The Internet of Things is an emerging application area that relies on a number of technologies developed for the Internet, consumer portable products, large scale computing and many technologies developed within the semiconductor industry. There are three types of devices associated with the IoT, namely edge devices, hubs and access points and the cloud.
By far, the vast majority of devices within the IoT context are the edge devices. These typically contain one or more sensors or actuators, a processor and a means of communications. Communications may be either wireline or more commonly some form of wireless communications. What differentiates these devices from remote devices of the past is that they have IP addresses and are publically accessible, unless access to them is restricted via security mechanisms, access control or authentication.
The second device type are the hubs or access points. Edge devices equipped with wireless communications are likely to have a limited range and thus they will be connected to something that acts as a consolidator, or access point for a wide area network. Today, consumer devices such as a phone act as a hub, connecting to things such as a watch or earpiece using Bluetooth technology. While these devices are private devices today, there are other applications, such as the home, smart power, cars and others that could well use more open sensors.
The home gateway is one that is being fought over today with companies such as Internet providers, TV companies, security companies and early automated home makers such as Nest attempting to create a foothold.
Large Scale Processing
The third level of the IoT is the large-scale processors that can make use of some of the data being generated from the edge devices. As an example, the smart grid relies on information coming from each of the smart meters attached to the home, adapting the delivery network to optimize transmission and in some cases limiting power consumption at times when peak demand exceeds supply.
These large scale processing centers are also referred to as the Cloud and the analysis of large amounts of data as Big Data.
Reliance on the Internet
All aspects of the IoT rely on the infrastructure created for the Internet even though it will have to be enhanced significantly over time to deal with the increasing amounts of traffic that will be created. One extension necessary is the migration from IP4 to IP6 addresses. IP4 only enables 4.3 billion unique devices to exist worldwide, a number that has already been exceeded. By 2020, it is estimated that we will be approaching 10 times that number.
Many application areas will have specialized requirements. For example, the Industrial Internet of Things requires devices to have a long lifetime and many of the devices may have to operate in hostile environments. Medical devices that are implanted will have to have extremely long battery life and both of these may have elevated security requirements compared to the consumer space.