What is the IoT?

Short for Internet of Things, IoT is the term used to refer to the billions of physical devices from all around the world that are connected to the internet. Thanks in part to super-cheap computer chips wireless networks, any form of tech or man-made product in the world can be part of the IoT at this point.

After all, airplanes now have computers and tech installed in them and even some pills are capable of having tech in them.

By connecting all of these objects plus adding sensors to them, we’re capable of adding digital intelligence to these things that would otherwise be dumb as a rock. This enables them to communicate real-time data without having people be involved at all.

The reality is that the Internet of Things is making the fabric of the world around us smarter and more responsive to things than ever before.

But beyond this, there is more to it. Below, you can get a better understanding of what the IoT is and where it is going.

IoT Explained

To summarize what was mentioned above, any physical object in the world can become an IoT device if it can do two things:

  • Connect to the internet
  • And can be controlled or communicate information to other IoT devices.

With that in mind, a lightbulb that can be switched on using a push of a smartphone app is an IoT device. The same can be said about a motion sensor, a smart thermostat in your office or a connected streetlight.

An IoT device could be a fluffy child’s toy or a self-driving vehicle. Bigger objects could also be filled with smaller IoT components such as a jet engine that’s filled with thousands of sensors that collect and transmit data back to a server to ensure it’s operating efficiently.

It can even go at a larger scale such as smart city projects where regions are filled with sensors to understand and control the environment.

IofT is primarily used for things we wouldn’t usually be expecting to have internet connections, let alone communicate with a network that’s independent of human action.

Because of this, things like our computers, smartphones, and tablets aren’t quite considered to be an IoT device. However if you’ve got a fitness band, a smartwatch, or some other wearable tech, those could be counted.

The History of IoT

It all started throughout the 1980s and 1990s with discussions of adding sensors and intelligence to your most basic items. There were some early projects of course – like an internet-connected vending machine – but during that time, progress was really slow because the technology didn’t exist. At the time, chips were very big and bulky, so there was no way objects were able to communicate effectively.

What started to make it all possible was the adoption of RFID tags once those were developed. This came from a culmination of processors being developed to be cheap, power frugal, and disposable. The RFID tags were low-power chips that you’d be able to communicate wirelessly.

These tags solved some of the issues and were increasing in availability in broadband internet and cellular and wireless networking.

Soon enough, the adoption of IPv6 solidified IoT by providing enough IP addresses for every device in the world (or even the galaxy) could ever hope to need.

While those developments occurred, the name internet of Things stuck due to Kevin Ashton coining the phrase in 1999. Though it took at least one more decade for the technology to catch up with the intended vision.

How Big Is It?

It’s big and it continues to get bigger. At this point there are more connected things in the world than there are people.

Tech analyst company IDC has predicted that by 2025, there will be 41.6 billion IoTs. It also suggests that industrial and automotive equipment will represent the largest opportunity to connect things to it. At the same time, it also sees a strong adoption in homes and wearable devices.

What benefits are there for IoT in business?

The benefits of IoT in businesses comes down to how the IoT devices are being used. Most people adopt IoT devices due to agility and efficiency in specific tasks. The overall idea is that enterprises will be able to access more data about their products through their own internal systems. This in turn will give them a greater ability to make effective changes.

We can already see that in many regards.

Manufacturers have been adding sensors to components of their products so IoT devices can transmit data back to them. This is used to measure performances. Furthermore, adding these sensors allow companies to spot when a component is about to fail and swap it out before it causes any damage.

Companies can also use that data generated by the sensors to make changes to systems and supply chains to be more efficient. After all, they’re getting more accurate data about what’s really going on.

Even enterprises themselves can leverage IoT devices. Their use of them is divided into two segments:

  • industry-specific offerings;
  • And being generally used across all industries.

What is the Industrial Internet of Things?

Also called IIoT or the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0, it refers to the use of IoT technology in a business setting. The concept is the same premise as consumers using IoT devices at home. The only difference is that in this iteration, the aim is to use a combination of sensors, wireless networks, big data, AI and analytics to not only measure everything, but optimize industrial processes.

When it’s introduced to an entire supply chain, rather than a single company, the impact could be greater than just-in-time delivery of materials and the management of production from beginning to end.

The aim of this can be increasing the workforce’s productivity or saving on costs.

This is on top of IIoT creating new revenue streams for businesses. For example, if a company creates car engines, if they use IIoT they can start selling predictive maintenance on the engines as they would be able to gather data quickly to see whether the engine would need replacement or maintenance before it dies or runs into issues.

What are the benefits of IoT for consumers?

The idea is to have IoT making a smarter and measurable environment for us while also making it chattier too. Consider things like Google Home and Amazon’s Echo where it’s easier for us to play music, set timers, or get information just by using a voice command.

You’ve also got home security systems that make it easier to monitor what’s happening inside or outside as well as letting you see and talk to visitors.

There’s also smart thermostats which can heat homes before getting back home or smart lightbulbs that make it look like you’re home when you’re out.

Beyond homes, there are sensors to understand how noisy or polluted an environment can be, self-driving cars and smart cities changing how we build and manage public spaces too.

How about security?

One of the biggest criticisms about IoT is that security in these devices are poor. Even as they provide great assistance, these devices are storing sensitive data that can easily be hacked.

Since many IoT devices lack the capability to be patched, many devices are permanently at risk and hackers can compromise systems with little effort.

Thankfully, there are some measures as governments are growing worried about the risks that these present. So far, the UK government has issued guidelines on security. For example, it expects devices to have unique passwords and that companies provide a public point of contact so people can report vulnerabilities.

The list is quite modest, but it’s a start.

Naturally, all of this applies to businesses too as businesses are adopting these devices and having them communicate with other systems. Hackers can easily target those things and disrupt business processes.

Furthermore, as IoT is ultimately bridging the gap between the digital world and the physical one, hacking into devices can have real-world consequences moving forward. Things like changing the temperature in a power station or taking control of a driverless car could end in disasters and people getting hurt or killed.

How about privacy?

Needless to say, with sensors collecting data on everything, IoT implementation has vast privacy and security headaches. After all, how can your smart home tell you when to make coffee or how well you brush your teeth unless it knows those specific details?

Ultimately what matters isn’t so much whether data is being collected or not, but rather how that data is being used. Not every smart home company is out to harvest information and sell it off to the highest bidder.

And remember that IoT devices communicate with one another. One small bit of information may not mean much but if it’s combined with other small pieces, someone can glean a lot of information.

Where is IoT going next?

Prices for sensors and communication are only going to keep dropping as time goes on. As such, more things will be able to be incorporated into the IoT. Even in cases where there is little obvious benefits to consumers.

In summary, we can expect more connected devices to start being in our living and working environments as time goes on. How quickly that happens for individuals depends on how willing people are in accepting the security and privacy trade-offs to having those devices.

In the end, some will welcome the new era of smart things while others will complain and think back to days where chairs were just chairs.

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