You have heard about the Internet of Things or IoT and probably some examples of applications and devices. Yet, you are still new to the potential of the Internet of Things and what it means in practice? Then this beginners guide is for you, with updated stats and research from and for 2017 and beyond.
The Internet of Things first and foremost is an umbrella term which covers a huge reality of ‘things’, technologies (sensors and actuators, communication technologies, applications, IoT gateways, IoT platforms, etc.) and goals across a really huge range of industries and so-called IoT use cases. In this overview of the Internet of Things for beginners you’ll discover why it is an umbrella term and an introduction to what the Internet of Things is – in practice. If you’re looking for data and evolutions: there is an infographic with more stats for your convenience at the bottom.
The focus on connected devices and endpoints in the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things enables the next stage of the Internet whereby smart devices and other endpoints get connected via Internet technology.
In the Internet of Things or IoT each endpoint/device has a unique IP (Internet Protocol) address. IoT endpoints are the ‘things’ at the edge of an IoT network, which have an IP address. This includes consumer devices such as smart fitness trackers and intelligent pieces of hardware with software that are embedded in or attached to things in order to add them to the Internet of Things or make them ‘IoT-enabled’. The endpoint is addressable in IoT.
Simply said the unique IP address of an endpoint allows to identify it via the Internet and retrieve and/or send data from/to it. Let’s take a look at some of them as devices and endpoints are often the focus of how the Internet of Things is explained to beginners, even if there is far more to it as you’ll see.
Consumer devices in the Internet of Things
Examples of devices and endpoints which typically are mentioned in a context of the Internet of Things for beginners include consumer products for various applications.
These, among others, include smart home automation (e.g. smart thermostats), personal healthcare (e.g. wearable health trackers and fitness devices), connected cars, entertainment (e.g. smart TV and virtual reality headsets) and home appliances.
This group of consumer products is also called the Consumer Internet of Things (CIoT). The Consumer IoT segment is smaller than the segments of business and industry. However, this is changing gradually and by 2020 in some regions growth in consumer-grade devices and applications will outpace several traditional biggest growers.
Business and industry ‘things’ in the Internet of Things
Some applications in business and industry are better known to beginners than others.
Examples of devices and endpoints for business and industry applications include smart street lights, IoT-enabled digital signage in retail stores and a broad range of industry-grade devices which enable automation and connected, intelligent applications in manufacturing, logistics, smart cities, healthcare and more.
The Internet of Things in an industry context is also called the Industrial Internet of Things or IIoT. The Industrial Internet of Things is the major segment (in terms of projects and spending) with manufacturing leading the way in the context of what is called ‘Industry 4.0‘.
What is special about the things in the Internet of Things?
The endpoints, ‘things’, physical devices, sensors and controllers are the best known part of the Internet of Things as they are the most visible, certainly in consumer applications.
This is where we also see most articles about the Internet of Things for beginners: the visible part of the things and devices.
Yet, what is so special about them? Depending on the reasons why they are built, Internet of Things devices and endpoints have different sensors, whereby virtually everything can be monitored; from movement, temperature, moisture levels and location to the most complex environmental factors (e.g. CO2 levels).
As they can also be connected to the Internet thanks to their inherent connectivity features, IP address and a wide range of fix and wireless communication networks, they offer the possibility to inject a broad range of data into applications.
Moving beyond the device focus of the Internet of Things for beginners: when it gets interesting
While the devices and things get most attention, the really interesting part starts when we move from devices and connectivity to data, applications, outcomes and actions.
IoT applications and data in function of actions, goals and value
The previously mentioned applications are often in the cloud and can include consumer applications, IoT platforms for business and custom-made or proprietary tools for specific purposes.
Except for some very simple Internet of Things applications, the data which is aggregated and sent by IoT devices have little meaning.
IoT data becomes meaningful in the context of
- the reason why it gets acquired,
- the analysis of the data (happening in applications, the data center, the cloud or at the edge – where data is analyzed using fog computing or edge computing),
- the insights that are generated through analysis and
- the actions which are taken (human, automated or a mix) as a consequence.
That is where the real value of the Internet of Things sits. It’s not in the fact that things can sense, send and/or receive data. It’s in the outcomes and goals which are realized.
Why the Internet of Things is an umbrella term
As there are so many different types of ‘things’, all built for a specific reason, and so many different types of sensors, gateways, protocol, IoT operating systems, applications, communication technologies, areas of application (IoT use cases) and, most of all goals and outcomes in myriad industries and use cases, the Internet of Things is really an umbrella term.
This means that when we speak about the Internet of Things it gets an entirely different meaning, depending of the context.
The best way to make this umbrella term dimension clear for beginners is by looking at some typical IoT use cases.
3 use cases of the Internet of Things for beginners
Consumer IoT use case: personal healthcare and fitness trackers
A typical IoT use case in the Consumer IoT is personal healthcare.
One of the devices everyone knows is a personal healthcare and fitness tracker. Essentially it is a very simple device and application that keeps track of some health-related data and some activity-related data. These are then combined and shown within applications that enable you to improve your personal health, fitness and lifestyle, sometimes with group features.
Track and trace: a cross-industry IoT use case
A typical so-called cross-industry IoT use case is the tracking of goods, products, people and even pets.
In a consumer application this is a rather simple and straightforward process. A tracking system and sensor (often very simple to attach to your favorite ‘things’) helps you find and follow whatever you choose. It doesn’t need a lot of data and is easy.
Track and trace, leveraging IoT, however is also used in the industry, logistics and transportation, often with more complex devices that also provide info on enviromental factors and the state of goods. You can imagine that between tracking the location of your pet and tracking the location, condition and environmental factors of goods in a container on a boat on some ocean, there is a world of difference.
Industry IoT use case: predictive maintenance
A typical IoT use case in the Industrial Internet of Things is predictive maintenance.
For example: a vendor of big industrial robots wants to know upfront which robots might need maintenance and, when a robot fails, wants to intervene as fast as possible. Imagine the cost for one of the company’s customers, such as a car manufacturer, when one of a few of these big robots break down: lots and lots of costs.
By adding all the robots the company has sold to an Internet of Things platform which provides real-time and even predictive insights into which robots need to be maintained when and where, these costs are reduced and even avoided and the customers of the robot manufacturer enjoy great benefits. You can imagine that this can hardly be compared with a fitness tracker and requires far more complex systems, devices, networks and platforms to analyze and intervene.
You immediately see why the Internet of Things is really an umbrella term and if you’re a beginner or new to the Internet of Things understand why it’s not just a ‘thing’ but really a very diverse reality that covers much more than connected devices.
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