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Internet of Things: how does it work?

How does the technology underpinning the internet of things work? What is the role of data analytics?
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As we discussed in a previous article, the internet of things, or IoT, is a technology that connects physical objects to internet platforms to remotely and automatically control, measure, manage and act on any element. How do these systems work?

Physical devices and their communication networks

An internet of things system includes several elements, starting with physical devices that interact with the real world. These devices include sensors (which collect data such as temperature, humidity, electrical measurements, videos, etc.) and actuators (which allow actions to be taken such as opening valves or turning on motors, among others).

These elements communicate via device communication networks, which can be wired or wireless. These networks were designed for internet of things applications. Wired networks were originally created for industrial environments, while wireless networks, with more recent technologies, were designed for long ranges with low power consumption. They are generally referred to as LPWANs(low-power wide-area networks ).

Connecting to the internet via gateways

In a number of cases, these device communication networks (both wired and wireless) are not designed to access the internet directly, and so they require gateways or "gateways", which translate protocols specific to IoT networks into internet protocols.

Edge: the key to immediate responses

Some IoT applications require data to be processed and responded to quickly. For example, an industrial robot must react to changes in the environment, detected by IoT sensors, immediately. This leads to the need to include, for these cases, a local processing layer, known as a edgewhich is located close to the physical devices. The edge, with appropriate computing power, can analyse the data and react instantly.

Gateways and the edge are connected to the internet via typical communications networks, using fibre optics or cellular networks.

Software platforms for IoT applications

Through the internet connection, software platforms designed for IoT applications are accessed. These platforms store and process the data they receive from their sensors. They can serve different customers or companies, considering the segmentation and privacy of each of them.

Platforms present information to specific applications. These applications are responsible for defining the logic of the particular business and the interaction with end users. For example, they can present a dashboard indicating the status of different elements, generate alarms or take automatic actions.

Data analytics: the basis for decision making

Finally, with aggregated information from hundreds or thousands of devices, from the same or different organisations, it is possible to perform data analytics, to assess trends, correlations between events and other relevant analyses.

Between each layer, consisting of the elements described and schematised in the figure below, there are standardised protocols. This allows interoperability between brands, suppliers and solution integrators.

IoT for business

By combining the different elements, an IoT solution can be designed by integrating the necessary physical devices, connected by an appropriate IoT communications network, using a specific platform, on which a particular business application can be developed.


José Joskowicz, Principal Engineer.

José holds a degree in Telecommunications Engineering from the University of the Republic (Udelar) and a PhD in Telematics Engineering from the University of Vigo, Spain. He is an internationally certified Project Management Professional (PMP) awarded by the Project Management Institute (PMI). He is Associate Professor (grade 4) at the Faculty of Engineering of Udelar, lecturer at the University of Montevideo and member of the National System of Researchers.



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