The Internet of Things – the next Internet revolution
By Cees Links
Our Internet connected world is experiencing a revolution that is still in its early phases. New
technologies, applications and online concepts are springing forth every day, changing the way we
work with the net and how we connect and communicate with each other. Even though it is hard to
predict what will happen next, the high rate of change and progress of Internet functions and
applications indicates the Internet has not yet matured and will continue to develop and evolve in
many interesting and powerful ways.
One area of progress that is difficult to predict and that has been seriously lagging – seemingly just
waiting in hiding to emerge and blossom – is the integration of the Internet with our physical
world. Today’s world of the Internet and our physical world are essentially two standalone worlds
with humans functioning as the interface between the two. In the future, these two worlds will
become significantly more intertwined, and this intertwining will become a sort of revolution in its
Let’s take a practical example. It has been a hard day of work and you are driving home. It’s a cold
day, and you want to turn on your house heating system so your home will be nice and cozy when
you arrive. Or you are rushing off to work and all of a sudden you start to wonder whether you
remembered to turn off the heat before you departed.
Despite all our technology sophistication you are probably best off by calling your neighbor (who
has a reserve key of your house) to go inside and do the job. This is an interesting example because
most likely you already have a little control network at home controlling your heater with a
thermostat and you probably also have Internet access at home.
Still, the lack of integration between these networks leaves you no other option than calling your
neighbor. In addition to checking our heating, this is also how most of us check that the whether
the door was locked and the windows were closed. Wouldn’t it be great if you could control your
house with a few buttons on your cell phone? Interestingly, it does not require any major
technology breakthroughs to make this happen.
All of us are using the Internet today for communication and reading the news (with blogging as an
interesting new phenomenon filling the hole between the two). We are also using the Internet for
shopping, where every brand or store nowadays has a point of access to the Internet. What is not
connected to the Internet are all the functions that could be useful for making our lives comfortable
and saving energy.
The Internet is like a big nerve center that still has to build a smaller nerve system that connects to
all the supporting functions of our lives. The backbone is there but not the final end connections to
our senses and muscles.
So far, our view of the Internet has been quite “human-centric”, but that is going to change. It is
quite likely that sooner or later the majority of items connected to the Internet will not be humans,
but things: heating/cooling systems, health sensors, security systems, central door/window locking
systems, remote controls, etc.
It is here where wireless networks will play a major role. There are many more “things” than
“people” and to physically “wire” all things to the Internet is just not feasible. The good news is
that recently communication standards (like IEEE 802.15.4 and on top of that ZigBee) have been
ratified to make this possible. But it is not only wireless technology that is required - “energy
harvesting” from the environment will also be an essential element. In addition to removing the
data communication cables, it is also important to eliminate the power cable and the need for
batteries, along with their negative impact on the environment as well as the huge labor costs
associated with charging and maintaining batteries.
Energy harvesting is the rapidly emerging technology that pulls energy out of the environment (IE
- a solar cell on a pocket calculator or a kinetic device that converts vibration to electrical power)
and can provide the energy needed for the “thing” to have it connected and controlled over the
Internet. The development of energy harvesting devices is making big steps forward, but there is
still a long way to go, in particular in reducing the cost of the harvesting devices.
Looking into the future, the “Internet of Things” could very well be the next revolution on the
Internet where integration of our physical and virtual worlds will be the main driver. The new
“Internet of Things” will enable a new class of applications that will make our lives more
comfortable and that will help us to reduce our wasteful use of energy.
SUMMARY - The Internet of Things is about the next generation - the revolution in
communication - where everything can talk to everything. Machines can talk to machines. This
include mobile health monitoring, RF remote controls for home automation and entertainment,
sophisticated sensors and controls for use in industry, manufacturing and warehouses, smart
houses and buildings that can automatically respond to the environment and the people within
Author – Cees Links, CEO of GreenPeak www.greenpeak.com
Cees Links is a pioneer of the wireless LAN industry, a visionary leader bringing the world of
mobile computing and continuous networking together. Under his responsibility, the first wireless
LANs were developed which ultimately became house-hold technology integrated into the PC’s
and notebooks we all use today. His group also pioneered the development of access points,
home networking routers and hotspot base stations, all widely used today.