How Does the Internet of Things (IoT) Work?

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is a network system that connects various physical objects, such as devices and sensors, to the internet using sensors and predefined communication protocols. This enables intelligent sensing, identification, and management of these objects and processes. While the underlying principle and foundation of IoT are still the internet, the difference lies in extending internet connectivity to various physical objects in the real world.

difference between IoT and Internet connected objects

For this purpose, the operation of IoT devices can be summarized in three stages: Information Collection → Information Transmission → Information Processing. In this article, TechSparks will explore these three stages to provide a clear understanding of how the Internet of Things works.

Table of Contents

Information Collection (Sensing Devices)

Sensors serve as the primary means for information collection in the Internet of Things, similar to the sensory organs in the human body. They are responsible for sensing and collecting various data from the physical world, including parameters like temperature, humidity, pressure, light, sound, and various physical, chemical, and biological factors. These physical quantities are ultimately converted into measurable electrical signals that can be transmitted within circuits.

Sensors typically consist of three core components that work together to ensure efficient data collection and transmission:

  • Sensor Elements: The sensing core of the sensor responsible for detecting and recording changes in the environment. Whether it’s temperature, humidity, pressure, light, or sound levels, sensor elements transform these changes into electrical signals for further processing.
  • Signal Processing Circuits: The raw signals generated by the sensor elements cannot be used directly by devices. Instead, they go through signal processing circuits for operations like amplification, filtering, analog-to-digital conversion, and other adjustments to meet the requirements of data collection or transmission.
  • Auxiliary Power: The operation of sensor elements and signal processing circuits requires auxiliary power as a source of energy. This power can come from batteries, external power adapters, or other sources to ensure the reliable functioning of the sensor.

Sensors that enable the Internet of Things to work

The choice of sensors varies depending on the specific functionalities required for different IoT devices. For instance, in agricultural IoT, temperature and humidity sensors can be used to enable smart irrigation, while in industrial IoT, pressure and liquid level sensors are employed for process control and liquid flow monitoring. Of course, this is a simplified explanation for ease of understanding. In actual IoT applications, the number and variety of sensors deployed can be extensive.

Information Transmission (Communication Technology)

The Internet of Things has gone through a transformative journey in terms of information transmission. Initially, the early IoT relied on WLAN technology for communication, which meant that terminal devices had to connect to wireless routers or dedicated gateway devices.

The first-generation IoT connectivity technology was Wi-Fi. As a result, the information collected by sensors was transmitted via WLAN. With technological advancements, new wireless communication technologies such as Bluetooth and Zigbee were developed, diversifying the working modes of IoT networks. However, these technologies had their own limitations that hindered the widespread adoption and promotion of IoT.

  • Wi-Fi: For IoT devices to connect to Wi-Fi, they needed Wi-Fi modules for receiving and transmitting signals, incurring additional costs and increasing power consumption.
  • Bluetooth: A short-range wireless connectivity technology that overcame cost-related drawbacks. However, it typically has limited communication range, restricted to a few meters, which hinders long-distance IoT requirements. Additionally, multiple connected devices can interfere with each other during IoT device operation.
  • Zigbee: A low-power, low-data transmission speed protocol. It improved transmission range compared to Bluetooth but still struggled to meet the demands of large-scale devices in industrial IoT. While Zigbee is cost-effective and low-power, it is perceived as more complex for users in terms of network configuration and management compared to Wi-Fi.

To address the challenges faced by WLAN in IoT operations, Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) wireless communication technologies (such as NB-IoT, eMTC, and LoRa) rapidly emerged. These technologies solved issues like high power consumption and cost associated with Wi-Fi, and they offered a coverage range of 3 to 20 kilometers, addressing the shortcomings of Bluetooth and Zigbee for long-distance data transmission.

process of connecting devices when IoT devices are working

Today, IoT applications are prevalent in our daily lives, thanks to the development of 5G technology, which provides robust connectivity support for IoT operations. Here, we’ll briefly introduce the three communication service modes of 5G technology: eMBB, uRLLC, and mMTC.

  • eMBB: In IoT devices, real-time sensor data capture from the surrounding environment results in significant data output. eMBB can provide higher and broader bandwidth, allowing the simultaneous transmission of large volumes of data.
  • uRLLC: By offering extremely low communication latency, uRLLC ensures rapid response and high reliability in IoT operations. This enables the entire information transmission process to reliably occur within millisecond-level delays.
  • mMTC: This mode aims to provide efficient network connectivity to support billions or even trillions of IoT devices, forming a network system among these devices rather than operating as individual entities.

Information Processing (Cloud Computing)

We have previously understood the principles and required technologies for capturing and transmitting information on the Internet of Things. So how is this data identified and presented on another “thing”?

In an IoT environment, devices must capture data in real-time and respond immediately. However, the computational capacity of a single server often struggles to meet the demands of data processing. This is where we rely on data processing centers composed of multiple servers, known as cloud computing.

Cloud computing to support IoT work

Cloud computing is a computational model that integrates multiple relatively inexpensive servers, concentrating computational power, storage, and applications in data centers in the cloud. These computing resources and services are then provided through the network. This allows users to access and utilize these resources without the need to own or manage physical computing devices, providing robust computing capabilities.

A single server is akin to distributed energy generation, where users can manage and maintain it themselves but are constrained by limited resources. Cloud computing, on the other hand, is like a large power plant that consolidates extensive computing resources for use by multiple terminal devices. When user demands for computing resources exceed expectations, cloud computing addresses this issue by providing elastic and scalable computing resources. Users can expand their computing capabilities as needed, similar to purchasing more electricity from a power plant.

The core concept of cloud computing involves continuously increasing the number of servers, optimizing hardware and software to enhance processing capacity, resulting in faster computation and greater storage capacity. In IoT, devices require real-time capabilities, implying a significant volume of data is captured and transmitted by sensors. Cloud computing uploads this data to cloud servers, simplifying the end devices, which can then focus on data collection and user interfaces. After data is transmitted via the network, it is processed using high-performance cloud computing, imbuing it with intelligence and ultimately transforming it into valuable information for end-users. Therefore, an IoT cloud computing platform must possess capabilities in operations monitoring, data processing, storage, data presentation, and delivery to facilitate this process.

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