Internet of Things (IoT): Cheat sheet
Image: iStock/metamorworksThe Internet of Things (IoT) and why it matters Watch NowTheInternet of Things, which is commonly called IoT, refers to the billions of devices around the world that are connected to the internet through sensors or Wi-Fi. It

The Internet of Things (IoT) and why it matters Watch Now

The Internet of Things, which is commonly called IoT, refers to the billions of devices around the world that are connected to the internet through sensors or Wi-Fi. It's basically a giant network of objects that connect to the internet. Each device collects data, and this data, known collectively as big data, is exchanged and analyzed.

IoT-connected smart devices can be an everyday item such as a phone, car, watch, washing machine, or refrigerator. IoT devices can also be components of machines and systems, such as on an oil rig or airplane engine.

As costs go down, IoT is more accessible than ever. Gartner estimates that about 8.4 billion IoT devices were in use in 2017, up 31% from the previous year, and it will hit 20.4 billion by 2020. Total world spending on IoT hit about $2 trillion in 2017.

IHS, a global data and information services business, reports that by 2030, 125 billion connected devices will be part of our daily lives.

SEE: Internet of Things policy (Tech Pro Research)

What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

IoT is a layer of digital intelligence that makes a device smarter than it would be on its own.

When connectivity is added to a device, the items become known as smart, as in a smartwatch, a smartphone, or a smart refrigerator.

As Lisa Elénius Taylor, head of IoT marketing for Ericsson explained, "at the most basic level, the Internet of Things is a network of devices, vehicles and appliances that have software and connectivity capabilities which enables them to connect with one another and exchange data."

Examples of common IoT devices include a diverse collection of small items such as smart thermostats that learn your preferred home temperature, light bulbs that alert you to outdoor air quality, smart locks that you can open from an app on your phone, and stuffed toys that calm your child at night. It also includes bigger items such as driverless vehicles, jet engines, and sensors on a machine in a manufacturing plant, which can also be called machine-to-machine (M2M). There's also industrial IoT, which is known as IIoT.

SEE: Sensor'd enterprise: IoT, ML, and big data (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Typically, IoT devices are items that, in the past, weren't connected to the internet. Every year at CES, for instance, there's a wealth of new IoT-connected devices that amuse and astound, such as connected diapers to tell you when your baby needs to be changed, and pillows that stop your spouse from snoring.

However, it's not just things that make up IoT--it's devices, as well as insights gathered from the data, and the action taken based on the data.

IoT and big data

The vast amount of data collected by IoT devices is known as big data. This data is used for everything from predictive analytics to determining the best way to market to a customer. Many companies have spent years collecting data and still haven't figured out what to do with it. This data is valuable, and data scientists are among the most in-demand careers in tech.

Cisco calculates that machine-to-machine connections that support IoT applications will account for more than half of the total 27.1 billion devices and connections, and will account for 5% of global IP traffic by 2021.

IoT and the cloud

Since such vast quantities of data are being transmitted through IoT devices, for many companies it is necessary to use the cloud for data processing. Cloud computing giants such as Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, and Google Cloud are among those offering IoT services.

Additional resources

Quick glossary: Internet of Things (Tech Pro Research) Edge computing: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic) MiOS, a software platform for IoT: Cheat sheet (TechRepublic) The power of IoT and big data (Tech Pro Research) Research: BYOD, wearables, and IoT (Tech Pro Research)When did the IoT revolution begin?

The 1980s and 1990s were about more than bad fashion and better music--the concept of adding sensors and intelligence to commonplace items became a topic of discussion. The technology didn't yet exist to make it happen, so progress was slow.

The adoption of RFID tags (low-power chips that can communicate wirelessly) solved some of this issue, along with the increasing availability of broadband internet and cellular and wireless networking, said ZDNet's Steve Ranger. The adoption of IPv6 was also a necessary step for IoT to scale.

Kevin Ashton, a British technology pioneer working on RFID, coined the phrase "Internet of Things" in 1999, although it took at least another decade for the technology to catch up with the vision.

IoT was at first used mostly in the enterprise, such as in manufacturing, but now when most people think of IoT, they also think of smart devices in their home, ranging from thermostats to AI-powered speakers and home security systems.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's cheat sheets and smart person's guides

What are the benefits of IoT for businesses?

Businesses use IoT for detecting and troubleshooting issues remotely, predicting maintenance needs, tracking production line efficiency, monitoring devices, and in other ways.These are all things that directly impact a company's revenue.

IoT is growing fast, and businesses are relying more on IoT for operations. Often, the addition of IoT in the enterprise is known as a digital transformation.

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO's guide (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

International Data Corp. reports that the three industries expected to spend the most on IoT this year are manufacturing ($189 billion), transportation ($85 billion), and utilities ($73 billion).

Taylor said, "IoT has the potential to change industries at its core. The digitalization that IoT is part of is sometime called the 4th industrial revolution. Since IoT can affect anything that can be connected it means that IoT is truly an ecosystem of ecosystems where coopetition is a typical element. Companies work together in different constellations for different business needs and create joint benefits. To act in an ecosystem environment is paramount in IoT. The value of IoT lies in the data that the connected devices collect."

Additional resources

Enterprise IoT calculator: TCO and ROI (Tech Pro Research) Harnessing IoT in the enterprise (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic) How to start an IoT project at your company (TechRepublic) How to monetize your IoT project: 6 steps (TechRepublic) How to use IoT to save money on your office bills (TechRepublic)What are the benefits of IoT for personal use?

IoT can make tasks easier. If you have a connected refrigerator, it's possible to use a mobile app to glance inside your refrigerator to see if you have an ingredient, even when you're at the grocery store. By adding connected light bulbs to your home, you can turn on lights with simple voice commands. The possibilities are endless.

Additional resources

How Louisville became the first smart city on the IFTTT platform (ZDNet) Smart hubs, IFTTT & Raspberry Pi: How to get started with home automation (CNET) A personal story: Did the Apple Watch save my life? (ZDNet) How wearable sensors helped the US Olympic team win 121 medals at Rio (TechRepublic)What are the security risks of IoT?

The biggest downsides of IoT include reduced privacy and security risks. If an item you use is connected to the internet, then the opportunity for undetected surveillance is enormous.

IoT privacy and IoT security have been ongoing concerns for consumers and enterprises. No one wants to have their personal information shared without permission, yet when a customer opts in to an app, or shares their data with their smartwatch manufacturer, personal details are being collected and analyzed.

SEE: Cybersecurity in an IoT and mobile world (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Sensors throughout the home can be used to determine all sorts of details about the home's occupants. Wearing a smartwatch during sex can even lead the manufacturer to know when you and your partner are having intercourse because of mutually elevated heart rates and activity via real-time data.

"The IoT bridges the gap between the digital world and the physical world, which means that hacking into devices can have dangerous real-world consequences. Hacking into the sensors controlling the temperature in a power station could trick the operators into making a catastrophic decision; taking control of a driverless car could also end in disaster," according to Ranger's ZDNet article.

Additional resources

As IoT attacks increase 600% in one year, businesses need to up their security (TechRepublic) IoT security: What you should know, what you can do (free PDF) (TechRepublic) Photos: The 11 least secure connected devices (TechRepublic)How do specific industries and smart cities use IoT?What are the hottest IoT jobs?

IoT is booming. With billions of connected devices already in play, and billions more predicted to be added in coming years, it makes sense to focus careers on areas that encompass the Internet of Things. The addition of IoT devices has led to bigger IT budgets, security concerns, and jobs for skilled pros who can deploy and manage connected networks.

There are three general types of IoT jobs:

Jobs that focus on the technology behind IoT projects. This includes the software, hardware, and network side of things, such as IoT solution architect, IoT software engineer, IoT analyst, cloud engineer, IoT app developer, machine learning designer/developer/engineer, or IoT software developer. Jobs that focus on big data and how to analyze it for insights. This includes data scientist, database architect, business intelligence (BI) analyst, data engineer, or data analyst. Jobs that focus on IoT security to keep the network and devices secure. This includes security engineer, security analyst, security specialist, security architect, security management specialist, and infrastructure engineer.

Additional resources

3 ways general IT pros can become IoT experts before the jobs boom (TechRepublic) How to become an IoT developer: 6 tips (TechRepublic) Hiring kit: IoT developer (Tech Pro Research) Cheat sheet: How to become a cybersecurity pro (TechRepublic)What's next for IoT?

IoT will continue to grow, as the associated costs drop and it becomes even easier to add devices. And whom better to ask about the future of IoT than the man who coined the term Internet of Things?

Ashton, when speaking to TechRepublic's Alison DeNisco Rayome at LiveWorx 2018 said, "I don't think the progression of the Internet of Things is going to be linear. We're going to see more and more Internet of Things, applications, more and more Internet of Things value every year. So, although we're 17 years in, we're not 17% done yet. And I think what we're going to see is increasing integration of network sensors into things like manufacturing processes, robotics, transportation systems."

The smart home is receiving plenty of attention, but Ashton said he's more interested in self-driving cars because they will have a radical impact on how we live.

Ashton said, "I really believe that adjusting to the Internet of Things age is a gradual, continuous process, not some sudden revolution that delivers immediate benefits."

Ericsson's Taylor said that in the future, "we expect to see a connection to 5G. In our discussions with our customers, it's clear that IoT and 5G are now components of the same strategic discussion. A year ago, they were treated separately. Networks and distributed computing will form the basis of advanced high-value use cases as 5G technology emerges and grows. The work starts now to define the use cases where the value is created."

Additional resources

17 ways the Internet of Things is changing the world (TechRepublic) The future of IoT? State-sponsored attacks, say security professionals (ZDNet) Blockchain will be critical for connecting IoT devices says Samsung (TechRepublic) The future of enterprise IoT: 2 factors to watch (ZDNet) The Future of IoT, book review: It's all about the data (ZDNet) Innovation Newsletter

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