What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is composed of billions of interrelated devices, machines and objects that are connected and sharing data over a network, these are often devices that one would not immediately think of as “Internet connected”. The term IoT has in fact become somewhat of a catch-all, for any internet connected device, that isn’t a computer, tablet or phone, rather is often an everyday object – a great example being the “Smart Umbrella” – an umbrella that gives its user weather updates, and location information – so you never loose your umbrella, and always know if you need to take it with you when you leave the house.

More commonly now however, we see the Internet of Things as sensors, reporting environmental conditions, the status of a door, the level of a fluid in some remote location – typical IoT applications send a very small amount of information, over a very long distance, frequently using connectivity methods that fall within the group of “LPWAN” technologies – Low Power Wide Area Networking.

Advantages of Internet of Things

IoT has many benefits for both industry and consumers. Its applications are now integral to our daily lives in items such as smart phones, car parking sensors and wearable pedometers. Internet of Things devices are often extremely low power and can have a service battery life measured in years, rather than months. They are frequently a “deploy and forget” solution, using intelligent on-board systems to wake the device from a low power state only when it needs to send data, or react to a change in condition, and thus demonstrate incredible battery life.

The combination of low-power devices with long range communication capability, means that relatively complex networks of sensor nodes can be deployed, without the complexity of cables, wiring and power considerations. They can bring in data from remote places and help to build rich datasets very quickly for data driven businesses, aiding strategic decision making and planning.

Internet of Things for smart cities

Internet of things applications have huge range and scope, and frequently extend into city deployments and large countryside areas, where systems of interconnected sensors can track and monitor a wide range of variables.

Some examples of internet of things applications are:

  • Transport: Realtime monitoring of traffic for smart traffic control, changing traffic light timings to reduce congestion. Or smart parking infrastructures to guide drivers to available parking spaces.
  • Agriculture: Monitoring of soil conditions for efficient watering and fertilisation of crops. Or mapping areas of pest insect populations for increased pest control, only spraying pesticides in needed areas.
  • Industry: Asset tracking of equipment and vehicles via GPS for loss prevention and monitoring of manufacturing processes for increased efficiency. Or screening for hazardous gases in mining operations to ensure worker safety.

Internet of Things providers

There are a range of Internet of Things technologies and methods for moving data around effectively. The technology (or technologies) used is generally defined by the amount of data you need to move, over what kind of range it needs to travel, and the criticality of the data itself.

All these Internet of Things technologies are a delivery method only – a way to move data around and serve as a means for remote devices to communicate with a server infrastructure. This typically will forward that data directly to another application for onward processing, which can be cloud hosted, or on a user’s own infrastructure. The below not an exhaustive list, rather, provides a brief outline to some of the solutions available:

Sigfox: A commercial network with footprint in over fifty countries, covering almost five million square miles.

The Things Network: A public network built by a worldwide community, utilising LoRaWAN technology. Being a community-built network, there is no charge for their standard services, but equally there is no service-level agreement. It’s a great platform for testing out Internet of Things concepts before committing to a commercial provider.

NB-IoT: This is an industrial grade Internet of Things network, built in the licensed radio spectrum by mobile operators, and therefore is able to offer a service level guarantee to its users. It uses existing cellular technology and networks and as such has the capability to provide the greatest coverage of any potential LPWAN technology, along with the security and reliability you would expect from a full commercial service.

Wi-Fi: Often an Internet of Things device is situated in a location with traditional wireless coverage. In this instance, the use of a fully fledged LPWAN technology would be somewhat of an overkill, as often the easiest way to deploy an IoT device, is to connect it to local Wi-Fi!

Internet of Things Liverpool

Our Liverpool city centre-based innovation hub is a hive of activity for sensor and internet of things applications. We undertake work within our labs for a range of prototyping projects including the fabrication of Internet of Things devices and housings. Liverpool itself is well serviced for IoT coverage, with a good presence for The Things Network, Sigfox and NB-IoT. Sensor City itself is shortly to contribute to that digital footprint with its own The Things Network gateway deployment.

Internet of Things Security

The use of the Internet of Things in corporations is ubiquitous and although the benefits are already being felt, cyber security is a known and significantly documented risk to consumers and user organisations. After completing Sensor City’s Digital Catapult IoTUK Boost programme, SME GeDaP undertook the development of their internet of things based solution, KeyTalk IoT Secured Sensors (KISS), with Sensor City, to place the responsibility for strong security of consumer IoT products on the manufacturer, service provider, retailer and app developer.

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