M2M, NFC, RFID, Big Data, Wi-Fi… What is what in the IoT

Published by Telefónica IoT Team IoT General

If one is new in the IoT and M2M world it is certainly easy to get lost within the ‘jibber-jabber’ of the industry, especially with all the acronyms and terminology used.

Amid the explosion of M2M technology and acknowledging how the IoT is ever more present in our lives, it seems a good idea to recap and gain a holistic view at basic terminology involved in the way machines ‘speak’ to other machines to create the pervasive Internet of Things.

A while back we already dealt with the distinct difference between M2M and the IoT, which can be summarized by saying that “M2M is what provides The Internet of Things with the connectivity that enables capabilities, which would not be possible without it”.

The Internet of Things (IoT)the universal glue to bind all the things as technology columnist Christopher Mims defines it– is a technological umbrella that uses diverse technologies to allow uniquely identifiable machines to effectively communicate with others. This enveloping framework has a key component known as M2M technology which stands for (Machine To Machine).

In a connected world, elements that can be identified and tracked become part of the IoT. Therefore M2M technologies can turn practically anything into an IoT component that can be remotely monitored and allow interaction with the element through the M2M interface. “The Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did. Maybe even more so”, remarked Kevin Ashton, the man who coined the term.

But there is more to the IoT than M2M. Let’s see the technologies that complement the ‘machine to machine’ communications.

RFID sensors are Radio Frequency Identifiers embedded in the device. According to the RFID Journal the technology is “any method of identifying unique items using radio waves. Typically, a reader communicating with a transponder that holds digital information in a microchip”. This technology relies on being within a close range. Warehousing inventories depend heavily on RFID to keep internal stock control for example.

Near Field Communication (NFC) –a standards-based short-range wireless connectivity technology– is a proximity technology embedded in, for example, smartphones. NFC provides applications such as contactless transactions, data exchange or receiving information from another ‘passive’ NFC chip called a tag.

The technology was designed “to make consumers’ lives easier by making it simpler to make transactions, exchange digital content, and connect electronic devices with a touch”, in the words of the NFC Forum.

The very popular Bluetooth technology –“a global wireless standard enabling, convenient, secure connectivity for an expanding range of devices and services” in words of the Bluetooth SIG– has evolved. Its design purpose was to communicate devices and not network many devices as other technologies (like Wi-Fi) aim to do. Bluetooth mostly serves as a substitute for data cables. It is highly available in current devices. Its most common use is to connect two points.

The IoT has embraced Bluetooth 4.0 (also called Smart, LE or low energy) as it is greatly improved in power consumption over the classic Bluetooth technology while maintaining a similar communication range.

The Bluetooth SIG explains its main advantage is that it “collects data and runs for months or years on a tiny battery”. Many modern wearables and other connected devices use Bluetooth LE to connect to data hubs, mobile devices or computers.

Wi-Fi (wireless networking) also relies on connected elements to be within a certain range of the network’s closest access point, “linking those objects back to the user-facing devices people already use to enjoy and manage their lives”, in word of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

It is a technology widely available as a built-in feature and most of the current consumer devices are Wi-Fi capable. It is more limited for outside environments due to the complexity of a Wi-Fi network deployment with enough range.

We couldn’t review the main terms in the IoT without mentioning Big Data. It is not in itself a technology but an all-encompassing term for any collection of data sets that is larger and more complex than what traditional data-management can handle. If these technologies are the plumbing of the IoT, Big Data is the brain, the stomach and the heart of the IoT.

Telefónica IoT Team