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What is the Internet of Things?

What is an IoT platform?

What are the economic, sectoral and geographical impacts of IoT technology?

Are there vulnerabilities in the technology?

What are the key operational issues?

What are the key legal considerations?

What are the issues to consider in acquiring IoT technology?

What should manufacturers and suppliers of IoT technology be doing now?

What will the future of IoT technology look like?

What will the impact be on specific industries?

IoT technology is a collection of connected things (such as sensors) able to communicate with one another (or with a central system) without human involvement (whether human-to-human or human-to-computer). The use of the word “Internet” in the term “Internet of Things” connotes connectivity of some kind, although such connectivity need not be via the traditional Internet (for example, it could be via telephony – in particular, the advent of 5G will do much to foster the growth of mobile IoT technology). Connectivity and things are, however, only part of the IoT landscape. IoT technology is therefore best described not in terms of connected things per se, but as an ecosystem made up of various layers.

Click on a layer in the diagram below to show the component parts and functions.[1]  When the devices and other elements described below operate with each other, they together form the Internet of Things.

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Collaboration and processes layer

Functions

Incorporation of people and business processes: action taken

Components

Adding value: the information from the previous layers only provides added value (for example, contextual awareness of surroundings) when an action is undertaken or insight gained

Sub-components or sub-functions

People or processes are involved in order to make improvements
The services provided by the Service Layer, the Application Layer and the Collaboration and Processes Layer are typically provided together in a single IoT cloud platform

Application layer

Functions

Reporting and analysis:  reporting, analysis and controlling of data

Components

Front-end interface: with the user

Sub-components or sub-functions

Ensures that users can interact and understand the underlying data

Service layer

Functions

Data interpretation: in order to obtain insights

Components

Processing of data: giving meaning to the data

Sub-components or sub-functions

Provides the service of being able to interpret the data in the Application Layer

Abstraction layer

Functions

Data scaling: data needs to be “scaled” to a higher level         

Components

Data rendering: allows data to be “rendered” and stored in a way that enables the development of simpler and performance-enhanced applications

Sub-components or sub-functions

Multiple storage systems may be required for data scaling

Storage layer

Functions

Data accumulation: networks need to move data through the network.  Storage is required to achieve this    

Components    

Data conversion: converts data in motion to data at rest. As a result, data is available to be used by applications

Sub-components or sub-functions

Storage technologies typically used include:

  • Cloud storage
  • So-called “Not Only SQL” (NoSQL) data-bases (rather than typical relational data-bases)
Processing layer

Functions

Data conversion: converts data flows from the network into information suitable for storage and processing
Processes: the ability to process and act on events based on information collected by the sensor and actuator capabilities in the Physical Layer

Components

Cloud services: hosted in the Internet

Sub-components or sub-functions

Processing can occur within the cloud

Components

Gateways: alternatively processing may occur within so-called gateways connecting the devices and the broader Internet. Gateways may provide transmission security (encryption), protocol interoperability (data flows), data storage and analysis (transforming raw data into something more meaningful) and local event processing (for example, activating an actuator)

Sub-components or sub-functions

Gateways may be provided by:

  • Internet router
  • Custom-built device
  • Mobile phone
Network communication layer

Functions

Information transmission: communications and connectivity

Components

Devices: between devices and the network

Network: across the network

Connection to processing: between the network and low-level information processing in the Processing Layer   

Sub-components or sub-functions

May include the following forms of connectivity:

  • Radio communication
  • Short range, low power, including radio-frequency identification (RFID) and near-field communication (NFC)
  • Medium range, including Wi-Fi
  • Long range, low power
  • Long range, higher power, including global system for mobile communications (GSM), 3G, 4G, 5G, long term evolution (LTE), worldwide interoperability for microwave access (WIMAX) and GPS
Physical layer

Functions

The hardware: or “things” – the core of IoT physical infrastructure
Data: captures, processes and transmits data

Components

User interface: through which user interacts

Sub-components or sub-functions

May include the following depending on size constraints:

  • Buttons
  • LEDs
  • Touch screen
  • Voice recognition
  • Gesture recognition
  • Connectivity to user’s smart phone

Components

Connectivity: transmission and receipt of data to/from other devices over the cloud

Sub-components or sub-functions

Various network communication options (see Network Communications Layer)

Components

Sensors: a device that converts variations in a physical quantity, such as pressure, into an electrical signal

Sub-components or sub-functions

May include detection of:

  • Sound or vibration
  • Electric current or magnetic field
  • Light
  • Heat
  • Position or speed
  • Density
  • Weather
  • Pressure
  • Proximity
  • Chemicals
  • Fluid flow

Components

Actuators: accept a digital signal and produce a physical change

Sub-components or sub-functions

May trigger or change the following:

  • Motors
  • Sound
  • Lights
  • Heating

Components

Device computing and storage: low electricity-consuming processing and data storage

Sub-components or sub-functions

Functionalities may include, or depend on:

  • Processing power
  • Electricity and cooling
  • User interface support
  • Memory
  • Size
Source: Ovidiu Vermesan and Peter Friess, Building the Hyperconnected Society: IoT Research and Innovation Value Chains, Ecosystems and Markets, 2015.

 

 

[1] European Commission, Cross-Cutting Business Models for IoT, 2017.