How would the Internet of things look like if it were driven by NFC (vs RFID)

As NFC catches momentum in Europe and North America, I have been thinking of yet another gedankenexperiment :

How the industry would shape up if the Internet of things were driven by NFC?

To understand this, we have to break down the concepts.

Internet of things

Firstly, Internet of things is a concept driven largely by academia so far.

There are several partially overlapping definitions: (source Wikipedia)

Casagras:[5]: “A global network infrastructure, linking physical and virtual objects through the exploitation of data capture and communication capabilities. This infrastructure includes existing and evolving Internet and network developments. It will offer specific object-identification, sensor and connection capability as the basis for the development of independent cooperative services and applications. These will be characterised by a high degree of autonomous data capture, event transfer, network connectivity and interoperability

SAP:[6]: “A world where physical objects are seamlessly integrated into the information network, and where the physical objects can become active participants in business processes. Services are available to interact with these ‘smart objects’ over the Internet, query and change their state and any information associated with them, taking into account security and privacy issues.

ETP EPOSS:[7]:”The network formed by things/objects having identities, virtual personalities operating in smart spaces using intelligent interfaces to connect and communicate with the users, social and environmental contexts

CERP-IoT: [8]:”Internet of Things (IoT) is an integrated part of Future Internet and could be defined as a dynamic global network infrastructure with self configuring capabilities based on standard and interoperable communication protocols where physical and virtual ‘things’ have identities, physical attributes, and virtual personalities and use intelligent interfaces, and are seamlessly integrated into the information network. In the IoT, ‘things’ are expected to become active participants in business, information and social processes where they are enabled to interact and communicate among themselves and with the environment by exchanging data and information ‘sensed’ about the environment, while reacting autonomously to the ‘real/physical world’ events and influencing it by running processes that trigger actions and create services with or without direct human intervention. Interfaces in the form of services facilitate interactions with these ‘smart things’ over the Internet, query and change their state and any information associated with them, taking into account security and privacy issues.

Other:[9]:”The future Internet of Things links uniquely identifiable things to their virtual representations in the Internet containing or linking to additional information on their identity, status, location or any other business, social or privately relevant information at a financial or non-financial pay-off that exceeds the efforts of information provisioning and offers information access to non-predefined participants. The provided accurate and appropriate information may be accessed in the right quantity and condition, at the right time and place at the right price. The Internet of Things is not synonymous with ubiquitous / pervasive computing, the Internet Protocol (IP), communication technology, embedded devices, its applications, the Internet of People or the Intranet / Extranet of Things, yet it combines aspects and technologies of all of these approaches.

If we identify the common elements for IOT then:

1)      Objects should be uniquely identified

2)      They should be network enabled and hence objects can be queried and activated remotely

3)      Services enabled through such ‘smart objects’ will be co-operative

In addition, some other notes for IOT

1)     The original idea of the Auto-ID Center is based RFID-tags and unique identification through the Electronic Product Code. So, IOT is tied to the idea of RFID/Barcodes

2)     IOT is different from ambient intelligence / pervasive computing / ubiquitous computing which are ideas designed  such that machines modify their behaviour to fit into the environment instead of humans forcing humans to change their behaviour.

3)     There is an alternate view of IOT which is fulfilled by making objects web addressable and that means the object has an agent in the cloud and objects can communicate in the cloud without directly communicating with each other. Ipv6 has a role to play in this space ie if objects become internet addressable

4)     IOT systems will be event driven, complex (ie not deterministic)

5)     But the most important consideration for IOT is the scale: IOT aims for trillions of objects which will lead to billions of parallel and simultaneous interactions requiring massively parallel systems

The uptake of NFC

The original concept for IOT came from the RFID ecosystem. NFC could be seen to be a subset of IOT. NFC is compatible with RFID and the main difference is the range. Also, RFID started with supply chain, asset tracking etc and NFC with transportation. So far, RFID has not become ubiquitous as a technology. But NFC is on the verge of a major uptake in Europe and North America. NFC has applications in access control, access control, consumer electronics, healthcare, information exchange, coupons, payments and transportation.  Thus at an application level, NFC and RFID are comparable.

The uptake of NFC in EU and North America is driven by various factors:

a)     Three different constituencies are driving NFC  - credit cards(visa), telecoms(SIM), Web(Google wallet, paypal)

b)    NFC will show an initial uptake through interactions(informational type requests) and a portion of these could be transactions

Analysis for IOT

As we have seen before, the various definitions of IOT have some common elements. But let us imagine what IOT would look like if NFC were the driving technology

The key requirement to fullfill the true potential of IOT is the scale. Now, if NFC takes off then most of the requirements for IOT could be fulfilled except the scale of interactions. This means, the more emergent/ complex services for IOT may not emerge (at least initially) with NFC but still NFC will be useful.

In addition:

a)     If mobile devices will take up NFC, then we are likely to see more A2P (application to person – ex payment) rather than person to person services. This is good because it provides an initial use case and then as more devices and objects become NFC enabled, more complex use cases will emerge leading to network effects

b)    Hence, the larger scale vision of IOT will not be realised unless you achieve  large scale standardization and interoperability. In the West, I do not see governments attempting this level of standardization. Which makes NFC very significant because much of the promise of IOT will be achieved through NFC but without the scale

c)     Japan, South Korea,Singapore and ofcourse China could achieve standardization in their respective countries. That could achieve scale / IOT vision within their local geographies

d)      China is different since it is a large scale market in addition to a creator of technology. So, internally within China, a lot could be achieved which will add value especially considering the emphasis in China based on the Chinese premier Wen Jiabo’s vision that: Internet + Internet of Things = Wisdom of the Earth.

e)      Can China influence standards? This is a more complex and perhaps a non technological question. But the observation I make it – the rate of uptake of NFC will mean that in the west a parallel ecosystem will develop based on NFC which will mean that influencing standards on a global basis may not be so relevant as a competitive advantage.

Conclusion :

I suspect that NFC will achieve much of the goals for IOT but not on scale but we may see scale in specific geographies where governments can influence standards and achieve interoperability. We saw the same with Korea and Japan for mobile ecosystems. Both achieved high mobile growth within their respective geographies but could not translate it into global uptake.

I also find the alternative view of IOT(that of making objects web addressable) interesting especially when tied to the Cloud

In any case, I love studying ecosystems and IOT will be very interesting ..