Connected tennis rackets. Connected garage door openers. Connected refrigerators.
These are some of the devices that profit-hungry companies are trying to sell as "Internet of Things" becomes the buzz word of the week at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Pundits are already predicting that billions of new devices will soon be connected to the Internet.
Aside from the obvious fact that there’s no reason a sane person needs a refrigerator with its own IP address, the hype over the Internet of Things (IoT), as the digerati like to call it, is a lot further from reality than the overheated predictions you’ve been reading.
Connecting, securing, managing and powering so many devices is mind bogglingly complex. Here are just a few of the problems that will have to be overcome:
Supplying billions of new IP addresses. Although the industry is generally quite optimistic about IPv6 , which in theory can supply an almost unlimited number of addresses, it still hasn't been widely deployed, and the transition could be tougher than anyone cares to admit.
And what about moving data to and fro among billions of devices? It's quite a challenge. The demands of streaming video and other bandwidth-hungry applications are already jamming networks. What happens when your refrigerator is soaking up 4G bandwidth as well?
Then, of course, there's the Sisyphean task of securing so many devices. Indeed, Symantec has already discovered a worm that targets IoT. But that’s merely a symptom of a much greater set of vulnerabilities. Bruce Schneier, a widely respected security analyst, puts it this way:
"The computers in our routers and modems are much more powerful than the PCs of the mid-1990s, and the Internet of Things will put computers into all sorts of consumer devices. The industries producing these devices are even less capable of fixing the problem than the PC and software industries were. If we don’t solve this soon, we’re in for a security disaster as hackers figure out that it’s easier to hack routers than computers."
Many of you have spent frustrating hours stamping out bugs in your home networks or broadband connections. Now think about how much time you’ll spend messing with another dozen or so devices and appliances you want to connect.
“How many devices do you want to try and keep alive and awake throughout the day?" asks Mark Rolston of Frog Design. Linking devices, entering passwords, managing home Wi-Fi and dealing with corporate IT departments at work is already hard for some users. "They are network admins, by accident," Rolston said during a session at the Open Mobile Summit late last year.
Not to be cynical, but I believe companies like Cisco, which would love to sell the billions or trillions of dollars worth of networking equipment needed to connect all those IoT devices, are responsible for much of the hype.
Connected refrigerators? Thanks, but a simple note on the refrigerator door reminding me to buy milk will do just fine.