Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects that feature an IP address for internet connectivity and the communication that occurs between these objects and other internet-enabled devices and systems.

Parts of the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is comprised of three main components:

  • Hardware: Devices on the network, like phones, computers, thermostats, lighting systems, and cameras
  • Software: Operating systems (OSs), firmware, or any other code that programs IoT hardware
  • Protocols: Wi-Fi, IP, 5G, or other protocols that enable transmission of data across the internet

IoT networks assist enterprises as they transfer data between devices, often in different locations, to quickly carry information to the people and systems that need it.

What does IoT do?

The Internet of Things serves a few specific purposes in enterprise environments.

IoT extends internet connectivity

IoT extends internet connectivity beyond traditional devices like desktop and laptop computers, smartphones, and tablets to a diverse range of devices, including everyday items like speakers, video cameras, and drink machines. These devices utilize embedded technology, like software and Internet Protocol (IP) support, to communicate and interact with the external environment, all via the internet.

IoT speeds data transfer from edge devices

With an IoT network, enterprises facilitate rapid data transmission between devices at the edge of a network, such as a remote employee’s computer in a rural area, and devices in the core network, like a cloud storage server in a data center. IoT networks use protocols like 4G and 5G to make data transmission for cellular devices fast.

IoT enables analytics for all smart devices in a network

An enterprise IoT network should collect traffic data from each device and use a data analytics platform to monitor IoT traffic for anomalies. Not only does analytics play a role in an IoT security strategy, but it also helps administrators see where traffic is stalling or indicates when a device may be broken.

History of IoT

The history of the Internet of Things begins before the World Wide Web was invented. In the 1980s, students and a research engineer at Carnegie Mellon University created a program to allow people to check the availability status of cold sodas in a networked Coca-Cola vending machine. They had to check a computer on the university’s local network to view the indicators that would show them if sodas had been stored in the machine long enough to be cold.

And in 1990, at a California conference, scientists connected a toaster to the internet, but it could only turn the device’s power on and off.

In 1999, after the internet had become more widely used, MIT employee Kevin Ashton first used the term Internet of Things. He wanted computers and devices to collect data so the process is not wholly dependent on error-prone humans since machines have more time and better accuracy to collect data.

Read more about Ashton’s presentation that first used the term ‘Internet of Things’: Kevin Ashton Named the Internet of Things | Avast 

Finally, in 2012, IPV6 was officially launched, making many more IP addresses available for use. This enabled enterprise and consumer device manufacturers to connect more items to the internet.

Industries and enterprises that use IoT

IoT devices are useful in enterprises because they detect and convey information that humans typically wouldn’t be able to learn or act upon in the same time frame.

Manufacturing 

Manufacturing benefits enormously from IoT. Devices convey information about insufficient inventory, faulty equipment, and plant environment (i.e. temperature and chemicals). IoT is also a safety measure for industries like manufacturing and construction because sensors are able to pick up threats that humans don’t always notice. For example, in warehouses, IoT sensors on machinery detect when a part is old or failing. Environment sensors detect smoke, gas, or other potential hazards and send messages to devices, which notify employees with sounds or other alerts.

Healthcare

In the medical industry, sensors monitor patient vitals. When sensors detect a patient health deficit, connected devices like wearable vital monitors send appropriate alerts to hospital staff. In an industry where life and death are consistently on the line, IoT networks are a key component to quickly notifying healthcare professionals when someone’s life is in danger.

Construction

Construction sites are filled with potential dangers—heavy items, machinery and vehicles, and chemicals—and IoT devices help protect workers from them. Sensors across construction zones send data to devices that warn employees when there’s danger from machinery or when they need to be aware of an environmental change.

Wearable devices for construction workers alert them when they’re entering an area of the construction zone that is unsafe or has been marked for non-entry. They also track workers’ locations, so that if a disaster happens, all people in the vicinity are easier to find. 

Supply chain management 

Transportation and other supply chain enterprises need to know the condition of the items they’re shipping, as well as situations that could inhibit travel, like severe weather. IoT devices measure food and beverage temperatures as they’re shipped cross-country, ensuring that consumable material remains at safe temperatures. They also track vehicles and monitor traffic and road construction delays—the Internet of Things plays a huge role in fleet management.

In addition, IoT devices in warehouses and distribution centers monitor inventory levels, so an administrator across the country knows when a product’s stock is low.

To learn more about supply chain management technology, read Supply Chain Management Software

Building and office management 

IoT devices in a physical office environment help monitor premises. They’re part of an office’s security strategy, tracking each person that comes through the door, supplying surveillance feeds to security staff, and triggering an alarm when needed. A movement sensor recognizes that a person has moved into a section of an office and sends a message to the device that controls the light to turn the light on.

IoT devices in offices also provide updates on equipment and goods. When a refrigeration system needs service, or a drink machine is almost out of a beverage, sensors convey that information to the supplier or in-office employee.

What is IoT security, and why is it important?

IoT security deals with securing internet-connected devices to prevent them from being used as an entry point for malicious activity. including ones that are sometimes too small to have security software downloaded onto them. Securing IoT devices and networks is particularly difficult because:

  • The Internet of Things grew so quickly that its developers didn’t have sufficient time to fully consider potential security issues and design the product’s firmware accordingly.
  • IoT networks often include devices from different manufacturers. These devices don’t all have the same security precautions or default software, and some of them do not even have basic security features like passwords that can be changed.

IoT security is critical because IoT devices, left unsecured, make it very easy for an attacker to access a company network. Common vulnerabilities in IoT devices include inconsistent patching and updates and hardcoded passwords (default passwords from the manufacturer that can’t be changed). Such weaknesses, if exploited, permit threat actors to not only enter the enterprise network but also potentially move laterally through it, jumping from application to application.

Securing IoT networks requires:

  • Choosing devices whose software allows password changes
  • Updating firmware or operating systems on IoT devices regularly
  • Requiring access credentials to all other applications on the network, so any attack through IoT devices is shut down before it extends to other areas of the network

Considering implementing a security platform for your business’s IoT network? Read eSecurity Planet’s Top IoT Security Solutions

The future of IoT

In 2020, Statista predicted that the average number of devices that would be connected to the internet by 2030 would be approximately 25.44 billion. The assumed growth is steady but significant, sitting at just under three times the number in 2020.

predicted IoT device growth to 2030.
Source: Statista, accessed April 2022

One industry that will benefit from IoT in the next few years is national infrastructure and roadways. Smart roads and cities, which are intended to provide real-time information to drivers, transmit data from sensors on the roadway.

This data could save drivers time by rerouting them around traffic jams. Or, if fast enough, it could save their life, such as if a vehicle ahead has unexpectedly stopped, creating a hazard. To fully take advantage of this technology, vehicles will need to be internet-connected, too.

Telehealth is another beneficiary of IoT networks. Accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare institutions considered technology, such as robotic arms and cameras, to power operations like remote surgeries more seriously than before. Robotic arms have already been used in surgeries to eliminate the unsteadiness of human hands in tasks like placing needles. IoT devices could also be used to show maps of a patient’s body, so that doctors have a more accurate view of where they need to operate. Data transmission will need to be as close to real time as possible for tasks like surgeries to be done with precision and accuracy. 

Searching for an IoT provider for your enterprise? Read Best IoT Platforms & Software to narrow your search.

Forrest Stroud
Forrest Stroud
Forrest is a writer for Webopedia. Experienced, entrepreneurial, and well-rounded, he has 15+ years covering technology, business software, website design, programming, and more.

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