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What is the IoT? Everything you need to know about the Internet of Things

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things or IoT, refers to the billions of physical devices around the world that are now connected to the internet, all collecting and sharing data. Thanks to the arrival of super-cheap computer chips and the ubiquity of wireless networks, it’s possible to turn anything, from something as small as a pill to something as big as an aeroplane, into a part of the IoT. Connecting up all these different objects and adding sensors to them adds a level of digital intelligence to devices that would be otherwise dumb, enabling them to communicate real-time data without involving a human being. The Internet of Things is making the fabric of the world around us more smarter and more responsive, merging the digital and physical universes.

What is an example of an Internet of Things device?

Pretty much any physical object can be transformed into an IoT device if it can be connected to the internet to be controlled or communicate information.

A lightbulb that can be switched on using a smartphone app is an IoT device, as is a motion sensor or a smart thermostat in your office or a connected streetlight. An IoT device could be as fluffy as a child’s toy or as serious as a driverless truck. Some larger objects may themselves be filled with many smaller IoT components, such as a jet engine that’s now filled with thousands of sensors collecting and transmitting data back to make sure it is operating efficiently. At an even bigger scale, smart cities projects are filling entire regions with sensors to help us understand and control the environment.

How big is the Internet of Things?

Big and getting bigger — there are already more connected things than people in the world.

Tech analyst company IDC predicts that in total there will be 41.6 billion connected IoT devices by 2025, or “things.” It also suggests industrial and automotive equipment represent the largest opportunity of connected “things,”, but it also sees strong adoption of smart home and wearable devices in the near term.

Another tech analyst, Gartner, predicts that the enterprise and automotive sectors will account for 5.8 billion devices this year, up almost a quarter on 2019. Utilities will be the highest user of IoT, thanks to the continuing rollout of smart meters. Security devices, in the form of intruder detection and web cameras will be the second biggest use of IoT devices. Building automation – like connected lighting – will be the fastest growing sector, followed by automotive (connected cars) and healthcare (monitoring of chronic conditions).

What are the benefits of the Internet of Things for business?

The benefits of the IoT for business depend on the particular implementation; agility and efficiency are usually top considerations. The idea is that enterprises should have access to more data about their own products and their own internal systems, and a greater ability to make changes as a result.

IoT evolution: Where does the Internet of Things go next?

As the price of sensors and communications continue to drop, it becomes cost-effective to add more devices to the IoT – even if in some cases there’s little obvious benefit to consumers. Deployments are at an early stage; most companies that are engaging with the IoT are at the trial stage right now, largely because the necessary technology – sensor technology, 5G and machine-learning powered analytics – are still themselves at a reasonably early stage of development. There are many competing platforms and standards and many different vendors, from device makers to software companies to network operators, want a slice of the pie. It’s still not clear which of those will win out. But without standards, and with security an ongoing issue, we are likely to see some more big IoT security mishaps in the next few years.

As the number of connected devices continues to rise, our living and working environments will become filled with smart products – assuming we are willing to accept the security and privacy trade-offs. Some will welcome the new era of smart things. Others will pine for the days when a chair was simply a chair.

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