What Is the Internet of Things?

5 min read · 6 months ago


You’ve probably seen the words Internet of Things. Or you’ve heard about some IoT device. Maybe you’ve thought, that’s great, but what is the Internet of Things? This article will answer that question with the fundamentals the small business owner needs to understand about this new technological trend and its impact.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is everywhere, quite literally. There are billions of devices connected to the internet around the world. How many? Analysts put that number at 46 billion in 2021. That’s up from the 31 billion installed globally at the end of 2020. And, just in case you’re not getting an idea of how fast the IoT is growing, another source puts the number of new IoT devices installed by the end of this year at 31 billion. Yes, that’s the same number of installed IoT devices in existence in all of 2020!

So, now you know there are a lot of things that are in the Internet of Things. But, still, what is the IoT? It is not everything connected to the Internet. For instance, if you’re reading this on a connected computer, you’re not using the IoT. However, perhaps before opening your 5G enabled laptop, you asked your Google assistant to play some music. Or you checked your stand goal on a smartwatch. Those devices are part of the IoT.

IoT devices include everything from new gadgets hitting the market to make consumers’ lives easier to remote patient monitoring devices in healthcare and the data collection devices utilities are using to monitor the electrical lines powering those gadgets. IoT technology has uses in civil and industrial infrastructure, factories, schools, malls, and so much more. 

We’ll clarify your understanding of the Internet of Things even further with specific examples in some of the main categories:

  • Consumer products
  • Smart cities 
  • Industrial IoT
  • Autonomous devices


Consumer Products

You: “Alexa, who sang ‘I get knocked down, but I get back up again?’”

Alexa: “That’s Tubthumping by Chumbawamba.”

Just think how many more seconds you might have spent finding the answer to that pressing question without the Internet of Things. Home assistant devices are a perfect example of IoT for consumers. Other common IoT technologies you might be familiar with include:

  • Lightbulbs you control with an app on your phone
  • Security camera doorbells 
  • Refrigerators that track your consumption of food and add needed items to your grocery list
  • Water heaters you cue to start prepping hot water for your return home from the gym

These devices are connected to the internet to provide convenience and give consumers greater control of their environment. Often the devices offer the individual access to data they can use to monitor their usage, track their habits, or change consumption patterns. 

In a truly smart home, many Internet of Things products are interconnected, from smart door locks and lights to Bluetooth trackers of that TV remote or bike. The idea is that these devices will get to know our preferences, respond to our behaviors, and save us from having to spend time on the micromanaging of daily, routine tasks.


Smart Cities

 In the smart city environment, these objectives are translated to a larger scale. Now we’re talking about a municipality with IoT innovations such as:

  • Waste disposal bins that can sense when they are full
  • Lights that turn on or off based on environmental conditions
  • Smart parking meters that connect to an app to save the driver from needing to have quarters on hand
  • Traffic congestion or air pollution sensors
  • Monitors that track structural health of buildings, bridges
  • Bluetooth tags to know where city property is in use

The IoT technological revolution offers smart cities many benefits in terms of meeting budget and sustainability goals. At the same time, community members can benefit from increased convenience and greater access to information.

Singapore is widely recognized as a frontrunner for embracing IoT innovation. But, should you visit Dubai, Oslo, Boston, or New York City, you could find some smart city applications


Industrial IoT

This is your answer to what is the IIoT? Yes, you’ll see that abbreviation too. The Industrial Internet of Things combines sensors and other connected devices to measure and optimize industrial processes. Applications include sensors to:

  • Collect data about the speed, weight, and condition of a high-speed train
  • Track tools to reduce time workers spend looking for the right one
  • Predict when a component will fail, enabling preventative maintenance
  • Provide a digital twin via of an asset or network to detect faults, identify trends, support proactive maintenance
  • Connect equipment used in coal mining to send 7,000 data points per second to a central command center
  • Control temperature of shipping containers to optimize fuel consumption 

The range of use cases is endless. Ultimately, though, the IIoT aims to increase productivity, improve efficiency, create new revenue streams, and help industries better understand their assets.


Autonomous Devices

This one is cool enough to get its own section. Yes, we’re talking about driverless cars. Or maybe you’ve had Amazon make a delivery by drone. Or you’ve seen a delivery robot in a healthcare institution making its rounds with medications and other supplies.

According to the Washington Post, the first self-driving vehicle wasn’t Google’s but rather a tractor from John Deere. The company has rolled out auto-steering and self-guidance technology in more than 100 countries to transform farming here and abroad. Things get pretty boring in one uploaded video of a farmer in the cab of an autonomous tractor. He’s even seen reading the paper and balancing bottled water on his nose. 

Even consumers will benefit from IoT in their cars. Although self-driving cars aren’t readily available, connected cars are already on the road. As part of IoT innovation and the move to 5G technology, cars now have sensors, computing power, and communication systems monitoring vehicle location, driver behavior, engine diagnostics, vehicle activity, and the surrounding environment.


Internet of Things and Small Business

It may sound like pie in the sky, but all the applications mentioned here are already in use. With computer processing growing more powerful, on ever-smaller chips, and with 5G connectivity providing real-time data transfer, real-time awareness via IoT devices is no longer the stuff of sci-fi comic books. 

You, as an individual and a citizen of a potentially smart city, will benefit. Small business owners will also see their industry reshaped by the technology gains offered with IoT technology. 

Now that you know what the Internet of Things is, our next article will consider what’s in the IoT for small businesses.