What is IoT or the Internet of Things? Definition, Applications, Examples and How It Works
With the world edging towards a tech-integrated life, the Internet of Things is gaining popularity like never before.
Not just large tech corps, but even the average joe is looking at IoT and how his microwave can work alongside Alexa.
In all honesty, the Internet of Things is a huge field. So, read through to know what IoT is all about.
What Is the Internet of Things?
Understanding the basics of the Internet of Things is easy. It’s a system of devices connected through the internet.
IoT devices directly affect the physical world by making your interactions with them easier, more efficient, and smart!
They use applications, sensors, and technology to connect with other devices and exchange data.
IoT creates opportunities for vast interconnected systems that improve efficiency in a host of different commercial and consumer-centric tasks.
The best way to know what is IoT, is with the example of a smart home. Devices like your AC, Refrigerator, Security Cameras, etc. can connect to your wifi and share data internally & with you.
This data gives you insights into the status of those appliances. It also allows you to perform any actions that are remotely possible.
I find it fascinating that we went from flip phones to pocket computer smartphones that can run your home’s appliances; All in a matter of a couple of decades.
That’s exactly the power of IoT. But, how does it work?
How Does the Internet of Things Work? IoT & Its 4 Components
IoT being a massive network, needs these 4 important components to work.
Sensors or devices primarily serve the purpose of data collection.
These devices record environmental data like physical changes, task-specific changes, or digital changes.
If I had to give an example, an ideal one would be your smartphone. It has multiple sensors like a camera setup, GPS, etc.
The devices are not telepathically speaking to each other. So, they need to be connected via the internet.
Hence we circle back to the Internet of things.
The sensors/devices are connected to the cloud via networks like cellular, WIFI, Bluetooth, and Zigbee.
3. Data Processing
This 3rd component is where software and applications shine.
Whatever data is sent by sensors gets processed by software and forwarded to the user for interaction.
Let’s say for example that your car has smart security features that detect unwanted breaches.
Now, if an intruder tries to unlock your car without the key, it’ll sense it. Then, the data will be sent to the cloud and it’ll be processed by the software which will indicate a security breach.
It’ll then pass that interpreted data to you in the form of a notification from your car application on your phone.
That’s where the next component comes in.
4. User Interface
In our smart car example, the part where you get a notification is exactly where the user interface comes to play.
The interface of all devices is specifically designed to optimize the task it needs to accomplish.
UI of some devices lets the user control the device to their liking.
If you want to turn on the AC before reaching home, you can tap a button on your AC app. Need to control your room lighting? Another dedicated app for that on your phone.
Basically, the IoT user interface ain’t a one-way street where you only get information, but also perform actions.
That’s all there is to know about the components. But, there is still one more thing you need to know about what is IoT.
The 4 components we discussed, influence IoT. That introduces us to different types. Let’s check them out!
5 Types of IoT Explained
All of the components we just discussed, allow different use cases in several ways.
Hence, introducing different types of IoT.
1. Consumer IoT
This one is self-explanatory; IoT that focuses on the consumer.
Consumer IoT uses devices and applications like smart appliances, phones, wearables, etc. to make the normal person’s daily life easier and smarter.
2. Commercial IoT
Again, as the name implies, commercial IoT is for commercial purposes.
Like benefiting larger venues and office buildings in operations, productivity, etc.
It also includes IoT that supermarkets, hotels, hospitals, entertainment venues, or other commercial entities use.
You can also say that it is exactly like consumer IoT, but for commercial purposes.
3. Industrial IoT
Industrial IoT specifically uses the 4 components in Industrial fields like production units, factories, etc.
It brings machines, cloud computing, and analytics together to minimize human effort and error in the industrial sector.
Industrial IoT reduces costs and reduces the need for low-skilled labor while improving the productivity and performance of industrial processes.
4. Infrastructure IoT
Infrastructure IoT is used for the development of smart infrastructure for both commercial and residential purposes.
It includes the planning and usage of IoT for smart cities and localities.
Infrastructure IoT allows cost-saving in resource distribution and helps with better city management.
5. Internet of Military Things
Also known as Battlefield IoT, the Internet of Battlefield Things, and BIoT.
As the name implies, the Internet of Military Things is used in military and battlefield settings.
It uses the 4 components to improve situational awareness and response times to emergencies. It also reduces errors of judgment for better risk assessment.
All of these types give you a basic understanding of what is IoT and why we need it. But, there are many awesome benefits you might not know about.
Why Do You Need the Internet of Things? – 9 Crazy Benefits for Makers & Consumers
To put it simply, IoT enables a hyper-connected world that makes your lives easy in all aspects of your life; Work, Home, Personal, Social… all aspects.
There are several specific benefits that IoT can offer.
Let’s take a look at them. We’ll start with more consumer benefits and slowly go towards the commercial side of things.
1. Minimized Human Effort
Collectively speaking for all examples we’ve covered so far, there’s one takeaway.
IoT minimizes your effort in all tasks that can be supported by it.
In fact, the benefits we will discuss below will all essentially minimize human effort and increase efficiency.
2. Smart Homes
Pretty much all of your home appliances can now be smart.
Starting from your lights, fans, ACs, refrigerators, microwaves, curtains (Yeah! I was surprised too), TVs, etc.
All of these things can be controlled via your phone.
You can modify their status, make changes on the go, turn them on or off, and perform many specific tasks made possible with IoT.
3. Personal Security & Protection
From home intruders and car thieves, IoT devices can make your personal lives more secure and safe.
Devices like security cameras, sensors, smoke detectors, etc. can be connected to a network that lets you know any and all security issues.
You can also program some applications to directly contact emergency services whenever there is a security alert.
4. Smart Cities
The data you get from all the sensors within the city can be used for a myriad of things that make the citizens’ lives easier.
IoT can help with traffic management, city planning, energy management, and integration with technology.
An example specific to traffic management can be Google Maps. It predicts traffic based on user data, historical traffic patterns, and data from the government.
Along the same lines, we can predict self-driving cars to be interconnected for better traffic management in the near future.
There are many other highly specific benefits for consumers. But, let’s move on to the commercial benefits.
5. Automation & Operational Efficiency
As IoT enables direct connectivity between devices and hardware, humans don’t need to manually interact with them.
This automates countless processes that would take more time and effort if humans were to do it all themselves.
Automation also increases operational efficiency when
6. Asset and Resource Monitoring
IoT can introduce several tracking systems that can help you get live updates on your resources and assets.
You can manage inventory control, deliveries, surveillance, and individual order tracking.
7. Cost Effectiveness
A unit with plenty of IoT devices can effectively run itself. That reduces the need for low-skill employees.
These devices can also automatically update you on maintenance schedules to avoid production stoppage or barriers.
This also reduces downtime periods, increasing the production rate. In turn, making the entire unit highly cost-effective.
8. Real-Time Insights
The real-time data and information that IoT devices provide insights that can affect your workflows positively.
You can also get predictive insights that can help you make relevant changes beforehand and avoid roadblocks.
What’s even better is that these devices can suggest changes along with reporting the insights to best manage the situations.
9. Improved Work Safety
Smart devices eliminate the possibility of human error.
This makes it less likely to cause any unfortunate accidents or safety hazards.
In workplaces that deal with dangerous elements or have potentially hazardous materials, you can track the exposure levels of the employees.
This can be achieved by sensors and wearables for accurate insights.
As an addition to these 9 benefits, I also want to discuss the applications of IoT.
Applications of the Internet of Things – Areas Where the Benefits Get Practical
For the applications, I’ll keep this one short as we’ve already discussed them in greater detail in one of our other blogs.
You can check it out here: The Internet of Things (IoT) Is Enhancing Our Lives In Many Ways.
To give you a brief summary of that, here’s the list:
- Day-To-Day Chores: facilitating daily tasks like house maintenance, home controls, using appliances, home security, etc.
- Healthcare & Hospitals: Medical devices for remote patient monitoring & operations, predictive maintenance, and decision making
- Smart Cities: Traffic management, road safety, and maintenance of infrastructure
- Retail: Grocery shopping, inventory management, employee connectivity, etc.
- Agriculture: Smart indoor and outdoor planting, soil and moisture sensors, smart irrigation devices, etc.
- Manufacturing: Smart plants with automated machinery, maintenance solutions, etc.
- Fleet Management: Performance analysis of transport vehicles, live tracking, telemetry controls, fuel saving, etc.
- Hospitality: Improved service quality with hotel management features like door keys, information storage, quick assessment of housekeeping tasks, etc.
We’ve effectively covered all the good things about IoT you could imagine. But, is it all there is to talk about when it comes to the Internet of Things?
Major Issues & Challenges with the Internet of Things – The 2 Big Concerns
Let’s get real for a minute here.
IoT has a rough road ahead. However, the difficulties won’t lead to the downfall of IoT. As it is far more important to improve it, rather than ditch it.
But, those issues still exist.
So, let’s address the 2 big concerns about the Internet of Things.
The hyper-connectivity that IoT brings, comes with a serious threat to the security of all devices.
As the internet is littered with hackers and malicious software, it becomes natural that people have a certain amount of paranoia about IoT.
What if your phone gets hacked and suddenly your security cameras are being accessed by someone? What happens when the entire warehouse system gets compromised by a malicious virus?
It is issues like this that make us worry about the Internet of Things Security.
Just like applications, we’ve also covered IoT Security in greater detail in another blog.
You can check it out here: A Guide to IoT Security: Protecting Your Connected Devices from Hackers
But what about the other big concern?
Now, this isn’t as serious as IoT Security. But, it does bring up an interesting question.
What if the people or companies that enable IoT solutions don’t take the necessary steps or keep the standard high?
Exactly what you would imagine! Your IoT devices and IoT security get compromised.
The thing most people fail to understand about IoT is that it is an extremely complicated, time-consuming, and costly process.
Cutting costs and failing to execute them properly can leave massive gaps that compromise systems and networks.
It is also very hard to plan, build, manage, and enable larger technological networks into the IoT framework.
Not to mention there are several other minor issues along with these 2 big concerns.
- Major privacy concerns with hackers and even companies spying on your devices
- Without the internet, these systems can’t work; So you’ll have to stay connected, no matter what
- Increasingly smarter devices and networks reduce human effort, leading to laziness and not enough motivation to be smarter
- Unskilled workers will lose their jobs if they don’t adapt to IoT
- Lack of usage guidance and common mistakes like poor passwords
With these issues still persistently hampering the progress of IoT, where does the world see it in the near future?
What Does the Future of the Internet of Things Look Like? – Common Opinions & Our Predictions
As of now, IoT is becoming an active and important part of our lives.
The Current Scenario
We spend countless hours on our phones, even to do things like turning the lights off.
The market is full of smart devices; Some actually interesting, and some gimmicky. But, there is IoT noise out there for sure!
And mind you, not all the noise about it is in its favor.
In the subreddit r/ProgrammerHumor, a member posted this classic Jerry Seinfeld meme about a smart faucet.
Most of the people who saw this could agree that the idea of a smart faucet was funny and quite frankly, ridiculous.
One of the members related to the ridiculousness and put a fair point forward that tells us what many people think about IoT.
And, there are over 800 upvotes for that comment! So, others had the same opinion.
Regardless of this, there are many that advocate IoT with everything they’ve got.
Painting a picture of yet another classic internet debate about other things.
Speaking of debates, there are plenty of predictions as well, that experts and common folks alike have for IoT’s future.
8 Predictions for IoT in 2023 and Beyond
1. An Estimated 21 Billion IoT Devices by 2025
As of 2022, there were about 13.5 billion active IoT devices globally.
Some experts estimate this number to shoot up to 21 billion by 2025 with all companies either trying to create them or using them for their own offices.
2. Artificial Intelligence and IoT
AI will go hand-in-hand with IoT.
The system of gathering data is where AI can shine brighter than anything else. It can also make data interpretation and combining data from multiple devices easy and accurate.
So, make sure you keep your eyes on the Artificial Intelligence of Things!
3. New Connectivity Options
With many manufacturers incorporating Narrow-Band IoT, it is expected that we will see increasingly more devices capable of using it.
More OEMs create new devices that serve various purposes.
So, we can see more network options being available, along with unique UI solutions.
4. 5G Connected Cars
Speaking of AI, let’s talk about AI driving our cars.
Autonomous driving vehicles are seeing great progress lately with Tesla, Volvo, Mercedes, and many other car makers innovating new technologies.
This is also not very far into the future anymore. With 5G being available to all regions soon, connected cars will make AI-driven cars smarter and safer.
5. Healthcare and Medical Devices
With wearables, we already have tools like heart-rate monitors, blood pressure monitors, and a host of other features we can access on the go.
With advancements in IoT, it is possible to introduce remote-operating medical devices that connect over 5G.
It will be revolutionary for underdeveloped countries that have fewer doctors that can perform those surgeries.
6. More Awareness About Ethical, Security, and Privacy Issues
Education about technology is getting accessible and people can now understand how their smart devices work.
This will spread more awareness about ethical, security, and privacy issues. Leading to thoughtful usage of IoT.
Constant pressure from users to shift focus on IoT security will also make IoT smarter and safer for all.
7. New Sensor & Device Technology
There’s a rapid growth in IoT devices being used for VR and creating virtual worlds like the Digital Twin.
If you don’t know what it is, it’s basically a virtual world that can simulate physical conditions like temperature, movement, sizes, volumes, etc.
This needs increasingly powerful sensors. And more importantly, connectivity that integrates these sensors with other things to enable these kinds of virtual worlds.
8. IoT Becoming the Internet of Humans
Now, when I said 2023 and beyond, this prediction takes the beyond part literally.
The Internet of Things becoming the Internet of Humans means that we’ll slowly start integrating ourselves with technology and the internet.
Remember Neuralink? It is surprisingly closer than you think.
But, becoming one with technology? That’s still a couple of decades ahead, if not more.
Predictions Aside, Here’s Our Final Word About the Internet of Things
We can keep this prediction game running forever.
Some of these are surely going to come true sooner rather than later. That’s because IoT has become an essential part of our lives.
We hope you understood what is IoT and everything else we discussed.
So, what do you think of IoT’s future after learning about it? Let us in on your thought trail in the comments!
Read Also : Understanding the Importance of IoT (Internet of Things) : Pros, Cons, and Opinions
Neel is a tech and marketing enthusiast who loves to talk, read, and write about everything tech!
He has been an ambitious content creator who wants to transform mundane, commercial content into something that even the average joe loves to read.