A Many Splendored Internet of Things

By Rich Handley

The IoT has come a long way in the past two decades—as has RFID Journal's coverage of the technologies it encompasses.

It's always fascinating to look to the past and realize just how much things have changed in the interim. As it happens, the Internet of Things has also changed.

When I joined RFID Journal's editorial team in May 2005, I had little idea what radio frequency identification technology was, and I had never before heard the phrase "Internet of Things." My background had been in business-to-business editing at another technology magazine, and I also wrote for several other publications (primarily B2B- and entertainment-based), but RFID was not a technology with which I was overly familiar, other than knowing it had something to do with New York's E-ZPass toll-collection system. That, too, quickly changed.

At the time, although Kevin Ashton had already coined the phrase "Internet of Things" in 1999 (see That 'Internet of Things' Thing), it wasn't a term being utilized in RFID Journal's articles with anywhere near the frequency with which it now appears. A quick search in our back-end system shows that we first mentioned the IoT in a December 2005 feature story by Bob Violino, titled "Leveraging the Internet of Things."

Consider the story's opening paragraph: "When the Auto-ID Center, a nonprofit research organization, was developing Electronic Product Code technologies, it envisioned using radio frequency identification to create an 'Internet of Things'—a network that would allow companies to track goods through the global supply chain and run many business applications simultaneously."

Clearly, the concept was still an emerging one, and we were presenting it as something new and interesting that our readers should take notice of. In fact, from 2006 to 2011, the term "Internet of Things" showed up in only about four of our articles per year. In 2012, things began to change, with our coverage of the Internet of Things starting to take hold as it became clear that the term was gaining wider usage in describing the concept of interconnecting everyday objects so that they can send and receive data. RFID, as an Internet of Things technology, is an important part of that picture, and so our coverage of the IoT began to expand.

Fast-forward to 2020, and a search on our website yields 2,633 articles that mention the Internet of Things. To provide some perspective on how significant that is, our latest published article (Via Onda Announces New Reader and Tag Made in Brazil), is story #19,232, which means that the IoT has gone from being something we mentioned once in 2005, then only four more times annually for the next six years, to now encompassing almost 14 percent of all the articles we've published to date.

But even that number doesn't fully reflect how far the IoT has come, because RFID Journal was founded 18 years ago, in 2002, and the term "Internet of Things" wasn't being widely used on our website until 10 years later, in 2012. In other words, nearly all of those 2,633 IoT-related stories appeared within only the past eight years, for an average of 330 articles per year. Kevin Ashton didn't just coin an interesting phrase. He foresaw the future of RFID Journal's coverage.

When I joined the team in 2005, the company had already been running smoothly for three years, with Paul Prince helming the website's daily news lineup. Andrea Linne handled the print magazine (back before we transitioned to a fully online publication), while Claire Swedberg, Mary Catherine O'Connor, Beth Bacheldor and others contributed content for both our print and digital coverage. (Edson Perin would join us years later as the editor of RFID Journal Brasil.) Mark Roberti, meanwhile, was overseeing the growth of the company he'd built up from a one-man operation to a vital resource for the RFID industry. But in 2002, when Mark had formed the company out of his house, he was writing all the articles himself.

So, curious what the first article we'd ever published had been about, I lobbed off the "19232" from the most recent article and replaced it with, simply, "1." What did I find? An article by Mark titled "UK Intros Vehicle Inspection Card." At the time, it seems, the United Kingdom's Ministry of Transport had been planning to use smart cards to reduce the incidence of tailpipe emission fraud related to the inspection of commercial vehicles. Interesting—and quite different from the type of coverage our editorial staff now pursues.

Swapping out the "1" with "2," "3" and "4" yielded articles about a new wireless encryption algorithm (see Security for Wireless Java), a business unit at Assa Abloy devoted to smart cards (New Assa Abloy Smart Card Unit) and a SAP demonstration of RFID technology (SAP To Demo RFID Replenishment). The latter contains an intriguing opening statement: "Most people say tracking individual items using RFID is years away."

Think about that for a moment—the idea of item-level tracking, with software capable of monitoring inventory levels via RFID and responding automatically, was still an unobtained goal of the industry. Nowadays, the technology can easily accomplish this. RFID Journal has published more than 1,200 articles about item-level tracking in recent years, and companies utilizing RFID for that purpose are achieving a wide range of benefits. Those who attend our RFID Journal LIVE! events and follow our RFID Journal Awards have repeatedly seen this demonstrated.

RFID and other Internet of Things technologies have come a long way in the past two decades, bringing a great deal of changes. Back then, smart cards were being considered as a new means of thwarting inspection fraud, while the mainstream media—and even RFID Journal—were barely mentioning the IoT by name. These days, IoT technologies are everywhere we look: in our homes, in our workplaces, in the devices we carry and wear, and in news headlines. I've even heard people mention it who are not remotely tech-savvy, because they've heard it mentioned on their favorite television shows.

As the industry has grown exponentially, so has the depth of our coverage. In addition to RFID and related technologies like Near Field Communication, Bluetooth Low Energy and ultra-wideband, we've seen the fast-growing adoption of video analytics, blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning and other types of systems by companies looking to improve their business processes and increase their visibility and efficiency. Innovation is ever-evolving, and in 2020 and beyond, we will continue to show you what's new with the ever-changing Internet of Things.

Rich Handley is the managing editor of RFID Journal. Rich has authored, edited or contributed to dozens of books about pop culture and is also the editor of Eaglemoss's long-running Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection.