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Internet of Everything

Do you remember the Internet coffee pot? Back in the earliest days of the Internet, researchers at the University of Cambridge put a constantly-updating image of their break-room coffee pot on the Internet. It had a utilitarian purpose – why go to the break room if the pot was empty? But it was also a bit of an Internet sensation. I still remember showing friends the coffee pot on the Mosaic browser and breathlessly exclaiming, “And this is all the way from England, and it’s live…”.  There really wasn’t a lot of content on the Internet in those days.

Compare then to this:  a coffee maker that tracks your usage, and wirelessly “phones home” to order refills when you’re close to using up all of your coffee pods. If you think this is unusual, then you better strap yourself in, because from here on, things will get faster. The next phase of the Internet is arriving sooner than you think with the Internet of Everything.

For example, if your energy company has replaced your electricity meter lately – congratulations! You are likely part of the Smart Grid, a movement among energy suppliers to modernize their distribution systems by connecting them to a digital communications network. This makes it easier to monitor, manage and conserve energy.

But it doesn’t stop there. Many different industries will be connecting more things. How about this? It’s a pill dispenser that monitors usage, and can automatically notify the caregiver via email or text message if the patient fails to take his/her medication on schedule.  And the list goes on: Wireless in cars; sensors on factory floors; Radio Frequency ID tags on equipment (and even patients) in hospitals.  One of my favorite examples is from my colleague, Dave Evans, who talks about how a Dutch startup – Sparked – is using wireless sensors to monitor the health of cattle.

I just did a quick survey of my house, and I have 28 devices with IP addresses (including routers, access points and switches). That far outnumbers the count of people in my house.  Granted, I am a technophile, but it is a trend we are going to be seeing a lot of over the next few years. For every one factory with hundreds of workers, there may be thousands of sensors. Or think about one farmer with thousands of IP-enabled cattle.

All of this should drive the adoption of IPv6 which supplies somewhere between 250  and 260 usable addresses.  Geoff Huston, of the Asia-Pacific Network Information Center, describes it like this: “If each IPv6 address were a single grain of sand, the entire IPv6 address space would construct 300 million planets, each the size of the Earth”.

We’re already seeing early adoption of IPv6 by governments and mobile service providers, and the Internet of Everything should accelerate this tremendously.  And with such a large address space, we should be good for a very, very long time…or until we start colonizing other worlds.

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