What is IoT An Extensive Overview of Internet of Things (IoT) Applications, Architecture, and History

Written by Nicolas Lesconnec

By Nicolas Lesconnec, IoT Expert @ Soracom

Last Updated: August 3rd, 2023

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a rapidly growing technology that connects physical devices to the internet, allowing them to communicate and exchange data. 

Understanding IoT is becoming increasingly important for many industries, with more and more devices being connected to the internet. “Things” that might be connected include everything from smart home lighting and security systems, to agricultural sensors that monitor crops and livestock, to smart sensors within your vehicle that report and react to roadway conditions. x

A Growing Industry: IoT technology is having a profound impact on the modern world. By 2025, some estimates put the number of connected devices at over 30 billion. (1)

This comprehensive guide explores the basics of IoT and its applications, including what the internet of things is, how it works, and why it’s transforming our world. Whether you’re a tech-savvy individual or a business owner looking to embrace IoT, read on. 

What Are Some Examples of IoT in Action? 

The potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) is limitless, with applications that can revolutionise industries, improve daily life, and enhance our connection to the world. 

From smart home systems that allow you to control everything from your phone, to wearable devices that track your health, to connected cars that make driving safer, IoT is making a profound impact on the way we live and work. 

But it’s not just limited to consumer applications. IoT is also transforming industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, and healthcare, streamlining processes, increasing efficiency, and providing real-time data to make informed decisions. 

The possibilities are endless, and with each new breakthrough, IoT continues to push the boundaries of what’s possible. So, imagine what you could achieve with the power of IoT at your fingertips. 

The future is now, and it’s more connected than ever before.

IoT Example #1: Connected Living 

IoT devices such as smart thermostats, smart lighting, and smart security systems have transformed our homes and businesses, allowing for a level of control and customisation that was not possible before. 

IoT Example #2: Responsive Roadways 

IoT technology is now being used to improve the efficiency of city services such as traffic management, public transportation, and waste management. Lighting that is reactive to pedestrian and driver needs, monitored waste management fill levels, and real time roadway condition reporting are just a few ways that this technology is transforming urban living. 

IoT Example #3: Shipping Intelligence 

IoT networks have revolutionised global supply chain logistics by providing real time data on the status and efficiency of shipping containers, delivery vehicles, and more. Having efficient and effective tracking, monitoring, and management of cargo and transportation assets can lead to significant cost savings and improved customer service for logistics companies and their clients.

What Technologies Make the Internet of Things (IoT) Possible? 

Over the past decade, rapid advancements in low-cost computing and the continued proliferation of the Internet have contributed to how ubiquitous IoT applications have become. 

  • Internet Proliferation: Rapid deployment of broadband infrastructure worldwide has provided the backbone for IoT systems to rely upon. 
  • Low-cost computing and low-power devices: The cost of computing and logistics has dropped significantly over the last decade, as has the cost of sensor and other monitoring technology. Low-power devices have made scalability a reality as well. 
  • Machine learning and artificial intelligence: Machine learning technologies have enabled superpowered analytics and data processing capabilities at scale. Neural networks and natural-language processing have led to a rise in consumer adoption, making it easy and convenient to engage with IoT environments. 

Overview of General IoT Architecture

The image below should help to visualise the high-level setup of a typical IoT application.  

An example IoT Architecture diagram – What is IoT – An Extensive Overview of Internet of Things (IoT) Applications

IoT SIMs

An IoT SIM card or eSIM, also known as a Machine-to-Machine (M2M) SIM card, is a specialised SIM card designed for IoT devices. It provides cellular connectivity, allowing IoT devices to connect to the internet and transmit data over cellular networks.

Data collection devices 

Any device that collects or sends data meant for processing falls into the category. Think security cameras, temperature sensors, an Apple Watch, etc. 

Hub devices 

These central processing devices commonly act as intermediaries between field collection devices and the end-user experience. These are common in home automation setups and commercial applications where a large number of devices are in use. 

Data processing & analysis 

The final element in the signal flow involves devices and services that organise and process the data collected and surface it in a useful way. This is the piece of the puzzle that brings everything else together and makes the magic happen. 

IoT Standards 

To connect the vast array of IoT devices, there are various types of connectivity options available each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The type of IoT connectivity you choose will depend on your specific use case, requirements, and desired outcome. Whether you need wide coverage, low power consumption, high speed data transfer, or a combination of these factors, this list will help you understand the most commonly used IoT connectivity options.

NB-IoT

NB-IoT (Narrowband IoT) is a low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) technology designed specifically for the Internet of Things (IoT). It is a cellular communication technology that operates in the licensed spectrum and provides a wide coverage area, low-power consumption, and low-cost devices.

What is NB-IoT? NB-IoT uses a narrowband communication channel that is optimised for small data transmissions and low-power devices. It supports a large number of connected devices and provides reliable communication even in challenging environments, such as deep indoor coverage and rural areas.

NB-IoT provides several key benefits for IoT applications, including low power consumption, low cost, and high-security. The low power consumption of NB-IoT devices allows them to run for several years on a single battery charge, making it ideal for use in IoT devices that are deployed in remote or hard-to-reach locations. The low cost of NB-IoT devices and infrastructure makes it accessible to a wide range of IoT applications, including smart metering, asset tracking, and industrial automation.

NB-IoT is standardised by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and is supported by major cellular network operators worldwide. It is a key technology for realising the full potential of the IoT, providing reliable and low-cost connectivity for a wide range of devices and applications.

Cat-M1

Cat-M1 (Category M1) is another cellular communication technology that is built for IoT applications. It is a low-power, wide-area network (LPWAN) technology that operates in the licensed spectrum and provides reliable, secure, and low-cost connectivity for IoT devices. 

Specifically, Cat-M1 provides several key benefits for IoT applications, including low power consumption, low cost, and high-security. The low power consumption of Cat-M1 devices allows them to run for several years on a single battery charge, making it ideal for use in IoT devices that are deployed in remote or hard-to-reach locations. 

The low cost of Cat-M1 devices and infrastructure makes it accessible to a wide range of IoT applications, including smart metering, asset tracking, and industrial automation. It supports low-cost devices and provides long battery life, making it ideal for use in IoT devices that are deployed in remote or hard-to-reach locations.

Cat-M1 is standardised by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and is supported by many major cellular network operators worldwide. It is a key technology for realising the full potential of the IoT, providing reliable and low-cost connectivity for a wide range of devices and applications.

LTE (4G)

LTE (Long-Term Evolution) is a fourth-generation (4G) wireless broadband technology that provides high-speed data and voice communication. It is commonly referred to as 4G LTE. LTE is widely deployed globally and is the primary technology for providing mobile broadband services.

Of course, it also plays a key role in many IoT technologies, allowing users to control many types of devices over the cellular network at far better speeds than GSM-based networks. 

GSM (2G / 3G)

GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) is a second-generation (2G) and third-generation (3G) wireless communication technology that provides voice and data services. It is one of the most widely used mobile communication technologies in the world and is the basis for many of the world’s mobile communication networks.

GSM provides several key benefits, including widespread global coverage, low cost, and ease of use. It is an established and widely adopted technology that provides reliable and cost-effective communication services for a large number of people and businesses worldwide.

LoRaWan

LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) is a low-power, wide-area network (LPWAN) communication technology that is designed for the Internet of Things (IoT). It is based on the LoRa (Long Range) radio technology and provides long-range, bi-directional communication for IoT devices.

LoRaWAN provides secure and reliable communication for IoT devices and is suitable for a wide range of applications, including asset tracking, smart metering, and environmental monitoring. It provides a low-cost, low-power, and scalable communication solution for IoT devices and is supported by a growing number of network operators and device manufacturers worldwide.

LoRaWAN is standardised by the LoRa Alliance, an industry-led organisation. The LoRaWAN specification provides a common communication protocol for IoT devices, enabling interoperability between devices from different manufacturers and making it easier to deploy and manage IoT networks.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth is a wireless communication protocol that is designed for short-range, low-power applications. It is widely used in consumer electronics, such as smartphones and wireless headphones, and is also used in some IoT applications, such as smart home devices and healthcare monitoring.

WiFi

WiFi is a wireless communication protocol that is designed for high-speed, high-bandwidth applications. It is widely used in home networks and in many IoT applications, such as smart home devices, industrial control systems, and healthcare monitoring.

IoT Protocols

Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication plays a crucial role in the Internet of Things (IoT), enabling devices to communicate and share data with one another without the need for human interaction. M2M communication over cellular networks allows data to be transmitted from the device to the cloud, where it can be analysed, processed and stored. 

Picking the Perfect Protocol: There are various data protocols that M2M devices can use to transmit data over the cloud via cellular, each with their own unique advantages and limitations. Understanding these protocols and choosing the right one for your M2M communication needs is essential for a successful IoT deployment.

TCP (Transmission Control Protocol)

TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) is a part of the Internet Protocol (IP) suite and provides a reliable, ordered, and error-checked delivery of data between applications running on networked devices.

TCP operates at the transport layer of the OSI model and is responsible for breaking down data into smaller packets, transmitting these packets to the recipient, and reassembling the data in the correct order at the other end.

TCP provides several important features that make it a popular choice for transmitting data over the internet, including error detection and correction, flow control, and congestion avoidance. Error detection allows TCP to detect and discard corrupted packets, while error correction enables it to request the retransmission of lost or corrupted packets. Flow control prevents the sender from overwhelming the receiver with too much data, and congestion avoidance helps to manage network congestion by reducing the sender’s rate of transmission.

TCP is used by many applications that require reliable data transmission, including email and file transfers. The combination of IP and TCP is commonly referred to as TCP/IP and is the foundation for communication on the internet.

UDP (User Datagram Protocol)

UDP (User Datagram Protocol) is another communication protocol that is part of the Internet Protocol (IP) suite and is used to transmit datagrams (or packets) of information.

Unlike the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), however, UDP does not provide any reliability guarantees for the transmitted data, such as error checking or retransmission of lost packets. Instead, it prioritises speed and low overhead, making it suitable for applications that require real-time communication or where lost data can be tolerated.

Some examples of applications that use UDP are video and audio streaming, online gaming, and Domain Name System (DNS) lookups.

UDP operates at the transport layer of the OSI model and provides a simple way to send and receive data without the overhead of a reliable transmission protocol like TCP.

HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol)

HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) is the protocol used to transmit data over the internet. It is needed to define the way that data is transferred between a client (such as a web browser) and a server (such as a web server).

HTTP is a request-response protocol, meaning that a client sends a request message to the server, and the server returns a response message. The request message contains information about what the client wants to do (such as retrieve a web page), and the response message contains the requested information.

HTTP uses a simple text-based format that is easy for computers to process, making it an essential part of the internet as we know it today. It is a stateless protocol, meaning that it does not maintain any information about previous requests between interactions.

NFC (Near Field Communication) 

NFC (Near Field Communication) is a short-range wireless communication technology that allows devices to communicate and exchange data with each other by bringing them close together. In the context of IoT (Internet of Things), NFC is used for device pairing, data transfer, and identification purposes.

NFC is a secure and convenient technology that is widely used in various applications, including smart homes, wearable devices, and mobile payments.

Zigbee

Zigbee is a wireless communication protocol that is designed for low-power, low-data-rate devices. It uses a mesh network topology and supports a wide range of applications, such as smart homes, building automation, and industrial control systems.

Z-Wave

Z-Wave is another wireless communication protocol that is designed for low-power, low-data-rate devices. It also uses a mesh network topology and is primarily used for home automation and control applications.

MQTT (Message Queue Telemetry Transport)

MQTT is a messaging protocol that is designed for machine-to-machine (M2M) and IoT applications. It is a lightweight protocol that is designed for low-power devices and can be used to transmit data over a variety of networks, including TCP/IP and Zigbee.

CoAP

Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP) is a protocol for devices that have limited resources, it is designed to work with low-power and low-bandwidth networks. It allows devices to communicate over the internet and is used in various IoT

What is an IoT Framework? 

An IoT framework is a set of tools, libraries, and other resources that are designed to help developers create and manage Internet of Things (IoT) applications. These frameworks provide a structure and set of best practices for building and deploying IoT systems, and can include things like device management tools, data storage and analysis tools, and security and authentication tools. Some examples of IoT frameworks include:

AWS IoT

This is a framework provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS) that allows developers to easily connect and manage IoT devices. It includes services for device management, data collection, and real-time data processing.

Azure IoT

This is a framework provided by Microsoft Azure that allows developers to connect, monitor, and control IoT devices. It includes services for device management, data storage, and machine learning.

Google Cloud IoT

This is a framework provided by Google Cloud that allows developers to connect, manage, and analyse IoT devices. It includes services for device management, data storage, and real-time data processing. 

Two main components are included: Brillo, an Android-based platform, and Weave, a dedicated communication protocol that serves as an intermediary between Google’s cloud and individual devices. 

Google Cloud IoT is due to shut down later in 2023. The company had this to say: “Since launching IoT Core, it has become clear that our customers’ needs could be better served by our network of partners that specialise in IoT applications and services. We have worked extensively to provide customers with migration options and solution alternatives, and are providing a year-long runway before IoT Core is discontinued.”

Node-RED

An open-source visual programming tool to easily connect devices, APIs and online services.

Open IoT Stack

An open-source framework for developing IoT applications, it provides a set of libraries and tools for connecting IoT devices, collecting and processing data, and building web and mobile applications.

These and other frameworks typically provide a set of services and tools to easily connect, manage, and analyse IoT devices, and also can provide security and scalability features to the IoT solution. They can make it easier for developers to create, test, and deploy IoT applications, by abstracting away some of the lower-level details of IoT development and providing a higher-level API to interact with the devices.

IoT Challenges & Concerns 

Although IoT is transformative for many use-cases, there are always risks and challenges to be aware of. 

Security & privacy 

Two of the primary concerns with IoT technology are privacy & IoT security. IoT devices often collect sensitive data and control physical devices, so they need to be protected from unauthorised access and attacks. This includes issues such as device authentication, encryption, and secure communication protocols. Issues such as data ownership, data sharing, and data retention also need to be addressed. 

Interoperability and standardisation

As covered above, there are a wide variety of different communication protocols and standards in use today for IoT setups, which can make it difficult for them to communicate with each other. This includes issues such as device compatibility and data integration.

Data management and storage

As the number of IoT devices increases, it can become difficult to manage and maintain them. Data storage, processing, and network capacity all need to be taken into account. This is especially true when an IoT application relies upon real-time data analysis at scale. 

The History of IoT: Past, Present, and Future 

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been around conceptually for several decades, but the technology has evolved significantly over time. 

Here is a brief overview of the evolution of IoT technology:

Early Developments

The term “Internet of Things” was first coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999, but the concept of connecting everyday objects to the internet dates back to the early days of the internet itself. In the 1980s, researchers began experimenting with connecting everyday objects such as appliances, vehicles, and even clothing to the internet.

Standardisation Efforts

In the early 2000s, various organisations and companies began working to standardise the communication protocols and technologies used in IoT devices. This included the development of wireless communication protocols such as Zigbee and Z-Wave, as well as the creation of IoT platforms and frameworks such as AWS IoT and Azure IoT.

Emergence of IoT Applications

As the technology matured and became more widely available, a growing number of IoT applications began to emerge. These included smart homes, industrial control systems, healthcare monitoring, and transportation management.

IoT becomes mainstream

During the first five years of the 2010’s, IoT technology entered the mainstream, with more and more devices being connected to the internet, and more companies starting to create new products and services to take advantage of the many opportunities provided by the Internet of Things.

IoT and 5G

The arrival of 5G networks has brought new opportunities for IoT. The fast and reliable communication capabilities of 5G networks has allowed for the deployment of more complex and data-intensive IoT applications such as autonomous vehicles, industrial automation, and smart city infrastructure. 

The future of IoT: Disruptive Innovations and Increased Adoption 

The future of the Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to be shaped by a number of trends and developments over the next several years. 

Chief among these advancements will be a steady increase of IoT adoption. The global IoT market is expected to reach over $1.6 trillion by 2025, and will likely continue to grow significantly year over year.(2)

Beyond this, continued advancements in artificial intelligence systems and edge computing will make increasingly complex IoT solutions more feasible for companies and organisations of all sizes. According to a recent industry study, IoT is expected to increase the global economy by $3.7 trillion to $11.1 trillion by 2025.(3)

Additionally, like many other technology-centric industries, it is likely that there will be a significant period of expanded interoperability and standardisation of technical setups. 


Citations & References 

  1. Vailshery, Lionel Sujay. “Global IOT and Non-IoT Connections 2010-2025.” Statista, 6 Sept. 2022, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1101442/iot-number-of-connected-devices-worldwide/
  2. Vailshery, Lionel Sujay. “IOT Market Size Worldwide 2017-2025.” Statista, 22 Jan. 2021, https://www.statista.com/statistics/976313/global-iot-market-size/
  3. Manyika, James, and Michael Chui. “By 2025, Internet of Things Applications Could Have $11 Trillion Impact.” McKinsey & Company, McKinsey & Company, 16 Sept. 2020, https://www.mckinsey.com/mgi/overview/in-the-news/by-2025-internet-of-things-applications-could-have-11-trillion-impact