Understanding Internet of Things

By Mervin San Andres

You woke up way past your set time in your alarm clock. Luckily for you, your alarm clock has already sent a command to your toaster and coffee maker to prepare your toast and coffee. On your way to work, you are caught up in the traffic. No worries, your car has already sent a message to your colleagues telling them you are going to be a bit late. Welcome to the future.

You might have heard of the phrase before. It’s a world where all your belongings, from your car to your toaster, connected to each other—an Internet of Things. But what exactly is this Internet of Things that is starting to generate buzz in the tech world at the moment?

Devices that can be switched on or and off make up the ‘things’ in the Internet of Things or IoT. Much like computers connected to each other in the Internet, these things can talk to each other over the same Internet. As long as it can be hooked up on the Internet, it can be part of the IoT. Smartphones are the easiest example. But so are jet engines of an airplane and your bread toaster.

IoT is a product of convergence of multiple technologies such as embedded systems, wireless technologies, and the Internet. Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication allows devices of IoT to communicate with each other. Connected devices would typically have sensors to read data from environment. For example, a pacemaker’s sensor recognizes the patient’s physical activities. The device will have a communication hardware to receive signals from other devices. The device will also have a computing hardware used to process the data read by the sensors or received from the communication hardware. Communication between hardwares is facilitated in a number of media such as wired communication or wireless communication such as WiFi, Bluetooth, and NFC. Over a large network, large data centers (the cloud), are utilized to process huge amount of data.

While a large part of the Internet is still running on the IPv4, whose IP addresses are currently being exhausted, the adoption of IPv6 is currently gaining track. With IPv6’s theoretical support for 340 undecillion addresses, a vast amount of devices is guaranteed access to IoT. It is no wonder that the analyst firm Gartner predicts that by 2020, there will be over 26 billion connected devices.

IoT is expected to pave way to a variety of smart technologies. In fact, technologies already exist exploiting the benefits of IoT. Smart homes allow a homeowner to control his home appliances such as lighting and thermostat with just a few taps on his smartphone. The most notable of these smart houses belongs to none other than Bill Gates himself. Cars from Tesla allows information such as location, speed, car temperature, and battery condition to be viewed from a mobile application.

Like any groundbreaking technology, the development of IoT has its share of challenges. Foremost of these are security issues which range from minor annoyances to fatal concerns. In a world where hacking is still prevalent, one would have second thoughts of having his devices exposed in an environment where it can be compromised. Passengers of smart cars are in lethal danger once the automobile system is completely hacked. Same goes with pacemaker users in face of malevolent hackers. Thus, a great deal of work is given in ensuring that IoT-capable devices’ security features are being tested thoroughly. Industry standards are being adopted to deal with security issues.

IoT is definitely going to be one of the major disruptors not just in the world of IT but to society in general. Thanks to it, we are going to find a reduction in waste, energy consumption, and labor cost and manpower) and an increase in automation, efficiency, convenience, and opportunity for malicious activities. We do not have to wait for long as the Internet of Things is already here.

Mervin San Andres

Software Engineer

Mervin is a graduate of the University of the Philippines - Diliman where he took up BS Computer Science. He is currently working as a software engineer for a telecommunications equipment company, where he develops and maintains windows and web applications. In his free time, he would watch movies and anime.