Read Quickly, While People Still Dominate the Internet


By now you’ve heard the hullaballoo around “machine-to-machine” computing, abbreviated “M2M.” And “the Internet of Things,” or IOT. And “the Internet of Everything,” or IOE.

Each characterizes how we’re attaching sensors and controllers to our physical stuff for access and manipulation from somewhere else: Webcam-watching what’s going on at home or lowering the heat from work, because you forgot to do it before you walked out the door.

The human math of this “connected everything” world is about to get interesting — or scary. Think about it: 7 billion people on the planet. About a third of us (according to an article in United Airlines’s in-flight magazine last week) are equipped to use the Internet. That’s about 2.3 billion people.

Here’s the question: At what point are more sensor-equipped things connecting to the Internet than people? My best guess at an answer: Soon. Maybe even very soon.

Let’s start by eliminating the computing things that connect to the Internet: PCs, laptops, tablets, mobile devices. The “thing” part of the IOT generally means something not originally intended to communicate with anything. Doors. Windows. Furnaces. Dog collars. Coffee makers.

The people who track M2M, IOT and the IOE (Cisco, Machina Research, Zigbee, others) say already, about 2 billion (noncomputer) things are already taking regular sips of Internet, to send and receive information about their status.

Two billion devices, 2.3 billion people. See what I mean?

Then factor in efforts like Google Loon, which seeks to connect the unconnected parts of the planet, using balloons. Here’s a description directly from Google: “Project Loon floats balloons in the stratosphere, twice as high as airplanes and weather. They’re carried around the Earth by winds, and can be steered by rising or descending … people connect to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna, connected to a building.”

Google Loon could keep humans slightly ahead of machines when it comes to Internet connectivity. But we’re still in a unique sliver of time, right now, where we are the majority.

As someone who studies bandwidth trends, I can’t help but wonder what M2M, IOT, and the IOE will do to the quality and availability of our (human) Internet connectivity. Picture it: All of our digital bits running like a river, in one direction or the other, over the Big Internet.

On top of that, billions of chatty machines, taking a sip here, a sip there. In radio frequency terms, it seems kind of like “shot noise” — little spikes of electric charges. Billions of them. In the river analogy, showers of pebbles, relentlessly hitting the flow.

This is where the distinction that is the “managed” network comes into play, of course. The “Big Internet” is unmanaged. Service provider networks are, by design, managed.

So we’ve got that going for us …

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