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IoT or M2M or Connected Device?

In various places where people track and discuss progress in the world of interconnected things, there is a surprising amount of debate over the meanings of terms that might otherwise be taken for granted.

Most often, you see a debate over the “internet of things” (IoT) as compared to “machine to machine” (M2M). And, in fact, M2M technology has been around for a long time, so some of the tone can be annoyance: “Hey folks, we’ve been doing this for a long time, there’s nothing new, and it’s got a name already : M2M, not IoT. Quit hijacking and hyping our technology.”

Well, I’m going to join the fray here with my opinion, and you can flay me if you disagree. (Just be gentle.) I’m going to toss in one other phrase that I saw included in one of the debates: the seemingly innocuous “connected device” (it’s the innocuous ones that all too often end up being not quite so innocent).

Let’s start with that one. A “connected device,” in my eyes, is simply one that can access the Internet. I suppose it doesn’t have to be the internet – it could be some private server or something else. But… probably the Internet. The thing is, the device isn’t really talking to any other device; it’s just providing you access to information that resides somewhere outside itself.

The other two terms deal with devices that go online to interact with other devices. This is where most of the debate is. Much of the technology used for the IoT could well be the same as that used for M2M, so there’s room for lots of overlap there.

I think that if the IoT were really only about things talking to things, then you could argue that it was more or less the same as M2M. But in its more typical use cases, the IoT tends to involve people more than M2M does. The IoT is more like person-to-cloud-to-machine. It’s the person and cloud that feel different to me.

Of course, M2M must, in the limit, involve people. But a more classic industrial implementation of M2M would seem to consist primarily of machines and a local or private server (or server farm – and, despite that fact that such farms have been around forever, you’ll even see them being rebranded as “private clouds”). A factory or other industrial process can hum along nicely, with the Grand Algorithm keeping things optimal, all under the watchful eye of a Homer Simpson (or a more suitably qualified person).

That feels very machine-centric to me, as opposed to the refrigerator that can detect when it’s out of something so that some company can send you an ad on your phone. The IoT model feels to me like it’s more human-centric (or should be).

So:

  • Connected device: just a device with access to outside information
  • M2M: machine-centric network where the endpoints are mostly machines
  • IoT: mixture of machines and public cloud and people doing things that serve the needs of people more than they serve the needs of machines.

OK… bash away. Heck, you’d wonder if it even matters, but it’s amazing how much energy people can devote to this. I’m gonna go put on my flak jacket now.

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