How IoT Devices Work and Communicate Themselves: A Brief Explanation

Article by: Ken G, Technotronix Inc.

An IoT device is generally a sensor that collects data from its environment and communicates it to another device or processing software via the Internet.

Internet of Things (IoT) devices are physical instruments such as sensors, actuators, or machines that are programmable based on end applications. They can even include computer software and devices capable of transmitting or receiving data over the Internet. They are easily integrated into other machines or mobile gadgets. IoT devices typically use artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) to automate systems without human intervention.

Examples of IoT devices can be as diverse as a health monitoring chip on a human body or a sensor in an automobile to detect the fuel quantity level in the tank. IoT devices communicate in several ways depending on the specific application requirements. Several components are involved in IoT communication, such as IoT devices, communication protocols, gateways, servers, cloud applications, and user consoles.

An IoT device is generally a sensor that collects data from its environment and communicates it to another device or processing software via the Internet. The device is programmed to collect and send this data when it is manufactured. The circuit board assembly of the device and its embedded program together perform the entire data transfer. The data collected can be a simple temperature reading or a complete video recording of the premises. But these devices still have a specific purpose. The communication device connected to the sensors or actuators will have a wired or wireless port to transfer the collected data to a processor or software. Additionally, IoT devices are usually powered by portable batteries.

The communication of IoT devices can be unidirectional (sending data) or bidirectional (sending and receiving data). If it is a remote communication, the data must be transferred via a gateway. The network protocol used can be Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Satellite or connect directly to the Internet via an Ethernet port. It depends on the required bandwidth, range or power requirements of the IoT device.

Some of the ubiquitous communication protocols used in building an IoT system are:

Wireless: Best suited for LAN network that interconnects computers in a limited area. It is based on the TCP/IP protocol to communicate between IoT terminals. Wifi transmits data in wideband and narrowband frequencies and has multiple advantages in low power applications.

Bluetooth: Commonly used in short range applications, preferably in personal products such as wireless speakers. The Bluetooth protocol reduces energy consumption and maintenance. Therefore, it is widely used in simple IoT applications. Frequently updated technical features also boost its potential use in future IoT systems.

Cellular: For a longer range of connectivity, a cellular network is a good option. It can handle bulk data transfer and is very reliable. LTE technology has further improved coverage and also reduced communication latency.

ZigBee: It is a low-power wireless protocol mainly used in home automation networks. Two or more IoT devices can communicate directly with each other using a radio transceiver. It has a shorter range of around 15 meters because it uses low power.

LoRa Wide Area Network: It is a low power consumption wide area network protocol based on LoRa (Long range) radio modulation technique. It is used in battery operated wireless IoT devices.

NFC (near field communication): It is based on the electromagnetic communication between the antennas of two nearby IoT devices. NFC allows users to exchange data with secure transactions. It is a short range communication protocol.

Depending on the end applications, any of these protocols can be used to establish successful communication. Since IoT devices from different manufacturers are used in building an IoT system, it is necessary to follow a standard communication protocol. If the IoT device cannot run internet protocols directly, it passes information through gateways.

Gateways are used to transfer data to and from the Internet. They support compact, cost-effective and low-power features by acting as a base station for multiple IoT devices. Gateways allow simple IoT devices to connect to remote sites using servers or cloud applications. Network servers use protocols to remove redundant messages and secure devices. Collected data is transmitted to cloud applications for analysis. Moreover, huge data is converted into insightful inferences.

User interfaces are the websites or mobile applications needed to interact with end customers. They provide alerts and notifications to users and can also perform required actions based on a set of rules embedded in the software.

IoT is an emerging technology that helps our daily life to be smarter and easier. It provides a real-time view of the process and offers insights to improve system performance. Overall process monitoring can improve your customer experience, reduce costs and generate more revenue. IoT applications can improve business strategies in various industries such as manufacturing, consumer devices, etc.

There are also certain challenges when using an IoT application. The growing number of IoT devices share a huge amount of data over the Internet. This data can be intercepted by a hacker and poses a threat to users’ privacy. Some IoT standards are defined to certify the interoperability of IoT devices. The standards describe IoT client security and privacy, radio bandwidth for wireless connections, and low-power design of IoT devices.

With the growth of IoT devices, the demand for PCB manufacturing has also increased. The growing number of IoT devices has made managing the vast amount of data a daunting task. To process big data efficiently, advanced computer technology is used. It brings data processing closer to IoT devices and reduces latency. IoT devices are used in consumer IoT mainly for everyday use like household appliances, lighting control, etc. Commercial IoT devices are used in healthcare and transportation industries. IoT devices are widely used in military applications like surveillance robots. Industrial IoT (IIoT) devices have many applications in manufacturing, agriculture, and energy.

IoT provides several benefits such as improved customer experience, increased productivity and better decisions based on analyzed data, and generates new business models to increase company revenue. To summarize the communication process of multiple IoT devices, data acquired from the environment is transmitted to other devices or software through a gateway. The information is uploaded to a cloud server. The data received is processed and analyzed in return. An end user will monitor and control the application accordingly.

About the Author

Ken G is Production Manager at Technotronix Inc.

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