Skip to main content

Recently, while moderating a panel, I came across a CTO-type with 133 Internet-protocol- connected things — in one home.

Turns out he’s an early partaker in the worldwide movement that is the “Internet of Things” — which, as I learned during the research for this translation, is now abbreviated to “the IOT.”

To get your head around what this means, look around. Probably little of what’s in your line of sight has an Internet connection But what if it did? Part of the intrigue of the IOT is the imagining of how and whether your life is bettered, by making your dumb stuff “smart.”

The big player in the IOT is the ZigBee Alliance, a 400-member nonprofit founded in 2002 that builds standards for wireless sensor and control networks. Nowadays, stuff with ZigBee-flavored chips inside is silently everywhere .

All in, and worldwide, more than 50 million things are controlled by a ZigBee radio. As growth goes, the number of things that are ZigBee-certified doubles every 18 months. It’s like a Moore’s law for connected stuff . (My favorite example: “ZigBeef,” which makes wireless mesh networks out of herds of cattle. No, I’m not kidding.)

ZigBee is wireless in the home, but it’s different from Wi-Fi because it’s not about getting broadband to your stuff — it maxes out at about 250 Kilobits per second. (It doesn’t take much for a radio to tell your lights to turn off .) It’s different from Bluetooth, in that it’s not focused on wireless headsets or speakers.

It’s different from “NFC,” or “Near Field Communications,” in that it does both near and far field communication. An NFC tag may let you place your phone on a coaster-sized sensor, which foists its screen onto (your very) nearby TV; ZigBee appliances work over long ranges — miles, in some cases.

What all of this means to our IP device counts is certain: The IOT could become a multiplier. That is, if you’re into making your dumb stuff “smart.”

Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis