More and more organizations are launching Internet of Things (IoT) initiatives in an effort to connect all aspects of their operations to improve business processes, boost productivity and increase revenue. From a historical perspective, the adoption rate is trending five times faster than that of electricity and telephony. By some calculations, 127 new devices are connecting to the Internet every second.
While the basic concepts and potential benefits are fairly well understood, surveys show that a majority of business decision-makers aren’t entirely clear about how the IoT works. That’s understandable because the IoT involves a complex interplay of multiple technologies that can be mixed and matched depending on the use case. Probably the simplest way to describe the IoT is as a technology stack with four main layers — hardware, processing, a user interface and connectivity.
The hardware layer includes the “things” that are being connected. These things can be as common as the smartphones we carry with us or as specialized as embedded sensors that are designed to detect and measure specific characteristics such as light, heat, motion or moisture. Information is logged and converted into real-time digital data that can be processed and analyzed.
Data processing typically occurs at an IoT platform, a hub where data is sent, stored, processed and analyzed. This could be relatively simple analysis, such as tracking power usage, or it could involve the use of back-end artificial intelligence engines for more advanced analysis that provides near real-time business and operational insights.
The interface allows users to interact with the IoT system and to make use of the information being collected and processed. Because IoT solutions often are handling multiple data types from various devices, the user interface must be able to orchestrate all of it and present it to the user in a meaningful way. This often involves converting data into visuals such as charts and graphics to help users quickly interpret information for improved decision-making.
Of course, everything hinges upon a robust and reliable connectivity layer. These are the technologies that move data from the collection points to the IoT platform for processing and then to end-users. There are actually dozens of different connectivity options, all with different bandwidth, range, cost and reliability characteristics. Depending on business, environmental or cost considerations, Wi-Fi, cellular and satellite are among the more common options.
- Wi-Fi is often the first choice because it is well established, well understood and relatively easy to set up and use. However, it may not be the best choice in environments such as hospitals where radiofrequency signals from a variety of medical devices and other equipment may create interference.
- Cellular networks can accommodate high-density sensor deployments, and can move large amounts of data over long distances. However, it is more expensive because cellular operators require fees for the use of licensed frequencies. The power consumption is another drawback due to the limited battery life of most IoT devices.
- Satellite connectivity may be required for remote operations where cell towers are few and far between. Low-cost transmitters send data packets to low earth orbit nano-satellites, eliminating the need for much of the terrestrial IoT communication infrastructure.
While there’s no denying the potential benefits, IoT projects can become complex in a hurry. SageNet has specific expertise in IoT with our own visibility and analytics platform and broad IoT connectivity options. We can help you design and implement a solution that meets your objectives. Give us a call to learn more.