What is the Internet of Things? Internet of Things definitions in context

What is the Internet of Things? Internet of Things definitions in context

What is the Internet of Things? Internet of Things definitions in context

Everyone speaks about the Internet of Things. So it’s important to know what we’re really talking about in order to understand eachother, starting with an Internet of Things definition.

However, there is no universal Internet of Things definition (IoT) and it is not that easy to define IoT because it has become an umbrella term for many realities which, in the end, have little in common. As you will see in the definitions below there are several approaches and views.

It’s important to know that the definition of the Internet of Things is in evolution in several ways:

Our Internet of Things definition is a bit a mix of all that.

Before sharing it (and over 20 more definitions) we must emphasize (and remind) a few things.

We have been connecting devices and ‘things’ to the Internet and other networks since quite some time.

This doesn’t mean by definition that all these ‘connected’ devices nor their inherent capacities are part of what we know as the Internet of Things.

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Connected devices and the networks we use to achieve specific goals with them are at least two decades old, albeit for specific and more ‘simple’ purposes.

Think about how we have been using RFID tags in logistics, manufacturing and warehousing for years to track items (and NFC or near field communications). Thik about machine-to-machine networks, ATMs, point of sales systems and so forth. More history and details on how the term Internet of Things was coined on our Internet of Things overview page.

Strictly speaking when we talk about the Internet we mean a bunch of connected items, network technologies, sensing and gateway devices, endpoints, data analysis systems/approaches, protocols and standards of which the Internet Protocol (IP) is the main one.

While many physical objects and sensors which we mention in a context of the Internet of Things use IP (or are IP-enabled as we would say in the Industrial Internet of Things), not all of them do. Yet, in general we only speak about the Internet of Things when ‘things’ (endpoints) are uniquely addressable, using an IP address or Uniform Resource Identifier. It might sound a bit confusing and it’s one of the reasons why the Internet of Things is probably not the best name invented ever as we’ve tackled here.

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This brings us to the next point: although we speak about the Internet of Things as if it were a thing it is many things but also an ecosystem of inevitably related processes and other technologies from the perspective of a goal within a specific use case.

It is not just about the connected devices but also about the hardware and software and connectivity solutions to create IoT solutions as mentioned. And it’s also about many processes and technologies (big data analytics, cloud, edge computing and IoT connectivity approaches, etc.) which are needed to do something with IoT deployments. Last but not least the Internet of Things really is a huge umbrella term.

This brings us to yet another point: the Internet of Things, as a term, is used for so many types of applications, industries and use cases that all too often people don’t mean the same thing when talking about IoT.

This is another reason why the Internet of Things is not the best term ever. In fact, just as big data really is a misnomer, one can consider the Internet of Things a wrong name too. For some the Internet of Things is related with consumer electronics and consumer applications, ranging from connected fitness wearables to smart thermostats. Others look at the Internet of Things from a business and society perspective: the IoT as it’s used in applications such as smart parking or track and trace solutions. And then there is the Internet of Things in a more industrial context. Think about oil and gas or logistics and manufacturing, for instance.

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This shows why a definition of the Internet of Things really depends on whom you ask and how, in the end, many people mean many different things.


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