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What is the ‘Internet of Things’?

What is the ‘Internet of Things’?

It may seem new, a buzzword you haven’t heard before, but in fact, the Internet of Things (IoT) has been around for decades. Technology companies have been discussing and exploring the idea for some time. Did you know, the first internet-connected toaster was unveiled in 1989? Yes, the internet toaster is real.

Put simply, IoT is about connecting devices to the internet, allowing them to share information and data with us, other applications and each other. IoT depends on a range of technologies including APIs and Big Data management tools, AI, the cloud and predictive analytics.

A popular example in the UK is home heating and smart meters, which allow you to control your heating remotely. The government is pushing for energy companies to roll out smart meters to homes across the UK, as they increase efficiency, meaning less energy is used. However, IoT is much more than just fitness watches, smart fridges and meters, with industry experts predicting over half of new businesses will run on IoT by 2020.

The benefits of IoT:

  • Creating Opportunities -  subscription service and auto-replenishment are just a few examples of how IoT is disrupting traditional business models and creating opportunities for increased revenue and real-time data.
  • Productivity -  IoT wearable tech and devices are aiding people within the workplace with decision making, routine tasks and communication.
  • Operational Efficiency -  as mentioned above on a bigger scale, companies are using IoT to automate processes, optimise supply chain and monitor resources.
  • Customer Experiences -  with more data available, product usage and performance IoT enables businesses to provide compelling customer experiences both online and offline.

The biggest challenges for IoT?

Although it’s been around for decades, IoT is still very much in its infancy. Connectivity, privacy and security issues need to be addressed. Devices and systems collect a lot of personal data, for instance, a smart meter knows when you’re home and what you use whilst there, this, in turn, is shared with other devices and held in databases by companies.

Many argue not enough is being done to improve the security and privacy of the IoT. Remember the 2016 DDoS cyber attack? The cause? IoT botnets which infiltrated some of the worlds largest websites including Netflix, Twitter and the UK government. Everything and anything that can be connected to the internet can be hacked. Insecure IoT systems led to toy manufacturer VTech losing videos and pictures of children using its connected devices back in 2016.

As more products become connected, there is an increased potential of users being monitored. A recent example, the Apple FaceTime security bug, which allowed people to eavesdrop on iPhone users. With further concerns that in the future, intelligence services could use IoT for surveillance and monitoring. In 2016 Wikileaks claimed that the CIA had been developing security exploits for a connected Samsung TV.

The full potential of IoT is still relatively unknown, but what we do know is that IoT has the potential to significantly impact our daily lives, but it has a long way to go. At present, IoT is relatively safe, but there is no guarantee and as connected devices popularity continue to increase on a small and larger scale - it increases its vulnerability.

As Nicole Kobie wrote for The Guardian, “No matter where it is or what we call it, IoT is real - but what it will look like in the future is something even Google can’t answer.”

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