One part internet, and the other part things. While most are familiar with both these ideas, what’s less clear is what Internet of Things means as a concept.
The formal definition:
The Internet of Things, abbreviated as IoT, refers to connecting devices (other than typical devices like computers and smartphones) to the Internet. Cars, kitchen appliances, and even heart monitors can be connected through the IoT.
While that definition seems relatively self-explanatory, there’s a whole realm of technological advances going on behind the scenes that seamlessly integrate the devices we use every day to the internet so that our lives are made better and easier.
So let’s break it down even further.
Beginning with the most obvious question—what is IoT? As far as the “things” in the equation are concerned, they are devices and objects that can connect to a network without human intervention.
Note the last part of that sentence: without human intervention. This is important because devices like computers and smartphones are generally not considered direct parts of IoT. While phones or computers provide the means to give commands to IoT devices, it’s still reliant on one’s actions.
Kevin Ashton named IoT in 1999 while working at Procter & Gamble as a brand manager for Olay. While there, Ashton recognized a discrepancy between the inventory systems at retailers and the actual inventory on the shelf.
He saw employees scanning the barcodes of products to sell them and assumed there was some sort of tracking that would let them know when products were out of stock. After learning this wasn’t the case, Ashton pioneered a system that would be known as radio frequency ID (RFID).
By creating RFID, Ashton enabled the shelf and the register to communicate with the products and the inventory system, which essentially closed the gap between inventory tracking and supply chain management.
While RFID technology transformed manufacturing and retail, machines being able to communicate with each other wasn’t necessarily a new idea. Radio voice communication came about in the early 1900s and is seen as foundational to the development of modern IoT. Other inventions like satellites, the Internet, and the IP address were equally important.
Real-Life Examples of IoT
Some earlier examples can be seen with machines like elevators, airplanes, and missile systems which all helped progress IoT in various ways. Whereas current examples include objects like smart-watches or fitness trackers because they collect data and transmit it to the cloud automatically, sometimes even without an internet connection.
The Six Levels of IoT
Today, there are six common types of IoT technology:
- RFID: Uses radio waves to transmit small information across a small distance.
- This tech has enabled the creation of self-checkouts, smart mirrors, inventory tracking, and more.
- Wi-Fi: Mainly works with in-home devices that can also be connected to a power outlet.
- These include smart cameras and other gadgets like appliances.
- Cellular: Cellular IoT is a way of connecting physical things (like sensors) to the internet by having them piggyback on the same mobile networks as smartphones. 5G is expected to lead to more use of cellular networks in IoT mobile devices like those found in vehicles.
- Cellular networks are most powerful for real-time data delivery like healthcare data, industrial automation, public safety surveillance, and driver assistance systems.
- Mesh Networks: Mesh networks connect sensors that are evenly distributed over an area like a farm field, factory, or private home.
- Smart lighting, HVAC controls, security, and other remote monitoring solutions that take in a lot of data are supported by mesh networks.
- Bluetooth: This technology was expressly created to allow devices to talk to one another. Today, many devices that connect with smartphones use Bluetooth, like watches, medical devices like glucose meters, and door locks.
- As Bluetooth Mesh becomes more common, in-store promotions and location-based marketing and content delivery are also being powered by Bluetooth.
- LPWAN: Low-Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) is the newest innovation in IoT tech. These sensors are spread out across a much larger area than a mesh network, but also collect less data.
- Environmental monitoring, occupancy monitoring, and consumables monitoring are some of the uses of LPWAN currently being explored and licensed.
All these examples make it clear how wide-reaching IoT technology is, from business applications to personal and societal use.
The Future of IoT
The Internet of Things is a tech revolution growing faster than many people understand it. To give you a sense, in 2018, there were 7 billion IoT devices. By 2019, that number had almost quadrupled to 26.6 billion. And most recently in 2020, 31 billion new Internet of Things devices were connected to the web.
As more devices are created with new functionality and features, the definition of IoT is ever-expanding and ever-improving.
Due to its ability to be applied in so many different settings and applications while also working so subtly in the background, IoT is a concept often overlooked by its consumers. It is a technology that improves many aspects of personal life and business settings. So next time you ask your smart device for the weather, analyze the data from your fitness wearable, or order the hottest new item from your favorite online retailer, take the time to appreciate the ever-growing system that continues to create a more efficient world.