The “Internet Of Things”, or simply IoT, what’s it good for?

Internet Of Things, the IoT

We’ve all heard the hype about the IoT, the Internet Of Things, but is it really a hype? Back in the dark ages (the 90s), a company called Novell already claimed that coffee machines and refrigerators would be equipped with a mini OS and an IP address, so automatic ordering systems could make sure you always have specific foods (or beer) in your fridge.

But at the same time the world was running low on IP addresses, so actually providing all these electronic devices with a unique address was a challenge. The solution was IPv6 which provides a few more addresses than IPv4 does.

Let’s do a little math

IPv4 (for example 192.168.1.125), theoretically provides 256 x 256 x 256 x 256 unique addresses. BUT there’s a catch: in order to separate networks, transfer traffic to other networks and properly address these separate networks scary things call broadcast addresses and default gateways exist. In a (old-fashioned) class-C subnet (255.255.255.0) this meant that of the 256 addresses only 254 were actually usable. And if there was more than 1 gateway, this number would even be lower.

Furthermore, in the beginning when IPv4 addresses were distributed, some companies acquired huge series of these subnets, sometimes class-C, but sometimes class-B or even class-A, which meant the following:

  • Class-C: 256 addresses
  • Class-B: 256 x 256 = 65,536 addresses
  • Class-A: 256 x 256 x 256 = 16,777,216 addresses

And some companies or universities got more than a single subnet!

And so the shortage began. In the late 1990s IPv6 was already under way, but it wasn’t until the 2010s that IPv6 was actually deployed. I got my IPv6 address back in 2012 if I remember correctly. Well actually I didn’t get just one, but a /48 subnet. According to Wikipedia this is a typical assignment for larger sites (2 to the power of 80 addresses). That seems enough for me, I guess. But what is a larger site? This depends on the number of possible unique addresses I would need for my “site”, right? But let’s be realistic: 2^80 addresses, just for me? That’s enough to address every grane of sand in my garden!

But back to the other side of the IPv6 address: 2^48 subnets (in my case), that’s also a huge number of unique sites. Let’s face it: on this planet we have roughly 7 to 8 billion people, that’s about 2 x 2^32, aka 2^33. So with 2^48 subnets, we would be able to give every human being on the planet 2^15 subnets, each containing 2^80 unique addresses.

Yeah, that should be enough.

Now back to the IoT, the Internet Of Things

Nowadays it’s a lot easier to understand why an IoT is realistic. Think about it: how many devices do we have that actually have some sort of address? Let’s guess some numbers for a 3-person household:

  • Your internet modem/router
  • Smart-TV (x2)
  • Remote control (x2)
  • DVD / BR player (x2)
  • Media player (x2)
  • Stereo set (x2)
  • Personal Computer (x2)
  • Printer (x2)
  • Monitor (x2)
  • Smart Phone (x3)
  • Friends who visit might want to access your guest-Wifi
  • Wearables like FitBit or smart watches (x2)
  • Tablet (x3)
  • Handheld house telephone (x2)
  • Digital photo frame
  • Refrigerator (x2)
  • Freezer
  • Microwave
  • Coffee machine
  • Stove
  • Dish washer
  • Thermostat
  • Central heating
  • Digital thermometer for seeing the outside temperature
  • Washing machine
  • Dryer
  • Domotica:
    • every light bulb (± 50 – 100)
    • every light switch (±30)
    • automatic curtains (open close) (5x)
    • sprinkler system (3x)
    • front door light that reacts when somebody’s at the door (2x)
    • garage door
    • driveway gate

And this would be a typical (modern) household. So that about 125 to 175 addressable units. So it’s not quite unimaginable that 256 might not be enough. But then again, 15 years ago we maybe had 5 or 10 addressable devices (modem, pc, laptop, 2 printers…). It’s very likely that in the very near future most of these devices will be able to use the internet. This could be because you’re controlling them from a distance (turn up the heating, because you will be home in 15 minutes), or the fridge detected you don’t have enough beer, while it can read your personal agenda in the Cloud that you’ll have 4 friends over for watching a sports game on tv. The fridge will propose a list of items, based on historic events like this, and you only have to acknowledge (or change) the list and the local super market will deliver (or perhaps put your order in a box, ready for pick-up. Your washing machine knows it has used 25 portions of softener and “knows” you might be running low, so it proposes a new order of your favorite brand, while comparing multiple stores for the lowest prices. Your personal agenda is shared with your domotica system, which could sound some sort of alarm that you really need to get going to pick up your date, it’ll lower the temperature int the house and inform the restaurant you booked a table at, that you’ll be arriving in 25 minutes.

The number of possibilities are unimaginable. Most of us come from the pre-internet era where the widely distributed amount of knowledge simply wasn’t there yet. We had to rely on encyclopedia, telephone service and paper agendas. Think about it what the current elderly people are thinking about us, with our wearables and smart phones and tablets. I’m guessing they regret being born 50 years too soon, but the same goes for me. Well, not 50, but decades. I sometimes wish that I was 10 years old now, my whole life ahead of me, internet is just there and it works. No noisy modems, no huge and heavy glass televisions. Yeah…. in 50 years from now, when I’m 60 (haha) everything is wireless, high-speed, cheap and digital. And most of all: everything little electronic device will be connected some way or the other: the Internet Of Things will be a real thing.

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