Top 5 reasons why “Internet” in Internet of Things could be a misnomer!!

Let me pose a quiz question –

“What is common between Paris’s Port Neuf & Internet of Things?

———————-(Both are misnomers!!)————————-


Port Neuf is the oldest bridge in the city, but its name still means “new bridge.” It was completed in 1607 .

Now let me mention the phrase Internet of Things .Ever wondered how this name was coined?

The term “The Internet of Things” (IoT) was coined by Kevin Ashton in a presentation to Proctor & Gamble in 1999. Ashton is a co-founder of MIT’s Auto-ID Lab. He pioneered RFID use in supply-chain management.


The world caught on to this; and I believe with Cisco’s announcement in the later part of the first decade of 21st century, Internet of Everything legitimised this as the phrase.

There were feeble attempts to offer synonyms like “ambient computing”, ubiquitous computing, “M2M computing” “ and the like but nothing stuck on like IoT  .

One of the influential Tech bloggers Daniel Miessler also tossed a few alternatives like Universal daemonization, universal object interaction etc.

If one breaks the phrase into its components it does not tell what is expected to tell. I will explain this later in the document.

My premise is the phrase is not doing an honest job of explaining what exactly Internet of Things , as we now know it is.

Let us take a step back and take a view the traditional internet and how it was built  and compare that with the world of  IoT

  1. End Systems – The end systems in traditional internet would be PCs, laptops, hand- held devices, servers, routers (both manned and unmanned). In the IoT architecture the scope and the breadth of the end systems or devices to be connected is expected to run into billions, and these devices would be “small, dumb, cheap and copious.”. These end devices do not have processors, memory and hard drives which are needed to run a protocol stack.
  2. Flow of Data – The flow of data in traditional internet is bidirectional and is fast given the bandwidth available and high fidelity. In the IoT world the data flow is generally and individually insignificant but in an aggregated manner it would be meaningful and is unidirectional from the device to the server or cloud. Here the communication would be machine to machine and in tiny snatches of data and working in possibly lossy networks. In the traditional internet, the data networks are essentially over-provisioned by design, built with more capacity than is typically required to provide a best effort based service. Protocols like TCP/IP are based on mostly reliable connection between sender and receiver.
  3. Number of Devices and their Management – Numerous reports mention about how humongous the breadth and scope of IoT would be. The end systems or devices would vastly outnumber human beings on the planet – the network so created would be varied and unprecedented. Imagine the moisture sensors being linked to thermostats and occupancy sensors linked to surveillance systems and the like. With the count of devices exploding in the world of IoT, the panacea is thought to be provided by IPv6 as the IP addresses required to manage them would be solved by IPv6 (with its unlimited capacity to churn IP addresses). Providing address is one thing but their management is another.The estimated 700 billion IoT devices cannot be individually managed, they must self-manage. Self-addressing, self-classification and possibly self-healing will be the order of the day in addition the IP addresses.
  4. Human Involvement – The traditional internet is primarily human-to-machine oriented. There is a human at the end of the session. Applications like email, web surfing and video streaming consist of chunky data flowing through high bandwidth pipes to be consumed by humans per session and is bi directional in flow. In the world of IoT this is just the opposite – data is clipped (or terse, yet purposeful) , mostly meaningless when seen individually but making sense in an aggregated manner and the data flow is .unidirectional. The meaningful amount of data individually could be insignificant and random but when aggregated could be important and give a meaningful update. For example, a temperature sensor may generate only few hundred bytes of data when temperature crosses the threshold, otherwise it would be in sleep mode.
  5. Adaptation to Network – Traditional Internet is extremely reliable. There is a significant overprovisioning of bandwidth and redundancy which is built in, at the design and the deployment phase. This provides a high level of services to the internet users, the human beings.

In the world of IoT most of the devices or end systems reside on the extreme edges of the network and the connection may be inconsistent and intermittent. Devices may not  be needed to be kept switched off to conserve power ( as they consume low or no power ) , they must share wireless connections among them. Individual lost messages may not mean much and they could manage well in lossy networks.

Now you may ask- why not TCP/IP for IoT? These protocols which form the heart of traditional Internet, are ill suited for devices geared for IoT. The inherent robustness of these protocols makes them too heavy duty and overhead rich. It may sound odd, but sometimes being capable and reliable may not be something needed in the “awkward world” of IoT.

Internet of Things is an expression which has firmly got entrenched, when essentially it says that devices would be connected and this contentedness makes them behave as computers and hence the things transform into “thinking things”.

Let us all be like Parisians and retain the much acclaimed word “Internet of Things” not withstanding it could be a misnomer !!


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