The 5 W's of IoT

The Internet of Things, frequently referred to as 'IoT', has become an ethereal buzzword over the last couple of decades. Despite it's ubiquitous nature, IoT continues to evolve as advancements in wireless technology are changing the perception of what IoT is and how it can be utilized.


To help combat the complexity of IoT, we're outlining the 5 W's of IoT to help people understand IoT in both concept and implementation.


WHAT - What is IoT?


In a nutshell, IoT is a general term that commonly refers to a collection of electronic device that collects data and sends it to the internet without human intervention. For example, this could take the form of wired/wireless sensors or remotely controlled equipment, commonly known as 'smart devices'. However, IoT as a whole might include the entire ecosystem of devices, sensors, network infrastructure, and software that work symbiotically to deliver valuable insight to the user.


According to Michael Porter, renowned business strategist, there are four key capabilities of IoT devices, each of which is progressively more complex than the one before it.


Monitoring: devices collect data about the status of an environment or specific device and communicates that data over the internet to be viewed by the user


Control: Humans can remotely interface with a device or piece of equipment (i.e. on/off controls) using software


Optimization: Predictive analytics are applied to the data being monitored to optimize processes


Automation: Monitoring, control, and optimization are unified, enabling autonomous device operation (i.e. sprinklers automatically turning on when sensors indicate the soil is too dry)


These capabilities can be utilized as needed, depending on what problems the user is trying to solve by deploying an IoT solution.


WHEN - When did IoT come about?


While the term 'Internet of Things' has only been around since 1999, the modern concept of using machines & equipment to collect and interpret data has been around since the early 1980's. The first notion of a 'smart device' was a connected Coca-Cola vending machine deployed at Carnegie Mellon University. This unique machine was capable of remotely reporting inventory levels and environmental conditions ("Are the drinks cold enough?").


However, the concept of IoT had earlier representations as well. Machine-to-machine communication (M2M), defined as two machines using electronic signalling to exchange information, had its beginnings as early as the 1970s. With silicon chip production becoming cheaper and more advanced through the 1980s, alongside the advent of the world wide web in the 1990s, use cases and applications for these connected devices began to grow rapidly.


WHO - Who can use IoT?


Production of IoT networks and devices continued to get faster and cheaper through the 2000s, in turn making them more available to both consumers and business alike. Popular users of IoT today include:

  • Building/property managers

  • City managers

  • Farmers

  • Factory operations managers

  • Homeowners/renters


Of course, these are just a few examples of who can utilize IoT to improve their day-to-day life as these use cases and applications continue to develop at a rapid rate. If you have a persistent problem or inconvenience in your life, chances are there's an IoT solution that can address it.


WHERE - Where is IoT being deployed?


New capabilities in wireless communication have presented a wide array of devices that can be deployed for specific environments and use cases. Wireless technologies like cellular radios(LTE/5G/NB-IoT), WiFi, Bluetooth, and LoRaWAN have burst onto the scene in the last decade, each presenting strengths that make them suitable for particular use cases.


Applications of IoT solutions that use these wireless technologies can cover a broad spectrum of use cases, including:


  • Residential ('smart home', i.e. smart light bulbs, smart thermostats.)

  • Infrastructure (bridge integrity monitoring, energy usage monitoring)

  • Agriculture (soil moisture monitoring, automated tractors, drone monitoring)

  • Manufacturing (hydraulic equipment monitoring and control)

  • Healthcare (temperature/humidity monitoring, facility usage management)


WHY - Why is IoT important?


Perhaps the most important 'W' of IoT is the 'Why?'--we have all of these advanced technologies with robust capabilities, but to what end? As with any type of technology, these devices are tools are most useful when the user understands how to best leverage the technology to add value to their life. Take, for instance, the well-known Excel popular spreadsheet program Excel from Microsoft. A user with cursory knowledge of the program might be able to use it to balance a checkbook, whereas an advanced user might use it to build out complex financial models for their corporate client. Of course, balancing a checkbook is seemingly simple compared to developing intricate investment models. Still, at the end of the day, the same program is being used to add incremental value to both customers' lives.


The same can be said for IoT. An introductory user might installed a couple of smart light bulbs in their living room, enabling them to fine-tune their lighting for comfort or automate on/off to conserve energy. Conversely, a city manager might deploy a city-wide intelligent lighting control system to achieve similar benefits. While the city-wide project is more complex and may require outside IoT solution expertise, both users are positioned for successful IoT implementations because they understand WHY they're using IoT--its provides value to your life and solves problems.


We know IoT can be a lot to take in. As self-proclaimed IoT nerds, we live and breathe in a world of connected devices and dashboards. If you're curious to learn more or have any questions about IoT, send us a note to the email below and we'd be happy to help however we can.