Defining the IoT

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The following definitions are reflect sources identified within three principal documents: (1) the DoD’s Policy Recommendations for the IoT; (2) IEEE’s “Toward a Definition of Internet of Things (IoT)”, which is heavily referenced therein; and (3) GAO’s Report to Congressional Committees on the “Internet of Things: Enhanced Assessments and Guidance Are Needed to Address Security Risks in DoD“.  This article is simply intended as a reference page that reflects a sample of definitions most relevant to the Department of Defense.  Because a secondary intention was to generate a word-cloud reflecting the content of these definitions, some of the language has been adjusted.  Original sources are provided, and these are sorted in ascending order by year.  Happy reading!


The Internet of Things…

  • Is the building of a global infrastructure for RFID tags

Sean Dodson:
“The Internet of Things”, 2003


  • Has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did
  • If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things – using data they gathered without any help from us – we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best
  • We need to empower computers with their own means of gathering information, so they can see, hear and smell the world for themselves, in all its random glory. RFID and sensor technology enable computers to observe, identify and understand the world—without the limitations of human-entered data

Kevin Ashton:
“That ‘Internet of Things’ Thing”, 2009


  • Is a future network vision comprised of three elements – sensors, tags, and communication/processing capacity
  • Is available anywhere, anytime, by anything and anyone
  • Is a global infrastructure for the information society enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on existing and evolving, interoperable information and communication technologies
  • Is a vision with technological and societal implications

International Telecommunication Union (ITU):
“Ubiquitous Sensor Networks” 2008
“Global Standards Initiative” 2012


  • Is the communication between two or more entities that do not necessarily need any direct human intervention
  • Its services intend to automate decision and communication processes
  • Is collectively made up of an increasing number of everyday machines and objects are now embedded with sensors or actuators, are connected through Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications interfaces, and have the ability to communicate over the Internet

“Machine to Machine”, 2010
“Internet of Things”, no date


  • Will connect objects around us (electronic, electrical, non-electrical) to provide seamless communication and contextual services provided by them. Development of RFID tags, sensors, actuators, mobile phones make it possible to materialize IoT which interact and co-operate each other to make the service better and accessible anytime, from anywhere

The Internet Engineering Task force (IETF):
“Concept and Problem Statement” 2010


  • Is a network of items – each embedded with sensors – which are connected to the Internet

“Internet of Things,” 2014


  • Is a cyber-physical system that involves connecting smart devices and systems in diverse sectors in fundamentally new ways
  • Is the next big advance for our use of the web that allows complex systems of feedback and control that can help co-ordinate

Global Cities Challenge, 2014
Chris Greer, 2014

  • Is a system where the Internet is connected to the physical world via ubiquitous sensors

“Open Protocols”, 2014


  • (Small Environment)
    • Is a network that connects uniquely identifiable things to the Internet. The things have sensing/actuation and potential programmability capabilities. Through the exploitation of unique identification and sensing, information about the ‘Thing’ can be collected and the state of the ‘Thing’ can be changed from anywhere, anytime, by anything.
  • (Large Environment)
    • Envisions a self-configuring, adaptive, complex network that interconnects things to the Internet through the use of standard communication protocols. The interconnected things have physical or virtual representation in the digital world, sensing/actuation capability, a programmability feature and are uniquely identifiable. The representation contains information including the thing’s identity, status, location or any other business, social or privately relevant information. The things offer services, with or without human intervention, through the exploitation of unique identification, data capture and communication, and actuation capability. The service is exploited through the use of intelligent interfaces and is made available anywhere, anytime, and for anything taking security into consideration.

“Towards a Definition of IoT”, 2015


  • Is a scenario in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.
  • Has evolved from the convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and the Internet.
  • Has been most closely associated with machine-to-machine (M2M) communication in manufacturing and power, oil and gas utilities. Often, products built with M2M communication capabilities are referred to as being smart (smart label, smart meter, smart grid sensors).

Alliant 2 RFP:
#QTA0016JCA0003, 2016 (source not found)


  • Includes sensors and actuators, physical objects and locations, and even people.
  • Is essentially about the role of Web technologies to facilitate the development of applications and services for things and their virtual representation, which include sensors and actuators, as well as physical objects tagged with a bar code or NFC.

Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C):
“Web of Things at W3C” 2017


  • Is a prospective vision of a number of technologies that, combined together, could drastically modify the way our societies function
  • Is a metaphor for the universality of communication processes, for the integration of any kind of digital data and content, for the unique identification of real or virtual objects and for architectures that provide the ‘communicative glue’ among these components
  • Is a network of physically connected objects, wherein embedded processing nodes with communication capability provide a means of networked functionality and communications that resemble those of the Internet
  • Is a vision inclusive of a wide range of ‘edge’ technologies capable of interfacing with the physical world and also capable of accommodating numbering systems other than electronic product code
  • Is global network infrastructure, linking physical and virtual objects through the exploitation of data capture and communication capabilities
  • Includes existing and evolving Internet and network developments
  • Will offer specific object-identification, sensor and connection capability as the basis for the development of independent cooperative services and applications that will be characterized by a high degree of autonomous data capture, event transfer, network connectivity, and interoperability
  • Is 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
  • Is a world-wide network of uniquely addressable interconnected objects, based on standard communication wherein smart, wireless, identifiable devices are able to seamlessly interact and communicate with the environment

“Final Report,” 2009


  • Is the integration of computation, networking, and physical processes
  • Embedded computers and networks monitor and control the physical processes with feedback loops where physical processes affect computations and vice versa

Berkeley University:
“Cyber Physical Systems”, 2008


  • Is 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

The Internet of Things European Research Cluster (IERC):
“Internet of Things,” 2014


  • Our world is getting more and more connected. In the near future not only people will be connected through the Internet, but Internet connectivity will also be brought to billions of tangible objects, creating the Internet of things.
    • (Frank Berkers, Wietske Koers, Katia Colucci, Oskar Kadlec, Dan Puiu, Marc Roelands, Stephane Menoret, iCore Deliverable D1.3, “Vision of the future business ecosystem, new roles and models of acceptance, 2013)

Internet Connected Objects for Reconfigurable Ecosystems (iCore):
“Vision of the Future”, 2013

  • 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

Cluster of European Research Projects (CERPT-IoT):
“Visions and Challenges”, 2010


  • Is the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data

Oxford Dictionaries:
“Internet of Things”, no date


  • Is the network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data

“Internet of Things”, no date


  • Is the set of IP-addressable devices that interact with the physical environment, which contain elements for sensing, communications, computational processing, and actuation.

Defense Science Board:
“Summer Study on Autonomy”, 2016


  • Consists of two foundational aspects – 1) the Internet itself and, 2) semi-autonomous devices (things) that leverage inexpensive compute, networking, sensing, and actuation capabilities to sense the physical world and act on it
  • Includes the functions that allow users and organizations to analyze and understand the data gathered and actions taken by the things

Department of Defense:
“Policy Recommendations for the IoT”, 2016


  • Is the concept of connecting and interacting through a network with a broad array of “smart” devices

Internet of Things, 2017