IoT Technology 101

Two young men and young woman looking at tablet computer in datacenter

By Christian Curtis

If you’re looking for a one-size-fits-all technology solution, the Internet of Things isn’t the place for you. From smart home apps that allow homeowners to shut off lights or smart factories that optimize for production and safety, IoT deals with a complex network of hardware, software, cloud computing, hosting and firmware to connect us to our world like never before.

In order to communicate together, however, they all need a similar language through compatible protocols and interoperable connections.

The hardware basics that help this communication stack come together can be categorized into a few specific pieces that tend to appear in IoT solutions across a variety of verticals and industries.

All the “things” in IoT
This is where the most variety comes into play. The “thing” could be a smartwatch, mobile device, refrigerator or streetlight pollution reader powered regularly by SoC ICs (system-on-a-chip integrated circuits).

A single chip can house multiple capabilities, from networking to storage. Those get deployed through development boards or single board computers that house the sensors that do the real magic in the world of IoT. Sensors are connecting to servers in most IoT solutions because of the scalability of its architecture.

All of this hardware can make a “thing” into a “smart thing,” or it can gain smarts by drawing intelligence from external gateways or devices for application logic or computing ability.

Gateways take many forms with one purpose: connection
For IoT, gateways connect things to the cloud. Gateways can be as varied as things, with each gateway needing different protocols, connection methodologies and energy requirements to bring together the myriad of distributed parts that make up the IoT whole. Security is quite varied so be sure to check each and every part of a connection to ensure its safety. From LAN, local wired or wireless to higher security connections span from WAN, cellular, DSL or fiber are all places to start, but not to end.

Also like devices, these gateways serve critical functions such as data filtering and security and up to application code. An app on a mobile device can serve as a gateway, as can a demo board, or even a connected sensor.

There’s no exception to connecting with the cloud
In some cases, the cloud is one single, central source to help power and continually inform the Internet of Things. It’s the sandbox where everything else can play. In other cases, the “cloud intelligence” can be deployed on site. Hybrid versions are also fairly common.

It can also give the space for data storage or higher level analytics of data collected on a smart thing, device or gateway. Connections can pass through Wi-Fi internet, Bluetooth, RFID, cellular networks, or Low Power wide area networks (LPWAN).

The behind-the-scenes enterprise tech is crucial for scalability
This architectural role is of enterprise tech lays foundations for the rest of an IoT deployment—and it all starts with servers. Servers that can handle the big data demands of IoT, that is.

The same necessity for reliable interoperability, security, privacy and connectivity for consumer deployments have to be blended with scalability and flexibility as business needs change.

You know the what, but what about the why and how
The future will bring in more technology, and possibly more complexity, to IoT deployments. If you are a startup looking to fill a gap in the technology space, a community is a great place to vet ideas or see what others in the landscape are working on. More enterprise players tend to search for ways to speed time to market since they know staying ahead of the IoT competition is crucial to success.

Having a partner that keeps its ears to the ground when it comes to new technology can help make that process even simpler.

Christian Curtis is an IoT Solutions Architect on Avnet’s Global IoT Team.Prior to devoting his focus on IoT, he spent over 15 years in electronics design, manufacturing and R&D, taking a range of products from concept through production. For the past 8 years, Christian has been helping numerous companies bring their projects to fruition. He is highly experienced in embedded systems, sensors and communications.

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