Cisco these days touts the "Internet of everything," and that might not be a bad way to describe what is happening in the world of devices and Internet connections.
Cisco defines the Internet of Everything (IoE) as “bringing together people, process, data, and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before-turning information into actions.”
The neatness comes from the fact that the “Internet of everything” definition does not require discriminating between phones, tablets, PCs and all other Internet connected devices.
At least traditionally, the Internet primarily has been a network used by computers and humans, but the way most people encounter the Internet is when using their personal computers, tablets and phones.
And, early on, revenue in the Internet access business has been based on connecting devices people use (phones, PCs, tablets).
The reason the Internet of Things and machine-to-machine applications are terms of art is because the next big wave of growth for access providers is expected to come from connections provided to sensors and devices that communicate mostly with servers, and do not represent people using devices directly.
Whole new industries and lines of business are expected to arise as new ways are found to embed sensors in a wide range of settings, using Internet-based communications to inform decision making.
Nevertheless, it sometimes is difficult to clearly delineate “connected device” markets from “smartphone” markets from “machine-to-machine” (M2M) and “Internet of Things” (IoT) markets.
“Connected device” sometimes means non-phone devices such as tablets, but sometimes gets lumped in with M2M sensor apps. Some might consider M2M (industrial sensors) part of the Internet of Things, but others might also include smart watches in the IoT category.
In a broad sense, sensing and actuating functions potentially can occur on any Internet-connected device, whether that is a phone, a watch or an industrial sensor.
So the distinction between devices people use, and sensors that talk to servers, is not always clear cut.
In some cases, the Internet of Things might well build on the “Internet of people.” Generally speaking, the IoT refers to sensors using the Internet, while the IoP might refer to humans using the Internet. But what do we make of a smart watch that relies on a smartphone for much of its processing?
In some other cases, sensor networks might use Wi-Fi or bluetooth data from user phones at a venue to create useful data of the sort touted for IoT apps.
As Google Maps uses Wi-Fi data to improve the accuracy of the navigation features of Google Maps, so too can user device data be analyzed to product the sorts of useful information the IoT promises.
Security line wait times, for example, are predicted by use of Wi-Fi signals at the Austin airport, in real time. Meanwhile, use of the historical data might allow optimization of the queueing process.
The point is that although it is useful to have categories such as IoT and M2M, and to distinguish them from the ways people use phones for Internet access and apps, the actual new apps might represent a mix of categories, including new scenarios where phones are viewed primarily as sensors.
In other words, use of sensor data likely will cross boundaries, extending use of devices by people to create new sensing-based value that might more properly be thought of as IoT. Or, as Cisco, likes to say, the Internet of everything.