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The Internet of Things Has a Communication Problem

From the family friendly robot to Nest, the Internet of Things essentially uses Internet technology to connect mundane home items to the cloud. Nest and others also hope to create a set of standards for the Internet of Things. However, there’s a communication problem both in how people talk about the technology, and how the devices talk to each other.

Generally, when users or journalists talk about the Internet of Things, they fail to realize that it isn’t a matter of things at all. Your fridge’s ability to tweet isn’t as important as the data involved in its communications. Wojtek Borowicz, a contributor to The Next Web and community evangelist for Estimote, notes that the development of electricity wasn’t about the light bulb, in the same way the development of the Internet of Things isn’t about killer apps or a new connected device — it’s about the way the Internet develops.

“It’s the unified framework with a set of open APIs that made it possible for hackers and tinkerers of 19th and early 20th century to completely change the world,” Borowicz writes. “Virtually anyone with the right set of tools and enough knowledge about technology could put together something to be easily and almost instantaneously connected to the network.”

The problem with the ability to put something together is having the right set of tools. For example, beyond established Internet protocols, there are few standards that define the communication between devices hooked up to the Web. The lack of standardization often means a single access point: your basic router. If anything goes wrong, or the router stops working, a connected home could also stop working altogether.

Samsung, Nest Labs and a host of other companies have set up a non-profit group called Thread in an attempt to standardize communications through new connectivity protocols, which the current methods are apparently lacking.

“It’s hard to get devices to talk to one another. And once they do, the connection is often spotty and power hungry. Thread changes all that. It’s a mesh network designed to securely and reliably connect hundreds of products around the home — without blowing through battery life,” Thread’s website says.

The Internet of Things is usually discussed as a far off concept, but Borowicz points out that it’s already here. And now that it is here, communications need to get better. Devices need to understand each other, and consumers need to understand just what the Internet of Things is.

“What we should be debating in the first place is not the design of new funky home automation gadget, but developing industry standards, building growing ecosystems and figuring out how to provide security for the users of 50 billion devices that will be connected to the Web in 2020,” Borowicz writes.

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