What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things is often confused with the notion of connected objects. The IoT is a constantly growing system that is present in domestic life, as well as in industry, commerce and agriculture. From improving and automating processes to broadening awareness of needs, delivering optimal customer service and facilitating decision-making, the Internet of Things represents a step forward in everyday life and adds value to businesses. Want to learn more? This page will help you understand the concept of the Internet of Things, and will explain its advantages and disadvantages through illustrative examples.


Understanding the Internet of Things

Internet of Things: Definition

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to both the process of connecting physical objects — “things” — to the internet, and the network that connects those objects.

Objects include everyday equipment (home automation, fitness watches, etc.), medical equipment, agricultural machinery, supply chains, industrial robots and traffic lights.

Ultimately, the IoT links anything that can transfer data over a network. This does not require interactions between humans, or between a human and a computer. However, human-machine interaction is offered as an option — and usually, it is only used for configuring services and accessing information.

What is the difference between connected objects and the Internet of Things?

The term ‘connected object’ refers to any device with a non-internet based connection (e.g. Bluetooth). On the other hand, the Internet of Things refers to the connection between the internet and objects. In spite of this, the term ‘connected’ is often used for convenience to refer to a device that is part of the Internet of Things, such as a connected car or connected home.

People with a heart monitor implant or microchipped pets are also part of the network.

How does the IoT work?

An IoT ecosystem is made up of objects that are compatible with the internet, or use embedded computing systems.

An object connected to the IoT is able to collect data on its environment via sensors. It then uses the data via processors, and sends it to one or more recipients using their integrated communications hardware.

It shares the data collected through an IoT gateway. It’s a solution for communication between devices, or between devices and the cloud. As a result, data is transferred directly to the cloud for analytics and operations, or to another IoT device for local analytics.

Here is an example to illustrate this. When you approach your home in your connected car, it sends your location data to your central heating thermostat. By analysing this data, the thermostat is able to adjust the internal temperature of any room according to the setting you have established beforehand. It does this during your journey home. The only human intervention required is the temperature configuration — the Internet of Things does the rest.

Of course, the data collected can be used in both in real time and over the long term. Ultimately, the analyses can be performed by humans as well as by artificial intelligence (AI) with an automatic learning system.

This means a smart home’s IoT system acts in real time to determine the perfect time to adjust the heating. It can also be based on data collected by the car over a long period of time. In addition to this, all of the IoT data collected every day by all the connected thermostats is a huge source of data for the energy supplier. The supplier can analyse this data to improve its services.

IoT examples that revolutionise our daily lives

Mainstream IoT

A growing number of household appliances and objects are equipped with sensors and connection systems to improve comfort or security (connected toasters, wine bottles with touch screens and WiFi compatibility, etc.). Since it is technically possible to add IoT sensors to virtually any object on a daily basis, mainstream IoT covers a very wide range of uses. For example:

  • Smart homes equipped with connected thermostats and boilers, smart lighting systems and connected electronic devices that can be remotely controlled via a smartphone or computer (e.g. smart sockets, motion sensors, animal feeders, home cinema, washing machines, video surveillance, locks, etc.).
  • Connected cars that improve driving comfort and safety — air conditioning, speed control, battery and tyre pressure monitoring, vehicle location, automatic opening of garage doors or gates.
  • Portable health or sports equipment — implantable sensors, insulin pumps, glucose meters, heart rate monitors, pedometers, calorie counters, GPS trackers, etc.

Through an IoT application, all of these devices can work together seamlessly and make their users' everyday lives easier.

Enterprise IoT and Industrial IoT (IIoT)

The Internet of Things is becoming increasingly popular in all areas of activity: production, transportation, retail, healthcare, agriculture, infrastructure, home automation, public services, and more.

In the healthcare sector, for example, IoT has many applications:

  • Fine-tuned patient monitoring through continuous analysis of data generated by implants or sensors.
  • Stock management for products and instruments, and equipment maintenance in hospitals.
  • Monitoring vital signs of firefighters on the job, or workers at high-risk sites.
  • Calculating routes to optimise first aid response time during emergencies, etc.

In the security sector, the Internet of Things offers many solutions to problems surrounding access control and authentication:

  • Connected sensors that monitor employee arrivals and departures via a smartphone.
  • Sensors on machine tools that enhance workplace safety.
  • Systems to improve the security of goods and people in shops.
  • Fire detection, and more.

For the supply of goods, supply chains are monitored and optimised using IoT sensors and analyses. By accurately monitoring stock availability directly for consumers and in the supplier’s warehouses, all based on orders in progress, an IoT system can automatically determine the most convenient delivery operation for both parties. At the same time, the need for labour is optimised — so companies can optimise their costs as a result.

In general, the IoT can improve production, reduce unscheduled downtime for tools and raw materials, and increase the security of a wide range of tools and systems. All industrial sectors can benefit from it, with applications as diverse as fibre recovery in the wood processing industry, or drilling control on an oil rig.

Smart cities lined with sensors and IoT applications represent a perfect ecosystem of the Internet of Things — emission control to reduce air pollution, vehicle traffic monitoring and control, energy savings, and much more. It includes multiple devices and smart systems, ranging from simple street lamps and urban traffic optimisation to video surveillance and sound emission mapping.

Finally, in the agricultural sector, systems that use IoT are involved in monitoring fields and greenhouses for cultivation — brightness, temperature, air and soil moisture, soil composition, weather forecasts, monitoring of livestock location and health, and more. Smart agriculture and livestock-rearing also benefit from IoT resources in the automation of soil irrigation and livestock feed systems.

In short, the possibilities for applying the Internet of Things are virtually limitless.

The advantages and disadvantages of IoT for companies

What benefits does the Internet of Things offer?

IoT offers many possibilities, such as:

  • Collecting data on any machine and accessing it from anywhere, at anytime.
  • Connecting many electronic devices in a network, and achieving optimal communication between them.
  • Automating tasks and processes.
  • Improving service quality and customer experience.
  • Reducing the need for human intervention, and labour costs.
  • Saving time and reducing costs on data packet transfers.
  • Improving productivity and reducing production costs.
  • Monitoring and adapting all business processes.
  • Optimising both strategic and commercial decision-making.

The Internet of Things (IoT) provides a real-time view of how a system works by collecting, aggregating, and analysing information about all its components. It covers everything — from supply chains and logistics operations to equipment and infrastructure operations.

What are the disadvantages of the Internet of Things?

IT security and the Internet of Things

Today, the Internet of Things poses data security and privacy issues. The IoT connects billions of devices to the internet — and this means that users need to secure an equal number of data points, each representing a potential point of attack.

By exploiting the vulnerability of a single point, a cybercriminal can take advantage of the close connection between IoT devices to access all network data. They could then steal the data, or even corrupt it to make it unusable. The growth in the number of connected devices — and therefore, the volume of data exchanged and shared — increases the risk of intrusions and hacking.

This risk is even more prevalent, since it is often the user’s responsibility to update IoT devices — and these updates tend to patch security vulnerabilities. Users may not run updates as regularly as they should, so the system becomes increasingly vulnerable as a result.

Personal data privacy is also a concern:

  • Many connected objects require users to enter their login information, or other personal data — all of which may end up being targeted in a leak.
  • Manufacturers and distributors of consumer IoT devices can use these devices to obtain and sell users’ personal data.

Other disadvantages of the Internet of Things

Security vulnerabilities are not the only drawback of the IoT:

  • Companies that manage and maintain a very large fleet of IoT devices also face increasing difficulties in collecting and managing data from the entire IoT ecosystem.
  • There is currently no international compatibility standard in this area.

The history of the Internet of Things

The first object connected to the internet was a cold-drink vending machine at Carnegie Mellon University (USA) in 1982. The concept of connected devices has existed since the 1970s. At the time, the term ‘Internet of Things’ was not yet coined. Instead, experts talked about the integrated internet, or ubiquitous computing (ubicomp).

It was not until 1999 that Kevin Ashton, a computer scientist at Procter & Gamble, first used the term ‘Internet of Things’. The purpose of this designation was to attract interest from decision-makers on RFID technology, and the other sensors that he wanted to install on products in their supply chain.

That same year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Neil Gershenfeld published When Things Start to Think. In this book, he clearly describes the direction taken by machines connected to one another, without using Ashton’s term.

The evolution of the IoT was then strongly built on machine to machine (M2M) communication. It refers to devices that can connect to one other via a network, without human interaction.

Today, the IoT is a network of sensors made up of billions of smart objects, connecting people, computer systems and applications with the aim of sharing and collecting data. The IoT is made possible by today’s strong technological convergence (the internet, wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems, micro-services, etc.) that lies between operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT).