Insights 8th March 2020

Understanding how IoT works – in five simple steps

Unless businesses have been living under the proverbial rock, enterprises across the globe will not have escaped the noise concerning the Internet of Things (IoT) and its endless possibilities.

For many, it might seem like a risky prospect to consider – especially during the current climate – but these organisations may not already know that they’re in fact utilising the power of IoT already. Because, in the broadest sense, IoT encompasses everything connected to the internet.

It’s not in fact a new technology or concept and an Ericsson IoT forecast report predicts that there will be around 29 billion connected devices by 2022 – 18 million of which will be IoT-related. Its explosive popularity has been felt across several sectors that have become aware of its critical capability to process and convert data information into rich, meaningful real-time analytics.

From powering automated manufacturing, wearable consumer electronics and asset management to helping firms track usage, flag potential infrastructure issues and understand customer behaviours in a physical retail space, IoT is very much at the heart of business innovation.

With 34% of entities now adopters – and 84% of those having increased confidence in what IoT brings, according to Vodafone’s sixth IoT Barometer report – companies spanning a variety of industries are becoming aware of exactly how it can deliver for their enterprises. But for firms that are only just looking into IoT, it’s important to understand how it works, before considering the potential use-case scenarios and investment costs.

Typically, IoT – and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) – consists of the following components, within its architecture which all have their own part to play in how the data is collected, processed and stored.

1. Device

Generally speaking, an IoT device is split into two categories: a sensor and an actuator. The former observes, records, and receives data regarding the physical assets and the latter enables changes in those resources. Sometimes, these functions are combined in a single device. To put this into context, a widely used example is a smart central heating controller which both senses the temperature and reports it back – as the actuator turns on the boiler, if desired, based on the heat.

2. Controller

These can vary widely in their function – and can also be classified by other names such as ‘gateways’. Controllers act as a middle tier, connecting a device to downstream systems that are performing activities including, but not limited to, data collection, aggregation and transmission. It’s often located close to the device that’s being managed but the placement is based on a number of factors – including connectivity and environmental elements.

3. Data cloud, data analytics and user interface

Collectively grouped together – and known as back-end systems – these components perform different functions to represent the information that is being provided. Delving into this further, the data cloud is the collection point that streams the details – which can typically be integrated and interrogated by an analytics engine. All of this is then available to the user through an interface – either visually or via another method, such as voice technology.

4. Network interconnection

This is an enabler – a standalone function that’s not part of the IoT but facilitates the transmission of sensory data from a device. Many different types of networks are supported to aid this – including Local Area Networks (LAN), Wide Area Networks (WAN), Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and wireless broadband technologies such as 4G and 5G.

5. System security

Perhaps one of the most vital components, this is effectively the layer of protection that’s required to preserve the devices and their data, ensuring these cannot be manipulated or become the victims of cybercrime. Security principles apply to every element of IoT – from the open-source operating systems through to the badly designed networks which do not correctly segment online traffic.

Bringing all these parts together, the entire jigsaw forms an umbrella term for exactly what IoT encompasses – and what the overall solution can bring to businesses. During the current climate – and with a mass move globally for people to be working remotely – the powers of IoT are being tapped into every single day.

Advanced technology is being utilised more frequently, for example via drones to ensure quarantine and the wearing of masks is obeyed, as well as helping to gather real-time analytics to truly understand the origin of the pandemic – and how many people have been struck with it.

Healthcare workers can also utilise IoT to monitor the level of risk for patients – by taking temperatures and uploading vital data to mobile devices for analysis, as well as providing essential information on how many staff are required to work, so further exposure can be reduced. And for supply chains, they can receive the detail to manufacture the required level of Personal Protective Equipment and provide life-saving stock.

It’s clear to see why IoT presents many advantages to enhance and improve operational efficiencies across a broad range of industries with real socioeconomic benefits. With this opportunity, it’s paramount for enterprises to remain robust in their decision making process and partner with a subject matter expert to clarify and roadmap what they want to achieve with IoT. This will ensure they can truly maximise its value, deliver the right solution on budget – and ultimately, reap the many benefits it brings.

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