IoT Explained Part I: What is Internet of Things?

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Today, there are billions of electronic devices connected to the internet. These devices collect and share data. This makes up the Internet of Things – a connected network that allows individual technologies to do more together than they could apart. After all, a sensor can collect data, but that data isn’t much good without software to analyze it and an app to translate it into an easy-to-comprehend format.

New Technology with a Long History

It’s difficult to say when the idea for connected devices began. Postscapes quotes Nikola Tesla from 1926, speculating of a “world converted into a huge brain.” Forbes dates the Internet of Things as far back as the 1940s with the invention of the barcode and Dick Tracey’s two-way wrist radio. Whenever the idea began, it took time for technology to become small and inexpensive enough to implement effectively (take a look at how the 1980s Nintendo Power Glove failed versus today’s evolving technology).

In 1990, John Romkey connected the first toaster to the internet, and that decade is when experimentation with wireless transmitters and devices truly started to take off. The term “Internet of Things” was coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton while explaining the potential of radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology – tiny circuit chips that can be fixed onto an item, store information about the item and track its location.

The first iPhone was released in 2007. And between 2008 and 2009, the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group believes the Internet of Things was officially born – when more objects became connected to the internet than people.

M2M Technology & The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

Yet before the surge of consumer goods, the Internet of Things took root in the industrial sector. There are many who consider machine-to-machine (M2M) technology the foundation of IoT.

Exactly when M2M technology started is difficult to pin down. Some sources point to data transition systems used by the Russian army as early as 1845, while others reference the earliest form of telemetry in 1912 or the invention of RADAR in the 1930s. However, Theodore Paraskevakos is considered the father of M2M with his early work on what would become Caller ID in 1968.

While IoT involves a network of devices connected to the internet, M2M involves two or more electronic devices connected to each other. Data transferred between devices over the internet is when M2M becomes industrial IoT – or connected systems working together to streamline industrial operations.

Industry 4.0 & Beyond

Cisco predicts there will be over 50 billion connected devices by 2050. In the meantime, the industrial sector is undergoing the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, where operations run on smart systems fueled by M2M and IoT technologies, with fully autonomous features currently implemented or on the way.


But how does the Internet of Things work? What are its applications? What does the future hold? These questions and more will be answered in the following series.