Embracing the Internet of Things

By Mark Roberti

When paired with smartphones or tablets, these lightweight, low-cost devices can be used for a variety of business applications.

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Potter Stewart, a U.S. Supreme Court justice, famously wrote in an opinion in an obscenity case that while he could not define pornography, "I know it when I see it." The Internet of Things is a bit like that. It's hard to define. Yet businesspeople and technologists see applications such as Google Glass and the new Apple Watch, and they get it.

So we don't need to define the Internet of Things for companies to begin thinking about how and where they can use IoT technologies. It's important to understand that one day virtually all objects will be connected to the Internet, so they can be identified, monitored and controlled remotely and in many cases automatically, or so they can provide the user with information that otherwise would not be available. To help companies develop an IoT strategy, we provide a roadmap in this issue's cover story (see How to Benefit From the Internet of Things).

Photo: Tom Hurst | RFID Journal

The vast majority of objects will be connected via passive RFID for two reasons: Passive transponders are the cheapest radios available, and therefore the least expensive way to provide connectivity and interactivity; and passive radios do not require any maintenance. That means even inexpensive items can be tracked and managed with passive tags.

But passive RFID alone won't be enough. Companies that want to monitor the conditions of assets or the environment remotely will likely need to deploy active RFID sensors. In some cases, Near Field Communication, ZigBee, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections will be required. But don't get too caught up in the type of radio you'll need to use. What's important is strategy—and as you'll see in our cover story, you can use IoT technologies to automate processes, build brand loyalty, and monitor the conditions of assets, people and environments remotely.

RFID is already connecting many things to the Internet. Business conference organizers, for example, are putting RFID transponders in badges not only to monitor which sessions people attend but also to allow guests to locate the people they want to meet in real time (see Vertical Focus). Readers positioned in booths could recognize visitors and match their information to data they entered previously, so exhibitors could present solutions that best meet attendees' needs. Exhibitors would know how long visitors stayed at a booth, and they could use this information to identify their best prospects for follow-up after the event.

Of course, more people are using mobile phones and tablets in the workplace and outside the office to connect to the Internet. Lightweight, low-cost RFID readers that plug into these devices enable them to be used for a variety of business applications, and when necessary the data collected can be shared via the Internet in real time (see Product Developments). RFID-enabling the devices we carry is just another example of the burgeoning interconnectivity that is the Internet of Things.