermostat talking to your central heating system.
For some people, this means that the IoT is about home automation. For others, it's about driverless cars. Further groups believe it's all about wearables, like fitness devices, while others think it's about collecting data from widely dispersed environmental sensors.
In fact, it could be just about anything talking to anything; so long as it uses the internet to communicate, it qualifies for the IoT, which is why it is so difficult to evaluate and leaves plenty of room for gushing hyperbole.
This week, we heard warnings that the IoT risks becoming a fragmented market, for example, but this is almost inevitable when it includes such a diverse array of devices and applications.
This also is nothing new or even unusual. The internet was designed to support a wide range of applications, as shown by the number of higher level protocols such as HTTP, IMAP, SNMP and DHCP that have been developed for specific purposes.
Likewise, there is unlikely to be a single universal protocol that all IoT applications will use. The nearest thing we have to such a thing is the HyperCat standard, which has been developed to allow devices to query other devices to find out what they are and what capabilities they have.
It is a bit like asking a stranger "Do you speak English?", for example, but there is no guarantee that all device makers will adopt it.
There are also problems around privacy, with concerns being raised about who will own and control data that is generated by consumer devices in the home or by fitness sensors, for example.
This is also nothing new; web companies such as Facebook and Google lay claim to any information you upload onto their services, in case you hadn't noticed.
In other words, the IoT is just the internet, not some bizarre new-fangled and incomprehensible thing, with similar benefits and similar security and privacy dangers that we already face.
Intel's perspective on the matter is instructive; it regards the IoT as the next step in the embedded market, using the internet as the plumbing to connect all kinds of devices that already have a processor inside, but are not necessarily wired for communication today.
So long as you keep that in mind, the IoT doesn't seem too mysterious or confusing.
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