Why does IoT need 'Identifiers'? Could a single identification scheme fit all needs? The EU's Alliance for IoT Innovation (AIOTI) performed a thorough analysis on IoT 'Identifiers' to better understand the identifications needs in IoT and related standards.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is about interaction between things and users of the things by electronic means, such as sensors, actuators and wireless communication. For example, IoT easily allows the automatic control of temperature and lightning in a house or an office based on people's needs and environmental conditions. However, users of a thing can be humans, software applications or even other things. In order to establish this interaction, it is important to clearly identify the things and the users.

An identifier is a pattern to uniquely identify a single entity or a class of entities within a specific context. That can be inherent patterns of the thing itself like finger prints and facial structures or patterns added by technical means like printed serial numbers, bar codes or Radio Frequency Identification (RFIDs) tags. Within IoT Systems identifiers are used for different purposes that go beyond just the identification of things and users. For the design, but also for the use of IoT solutions, it is important to know the various usages of identifiers, the related requirements, interoperability, security and privacy issues and which standards are available for them.

Due to the above mentioned diversity of identifier and use cases the Alliance for Internet of Things Innovation (AIOTI) working group on IoT Standardization (WG03) decided a year ago to perform a thorough analysis of identification needs in IoT and related standardization. The starting point of our analysis was a survey that was performed in spring 2017. The survey asked questions about IoT use cases, the specific purpose of identifiers, related requirements, standards and standardization gaps. It was sent to standardisation bodies, industry alliances, research projects and individual companies around the world and we received back over eighty responses. These responses were a significant input to our report, along with research and standardisation documents. They showed that identifiers are used in IoT to identify various types of entities for many purposes and within different contexts. The figure below shows an example for the different identifiers used in a fitness tracking use case.

This use case includes identifiers for:

  • Things
  • Communications
  • User
  • Data
  • Location and
  • Services and Applications

With the classification of identifiers and the categorization of requirements we provide a structure that may help system architects and developers to understand the type of identifiers that they need for their solution. It will also guide them in selecting the specific identifier schemes. In general no single identification scheme fits all needs and the selection of a scheme strongly depends on the use case and environment. Furthermore many schemes are already standardized and in use. We therefore do not define or recommend specific solutions and standards, but provide examples and summaries in order to indicate what has to be taken into account when considering identifiers in IoT. We believe that our analysis will help developers to use the proper identifiers in their IoT solutions.

Download the full AIOTI report “Identifiers in IoT”

What is AIOTI's and working group on IoT Standardization (WG03) mission?

The Alliance for Internet of Things Innovation (AIOTI) aims to create and master sustainable innovative European IoT ecosystems in the global context. AIOTI WG03 on IoT Standardization specifically focuses on the identification and analysis of existing IoT Standards, the identification of standardization gaps and is aiming for the consolidation of architecture frameworks, (semantic) interoperability and security and data protection.

Access all AIOTI WG03 published reports

12 April 2018
Last update: 
12 April 2018