Just a recap, in my previous post, I had emphasized primarily over the world of IoT its origins and its common elements. In this post, we are going to dwell a little deeper on key definitions and approaches to the Internet of Things.
The Internet of Things is a reality in business and beyond
In several industries and companies, tangible value creation by leveraging the power of IoT is happening since quite some time as ample real-life IoT examples show. However, it will still take until the next decennium (2020 and beyond)before hype, roadblocks and misunderstandings regarding the Internet of Things fade away and uncertainties and challenges in several areas are solved. Moreover, a radical new approach to security will be needed.
To understand the benefits, value, context and even technologies of IoT it’s important to look at examples across various applications and industries. Although IoT is often approached as if it were a ‘thing’ as such one needs to understand the differences from an applications perspective in areas such as the Industrial Internet of Things, the Consumer Internet of Things and, beyond these ‘flavors’ and terms, the mentioned IoT use cases.
The usage of the Internet of Things happens at different speeds. IoT investments in the manufacturing industry, for instance, are far higher than in any other vertical industry and in the Consumer Internet of Things (CIoT) space concerned with manufacturing. This is poised to change by 2020 although globally manufacturing will still account for the majority of IoT spend (hardware, software, services and connectivity). The manufacturing industry, along with transportation and utilities are the three main IoT investment areas and are part of what is known as the Industrial Internet of Things.
Despite challenges, different speeds and the fast evolutions which we will see until the first years of the next decade, the Internet of Things is here.
In business and industry, there are thousands of Internet of Things use cases and real-life Internet of Things deployments across a variety of sectors with the three industries which we just mentioned accounting for a more than significant part of deployments and investments as the image on the right shows.
In the consumer space there are many thousands of devices and applications for a broad variety of purposes.
Predictions regarding the economic impact, sub segments, technologies and number of IoT-connected devices keep evolving as well.
Even if for most people the number of IoT devices is not a relevant metric, it’s the one that gets most attention. It has taken over two decades for the ‘concept’ of the Internet of Things to become a reality that is impacting and will impact many areas of business and society as we will see further. Despite being a reality, the Internet of Things in general is still in its early days,regardless of massive attention, impressive forecasts and numbers, and major evolution and deployments in many areas. However, if you look at the overall potential of IoT we are really just starting. Standards, technologies, maturity levels, devices and applications continue to evolve as various actors in the IoT ecosystem come up with platforms, new data analysis models and even evolving definitions and views to make IoT projects better and smarter. At the same time, challenges regarding regulation, security and data are being tackled – and even a universal IoT definition is still being debated.
The Internet of Things is a misnomer in two senses.
- First, the things don’t describe the essence of what it truly means and make it seem like a thing that is composed of connected things. On top of covering a vast connected ecosystem of myriad technologies, platforms and other components as such, the Internet of Things also fits in a technological and organization context whereby actionable intelligence is at the core of human and business value creation opportunities. The Internet of Things has no purpose nor means to exist without all these aspects.
- Secondly, after years of future visions around very old concepts and ideas such as connected refrigerators, the current fascination with the possibilities that arise as a result of connecting ‘things’, the ‘connected things’ aspect will move to the back and IoT will be seen just as we look at the Internet today: an obvious phenomenon of increased connectivity that is like electricity. What is behind it, the sensors, the devices, the protocols, the essential possibilities, will not matter, except to people who need to realize Internet of Things projects in real life and watch over the technology aspect within frameworks of regulations, meaning and security.
The question and evolution increasingly will not be about the Internet of Things but about the broader digital transformation economy picture with outcomes and integration in mind and de facto overlapping sets of technologies being a given.
What is IoT? A visual answer
To end this part on definitions and descriptions, here is a good illustration of the vast reality of the Internet of Things – and at the same time an illustration of what it means.
Internet of Things with IP: smart objects with an IP address which can sense (depending on use case, gather data on various parameters such as location, temperature, moisture level and dozens of more possibilities). This data gets sent for processing or analyzed at the source.
Internet of People: Think about everything you use to connect with the Internet, such as your smartphone. It’s in the meeting of this sphere and the Internet of Things that most Internet of Things consumer applications today get born. Several so-called Consumer IoT (CIoT) applications such as wearable can’t live without smartphones. Moreover, for several control and monitoring activities you’ll need some sort of device such as a tablet, for example in a smart home context.
Internet of Things without IP: and do not belong to the Internet of Things. They exist since a long time, mainly in the sphere of industrial Internet and we see them migrate to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Replacing such devices or tagging them so they become IoT-enabled is a part of what happens in IIoT.
The definition of the Internet of Things is in evolution in several ways:
- Industry bodies are updating Internet of Things definitions and descriptions in a field that is still lacking standardization.
- The market is evolving and changing views and definitions as well. Whether it concerns analysts or companies, which are very active in the IoT space: many of them have invented their own terms.
- There is a shift in the way we think about the Internet of Things. You can define things based upon what they are and what they are not. You can also define them by focusing on their characteristics but the most important question to answer in a definition: why and how do we use “something”?
- We look less at the ‘things’ and technologies of the Internet of Things and more at the broader reality and context in which the Internet of Things fits.
Approach to IOT Implementation
While the Internet of Things – and we weigh our words – as a ‘reality’ has benefits and consequences many can’t grasp yet, we need to change the narrative and look at IoT from the holistic perspective of:
- How it is connected with people, processes, data, business, innovation, meaning, etc.
- The outcomes and goals from an integrated view, with regards to ecosystems of value, of related technologies and of business and platform ecosystems.
- While most people think about IoT devices such as smart meters, smart home appliances, fitness trackers, smart light bulbs, smart alarm systems and, in business and industry, for example robots and cobots, connected industrial assets, smart street lighting or intelligent building controls, to name a few, the things that really matter in IoT, including these devices, contain several technological components, which make them function.
- There are obviously lots of parts in any IoT device: sensors, actuators, boards, antennas, chips, micro-electro-mechanical systems and so forth. We won’t go that deep and look at the most important ones: sensors and actuators.
- Both sensors and actuators are what is called transducers. A transducer converts a specific signal which comes in a specific form of energy into another signal in a different form of energy.
- Sensors convert signals in areas such as heat, humidity, pressure, presence of gases, pressure, acceleration and so forth into a digital signal that gets sent to a control and/or data aggregation system such as a sensor hub or gateway. They are the start of all IoT data capture and thus must be accurate.
- The data which are a result of the sensing and converting of any given state or change of state in temperature, presence of gases, location and so forth usually go from the sensor hub or IoT gateway to the cloud or a data center. However, a lot of IoT data processing and preparation can happen close to the devices.
- Actuators in a sense are the opposite of sensors. They receive a signal or feel a force or change of state which makes them set in motion an operation in the physical world. Examples include the switching on of sprinklers when heat is detected, turning off heating and ventilation systems. Actuators are what enable semi-autonomous or autonomous decisions take place in the physical part of the cyber-physical system.
- The data received by IoT actuators are digital (electric) in nature and include a control system. The instructions get turned into another type of signal and energy, from switching things on or off, rotations, pressure and so forth. Typically actuators then also report data back so the taken action is known and, combined with other data, can be used for more insights, analysis or simply alerts.
- The combination of smart sensors and actuators is what really makes IoT fulfill many real-life applications.
Function as bridges between the ‘things’ of the Internet of Things, including the data they generate through sensors on one hand and networks, cloud, IoT platforms, data centers, and ultimately applications leveraging this and other (aggregated and analyzed) data, on the other hand. They play an important role in the encryption, decryption, pre-processing and even analysis of data. They function as intelligent bridges with ever more types and features.
IoT gateways are hardware, software or a mix of both. There are several types of IoT gateways whereby the functions and possibilities they offer as said increase. This is because there are ever more IoT devices, an increasing volume of IoT data and, last but not least, a shift in the way data gets analyzed to the edge as previously explained. If you have more data and more complex and diverse ways to leverage more data and build IoT projects this means that your whole technology environment changes to deal with various IoT workloads where it fits best. And, thus, IoT gateways are moving beyond their initial scope as some sort of filter and bridge on the intersection of IoT devices and data on one hand and the networks, cloud services or data centers where they usually get stored and/or analyzed. A typical ‘newer’ form of IoT gateways is an edge gateway. This has to do with the mentioned rise of edge computing and thus analysis BEFORE the cloud, network or data center.
Connectivity and network technologies
Time for a look at the Internet of Things connectivity aspect. In order to transmit data between devices and from devices to platforms, the cloud or any other destination, network technologies are needed.
In some applications, for instance in smart home solutions, this is relatively easy as there are several general and several proprietary connectivity solutions in typically rather simple use cases.
Connectivity is traditionally divided into solutions for PAN (Personal Area Network), LAN (Local Area Network), WAN (Wide Area Network), MAN (Metropolitan Area Network) and (less) in NAN (Neighborhood Area Network).
These are concepts we know from computer networking in general since quite some years. To connect from a PAN to a LAN and a WAN or, let’s say, the Internet you need a gateway.
The rise of LPWAN companies such as Semtech (LoRA), Sigfox and so forth needs to be seen from that perspective whereby the focus was on having enough bandwidth, low power consumption and so forth at cheaper prices than existing possibilities. Building specific networks, among others, what made non-cellular LPWAN solutions successful.
Today that landscape continues to evolve and change. New 3GPP standards, the shift to 4G LTE in the industry and beyond are some of these evolution. Wireless IoT protocols and technologies are expected to become more important in the IoT network layer overall. However, it is and remains a reality that keeps changing.
Stay tuned…. Part 3 of this foray, we will look into the market growth and trends in the world of IoT.
Please feel free to review my earlier series of posts
- AI-ML Past, Present and Future – distributed across 8 blogs.
- Machine Learning – The Primer – distributed across 5 blogs
Authored by Venugopala Krishna Kotipalli