The Internet of Things (IoT) for Beginners

By this point, you've likely read or at least heard something about the Internet of Things (IoT) as it's the technology that powers so many of the smart devices we use on a daily basis. But what exactly is the Internet of Things, and furthermore, how does it work?

In this blog post, we'll break down the basics of IoT—highlighting how it works and how businesses can use it to their advantage in customized applications. Let's jump right in!

What is the Internet of Things and how does it work?

Simply put, the Internet of Things is a linkage or inter-connection of machines, and includes things like web-based devices, smart gadgets, appliances, and even vehicles. All of these devices are connected to one another in a network via the internet so that they can interact with one another without the need for human intervention, and the data shared between them. From here, all the information collected is gathered and processed by the server, and actions are taken according to pre-defined logic.

Who are some of the common users of IoT?

Although you may not be aware of it, many of our day-to-day tasks are made easier thanks to this advancement in technology. From everyday people with wearables and small businesses, to large corporations and government entities, everyone is jumping on IoT technology, and the benefits of adopting it are endless.

Businesses employ IoT processes in order to increase their top-line or to reduce redundant processes to save them money on operational costs, and the ultimate goal is usually to increase their profits. Individuals use IoT to have their dreams of a truly "smart home" realized where all devices are automated by sharing information.

Pros and Cons of Using IoT from a Business Perspective

While there are many benefits to using IoT from a business perspective, some of the most common benefits are:

  • Task Automation: There are many time consuming tasks and processes key to keeping a business running like a well-oiled machine, but your team may find your efforts better spent on other tasks. With IoT, solutions can be built to automate these processes, saving you valuable time and money.
  • Better Customer Service: This interconnection of devices generates a copious amount of data and information that can be used to better understand your customer and their needs in a more efficient manner. With this excess of information, businesses are empowered to provide automated follow-ups with their customers and offer better customer support and service.
  • Enhanced Operations Management: With IoT working for you, simple human errors are practically eliminated and productivity is prone to increasing as a result of not needing to dedicate as much time to troubleshooting. Businesses can also achieve automated monitoring and control over many operations ranging from inventory management to production monitoring, simultaneously.

With all of this interconnectivity between multiple devices, it's easy to see why this technology has its share of security concerns as well. Here are a few things you should bear in mind:

  • Security Breach: If your security checks are not sufficient enough, it could not only hinder the capabilities of your IoT devices, you could also run the risk of data theft and data breach with so much information flowing between devices. With that being said, it's important to have strong data protection protocols in place.
  • Infrastructure Requirement: IoT requires a high-speed internet connection and a network large enough to handle multiple devices connected at the same time, so it's no small undertaking to get something up and running. Your power needs will also be constant, so it will be vital for you to have an adequate power backup in place.
  • Data Privacy: Data is perpetually on the move in an IoT network, and this may expose your network to data leaks. There are many hackers out there capable of taking control of the data being sharing between devices if it's sent without proper encryption, and the cost of a serious leak to your business could be substantial.

What is Machine-to-Machine (M2M) Communication?

As the name implies, Machine-to-Machine (M2M) Communication involves two or more machines constantly communicating with each other by exchanging information, and it's required to implement IoT. Unlike IoT, which relies on software networks, M2M relies on hardware channels like sensors.

M2M is crucial in IoT as it helps in sharing data and information from wearable gadgets to your smartphone and other IoT devices, and vice versa.

A dark room lit by the light of the open refrigerator door.
Photo by nrd on Unsplash

Common uses of M2M Communication in IoT

Now that we have an idea of what M2M Communication is, what are some real world examples of its application in IoT?

An M2M enabled washing machine is capable of sending reminders to its human operator on their smartphone or other devices, and a smart refrigerator at your home or office can automatically place an order for items that are low or out of stock. It's certainly a clever workaround for human forgetfulness—no more late night runs for laundry detergent or milk!

Likewise, in an IoT-enabled hospital, M2M communication can be used to monitor patients and alert hospital staff to visit a patient and provide external assistance if their condition worsens. In some setups, M2M communication can even be used to administer things like oxygen to patients if their levels drop. For hardworking medical teams putting in long hours, M2M communication can help them run more efficiently and effectively, allowing them to shift their attention to more serious cases.

Manufacturing is an industry where M2M communication and IoT can play an especially useful role. This technology is capable of delivering significant benefits on the factory floor, in safeguarding employees, streamlining processes, and fast-tracking production. It can also be used to manage inventory and lead the charge in purchasing items that a team may be low on.

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Common IoT Programming Languages

Here are some of the most common languages used for IoT development:

Java: If you're a tech aficionado, then you're likely familiar with this programming language. While using Java, developers can write and debug code on their laptops and then transfer them to a chip. The main advantage with using this programming language is that once you have the code, you can run it virtually anywhere.

C and C++ : C/C++ is often considered the next best language for IoT deployment as it can be used both in IoT sheets and IoT systems. Advantages of using C/C++ include a lower energy requirement and enhanced flexibility that can be used in writing codes for embedded systems.

Python: Python offers many benefits as a programming language because it's easy to learn and use. It also offers a cleaner syntax and great support with high power which is essential in data-heavy applications. Python is gradually becoming the first choice for many IoT developers.

Swift: Swift is quite different from the other programming languages in this list, and it is required for iOS and Mac devices using an IoT network. If you want devices to interact with your iPad or iPhone, then Swift is is the programming language you should use.

Integrations That You Should Consider

Edge Computing: With an increase of IoT devices at the edge of networks, there's been a massive amount of data needing to be computed at data centers. This is understandably pushing network bandwidth requirements to the limit. The aim of edge computing is to move all of this computation away from data centers and more towards the edge of the network. In this way, they can exploit smart objects, mobile phones, or network gateways to perform data analysis and filtering on behalf of the cloud.

By moving services to the edge, it is possible to provide content caching, service delivery, persistent data storage, and IoT management resulting in better response times and transfer rates. This is useful in industries that have lots of data and information being transferred daily.

Big Data & AI: These are a couple of trending technologies that help in the analysis of large amounts of data to extract meaningful information from it. They are also key integrations in IoT that can lead to the development of more advanced applications, and both can be extremely useful in manufacturing and services-based companies.

Software-as-a-Services (SaaS): SaaS has been the talk of the town since the first SaaS company arrived on the tech scene in 1998, and there's very little that SaaS can't do. And when integrated with IoT, the combination can work wonders. When collecting and analyzing data from your customers’ connected devices, your company can offer additional subscription services—like predictive maintenance, track and trace, and performance management.

A man holding a smart watch full of different apps in front of him.
Photo by Daniel Cañibano on Unsplash

Wearables: Wearables have been growing in popularity, and with gyms being shut down as a result of the pandemic, more and more people have been spending money on wearables like smartwatches and fitness trackers. This application of IoT technology isn't going anywhere anytime soon though!

Industries That Are a Good Fit for IoT

Hospitality: In the hospitality industry, implementing IoT means reduced costs for hotels and an overall better experience for guests. Hotels can use IoT to cut back on energy costs without compromising a guest’s comfort by adjusting the lighting in a room based on the amount of natural light available or detecting a room’s occupancy and adjusting the temp accordingly. IoT can also make it to where a guest can adjust the lights and call the front desk from their beds via their TV or mobile devices, and even the check in process gets a streamlined update with IoT, enabling guests to check-in and unlock their room with their mobile devices.

Retail: IoT implementation in retail helps store managers find new ways to connect with their customers by helping them to create a short and direct customer journey, improve the process of product maintenance, and build a long-lasting bond with first-time shoppers. From personalized customer communications and suggestions based on collected customer data to reducing waste by providing the option to optimally stock goods and automate the ordering process, IoT is capable of completely transforming the way that retail outlets and supermarkets operate.

Financial Services: According to a report by GlobeNewswire, IoT is expected to reach $116.27 billion in the banking, financial services, and insurance industry by 2026, and tech giants like Microsoft, IBM, Cisco Systems, and Intel have already recognized the opportunity in this market. With IoT in place, customers can manage their accounts and transactions using connected devices, and customer data can be broken down and analyzed to offer personalized products and services. Amazon Go is a fantastic example of IoT tech revolutionizing the payment process, and this new kind of self-checkout service is already expanding across other brands. Instead of waiting in line and dealing with a cashier, customers get their cards scanned by IoT devices at the exit.

Manufacturing: Manufacturing is an industry where IoT can truly bring about radical change. With IoT in place, companies are able to monitor their assets remotely, invest in analytical functionalities, close control rooms remotely, and so much more. IoT implementation can automate a lot of redundant processes and free up teams to focus on other tasks essentially boosting employee productivity and improving production output. It can also be useful in detecting and avoiding issues that may ultimately end up leading to delays or putting employees in harm's way. IoT technology empowers managers and supervisors to better allocate their resources, improve worker skillfulness, and ensure that the working environment safe.

An elevated view of a manufacturing facility full of parts.
Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash

While the use cases and benefits of IoT technology are endless in virtually any industry, there are some instances where industries would need to be especially careful when implementing IoT. Organizations in possession of critical data that cannot be compromised at any cost, like government organizations, defense research companies, space science companies, central banks, etc. may run the risk of a data breach that could potentially outweigh the benefits of IoT. It's certainly not impossible to work IoT technology into these industries, but a lot of precautions would need to be put in place to mitigate risks.

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Originally published:

May 28, 2021