Computers & InternetInternet of Things

How It Works: Internet of Things

The Internet of Things gives us access to the data from millions of devices. But how does it work, and what can we do with all that data?

IInternet of Things is one of the current top tech buzzwords. Large corporations value their market in tens of trillions of dollars for the upcoming years, investing billions into research and development. On top of this, there is a plan for the release of tens of billions of connected devices during the same period. So you can see why it is only natural that it causes a lot of buzz.

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to smart, connected devices in homes, businesses and our surroundings that have the ability to communicate with other devices over a network. These devices are outfitted with data-collecting sensors so they can communicate with one another as a way to determine the health and status of things, inanimate or living.

While some think the IoT is device to devise communication over a closed network, like your app for changing channels on your cable box, or your Fit Bit app that tells you how many steps you took today, that operation is really just an internal net or intranet, not the wider sensor-enabled network that connects a multitude of things to a multitude of other things.

The Internet of Things is big news because it ups the ante: ‘Reach out and touch somebody’ is becoming ‘reach out and touch everything

Arker Trewin

To explain further, currently, apps are deployed for a specific purpose. Your lawn sprinkler app turns the water on and off and your step counter app counts your steps and calories burned, but these apps don’t interact outside of that closed network. That’s why presently we end up with a separate app for every “smart” thing. One app controls your garage door, another for the lawn sprinkler, still another for your fitness tracking and so on. Managing all these apps is the equivalent to having multiple remote controls on your coffee table, one for your TV, another for your DVD player, and still another for your cable box.

The truth is, homes change over time and technology has to adapt, not try to do everything at once.


But the true IoT, as it’s envisioned, is a network of deployed “smart” devices like your rain gauge or lighting system that will collect data. That collected data is then made available to many other “smart” applications. So your rain gauge tells your lawn sprinkler there was an inch of rain last night and to stay turned off today and conserve water. This water conservation data could then be relayed to your municipal water company and noted on your record for possible discounts on your bill for using a water conservation app. And your home budgeting software could receive the data on how much water you saved and predict the amount of your next month’s water bill.

What are the “Things”?

According to Gartner, Inc. (a technology research and advisory firm), there will be 4.9 billion connected things this year alone. And according to Gartner, we haven’t seen anything yet. Gartner predicts nearly 26 billion devices will be on the  Internet of Things by 2020, including a quarter billion vehicles. Some research claims the number of devices could be as high as 90 billion in five years, with 10  connected devices in each household. 

What are the “Things”?

The First Connected Things

Decades before that first connected Coke vending machine in 1989, automated “homes of the future” were standard exhibits at World’s Fairs and backgrounds in science fiction. Home automation included the control of home entertainment systems, houseplant and yard watering, pet feeding, and changing the lighting for different moods.

In 1989 a new ‘House of the Future’ was built in The Netherlands. The house had multiple smart devices in every room and focused on the interaction between man and device. Voice recognition was an important aspect of the house.

In 1990 the first toaster was connected to the Internet. Developed for a trade show exhibition, the only thing that could be done was turning it on and off, but in 1991 the private developers added an automatic crane to also insert a slice of bread automatically. In 2000, the smart refrigerator made its entry. For many years, the smart refrigerator has been the example of the Internet of Things and it was developed by LG. It had an LCD screen that was capable of showing information such as inside temperature, the freshness of stored foods, nutrition information and recipes.

The refrigerator cost $ 20,000.00 and not surprisingly, did not sell as well as LG had hoped. In the years after, the Internet of Things began to be mentioned in several mainstream publications such as the Boston Globe and Scientific American. In 2004, Walmart started to deploy RFID tags in large amounts to improve their inventory tracking.


Internet of Things (IoT) | What is IoT | How it Works So Why Should Operators Care About the IoT? 

Everywhere you look there’s new information about IoT from technology specialists, hardware manufacturers, and software creators. It’s like chasing a moving target. But the projected explosion of the IoT is forcing some industries to rethink their network architecture. R & D departments are beginning to explore new communication methods that could potentially bypass the Internet entirely. The idea is that by the use of peer-to-peer communication between the wireless sensor network clusters, they can form a new Internet made up of just WSNs. These sensor networks could have a central gateway of Internet access, and thereby offer Internet access in one-hop. The creation of these interconnected WSNs would use wireless network technologies such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Wireless Personal Area Networks (WPAN). Over time, as people opt-in to allow their personal area networks to communicate with the wireless sensor networks, communication could occur directly between WSNs rather than through the Internet.


The Interoperability of the Internet of Things 

Various research firms estimate the number of connected devices to reach into the billions by the year 2020. And the number keeps rising. Everything from your shower water to your toothbrush to your weekly pizza order will be automated, connected and collecting data. But the hot IoT talk is centered on the ongoing standards war between the consortiums and alliances that have formed to try and come up with standards for all those billions of devices.

The Interoperability of the Internet of ThingsAmong the challenges for a successful IoT is the unusually high dependence on cooperation. What has become the biggest challenge for smart devices and the systems providers is ensuring interoperability for all the different technologies and standards. But so far device makers would rather create their own closed ecosystems with their own internal protocols. The IoT will run in data centers.

And for the IoT to work in data centers, platforms from competing vendors need to be able to communicate with one another. “This requires standard APIs that all vendors and equipment can plug into,” said Mike Sapien, a principal analyst with the research and consulting firm Ovum. Gartner analyst Fernando Elizalde says, “A number of alliances have sprung up in the last couple of years to attempt to sort out the interoperability issue.

Each aims to provide a solution that integrates all the smart home categories.” IoT standards were established to manage four main areas: connectivity, interoperability, privacy, and security. So how do all the competing IoT standards groups stack up when it comes to these areas of IoT emphasis? Let’s compare the five most popular and influential alliances.


The thing that keeps me awake at night—and should keep a lot of CEOs awake at night—is the disruptive impact of the Internet of things and connected devices.

Cherie Fuzzell

Security and Privacy

Concerns have been raised that the Internet of Things is being developed rapidly without appropriate consideration of the profound security challenges involved. In particular, as the Internet of Things spreads widely, attacks could become increasingly physical, rather than simply virtual, threats. A January 2014 Forbes magazine article listed many Internet-connected appliances that can already “spy on people in their own homes” including televisions, kitchen appliances, cameras, and thermostats.

Computer-controlled devices in automobiles such as brakes, engine, locks, hood and truck releases, horn, heat, and dashboard can be vulnerable to attackers who gain access to the onboard network. Issues of security and privacy arise in connection with data coming from devices. Hackers could see when water flowing into a home has been shut down for conservation reasons and deduce that no one is home.


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