What is the Internet of Things (IoT) and Why is it Important?

Erin Ellison By Erin Ellison October 12, 2021

Summary: The Internet of Things (or IoT) is a popular term for how we use all of our interconnected devices. But how do they all communicate with each other? And how is IoT changing the world — beyond the convenience of automating your house from your phone? We cover all that and more. Let’s dive in.

If you like to keep up on tech news, you’ve more than likely heard the term Internet of Things, or its abbreviation, IoT. But what exactly is it? There are plenty of explainer articles out there, but many of them are overly confusing and don’t explain how the IoT applies to everyday life. Let’s see if we can clear that up.

First things first.

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things — or the IoT — is the connection of everyday items to the internet. These devices are commonly referred to as “smart” and include things like thermostats, locks, TVs, and more. However, it also includes larger items such as cars, tractors, and even airplanes. All of these have highly specialized chips inside of them that can communicate with each other.

The goal of the IoT is to improve the efficiency of day-to-day life, and users can control their household devices and functions by using a smartphone or app. For industrial uses, smart equipment can help increase productivity, efficiency, and safety.

In other words, the IoT is one of the primary ways that we interact with the internet now.

The IoT creates a massive network of devices that all communicate with each other and share data. By 2025, it’s predicted that there will be 41.6 billion connected devices, according to ZD Net. While industrial and automotive equipment will likely have the highest number of connected things in the future, smart home devices and wearable tech are also more and more popular.

What Does the Network of Devices Do?

A network of smart devices means that everything can communicate. Your phone can communicate with your smart speaker which can communicate with your streaming music accounts. That makes everything convenient for you, assuming it’s all working correctly. (If you’re having issues with tech that’s going on the fritz, check out EarthLink EasyTech, which is unlimited remote tech support for all your devices.)

Your smart devices are all interconnected through an IoT platform, which allows them to share information and ultimately means that devices get smarter and can offer better recommendations. Cool, right?

A graphic representation of the internet of things (or IoT), which connected planes, homes, wearable technology, classrooms, and more through a massive network.

The platform is able to integrate data from the devices and analyze it, only sharing the most valuable information with the correct applications. It’s so powerful that it knows what information to use and what to ignore — and can make recommendations, detect patterns, and forewarn users of potential problems.

So, whether you say “Hey Google” or “Alexa” or “Computer,” to activate your device, it kinda sounds like we’re living in the Jetsons life, doesn’t it?

Why is the IoT Important?

Sure, tons of people love their smart home devices and the peace of mind that comes from being able to check on your home from anywhere. But beyond making our day-to-day lives easier, how else is the IoT positively impacting the world?

Healthcare and the Internet of Things

The IoT is making life easier for caretakers. For those taking care of aging parents or grandparents, wearable tech can offer insights into vitals like respiratory and heart rates, sleeping patterns, movement, and more. Plus, it can send alerts if the wearer has fallen or has concerning metrics. Some smart speakers also allow you to set up “calls for help” in case something happens, so family members only have to ask it to call their emergency contact.

For professional healthcare workers, IoT makes taking care of patients easier. It means that information can be located online rather than in a paper file. Some devices can even send information like blood glucose, posture control, and sleep patterns directly to your doctor rather than requiring a trip into the office or lab.

And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the role of high-speed internet in the rise of telehealth, where you can consult with a provider virtually from your own home via phone or webcam. Telehealth became an especially popular choice during the COVID-19 pandemic, rising 2980% nationally from September 2019 to September 2020, according to the American Journal of Managed Care.

Education and the Internet of Things

Online options for higher education, like master’s programs, are not a new phenomenon. However, the way that the internet has become even more integrated with education is — and the IoT is partly to thank there, too.

Students can now learn with eTextbooks, which often include interactive components, such as reading aloud, practice questions, built-in dictionaries, and more, and the formatting is responsive to the device type (think: tablets vs. laptops vs. smart phones). Beyond books, IoT innovations in the classroom include:

  • The Smartboard: an interactive whiteboard that can also display web pages. Debuting in 1991, it was ahead of its time.
  • Class Dojo: an education app that allows parents to get a look into their children’s everyday lives via photos and videos, and can communicate via messaging. It’s so popular it’s used in 95% of K-8 schools in the U.S.
  • Kajeet: A company that has created WiFi systems to connect school buses. This gives students extra time to study or work on homework, lets drivers better monitor potential issues, and gives parents the ability to monitor where their child’s school bus is.

Manufacturing and the IoT

The internet is even changing manufacturing. When imagining manufacturing innovations, many of us probably think of the assembly line. Now, the integration of technology can improve operational efficiency. For example, if a machine stops working, sensors can pinpoint where the issue is and trigger a service request, without the line operator needing to get involved. In fact, it can even help a manufacturer predict when a machine is most likely to break down or become dangerous before it happens.

Tracking sensors can also be attached to equipment, tools, and more, saving workers time and energy. (Psst: if you’re prone to losing things like your keys, you can use these in your everyday life, too. Tile and Air Tag are some of the most popular models.)

How Can You Take Advantage of the IoT?

So, how can you use the innovations of the internet of things to make your own life better? It’s really just three easy steps.

First, make sure your internet is up to the challenge. Choosing a high-speed internet plan that works for the devices you have and gives you some room to grow is essential. Even if you’re not planning to add devices any time soon, as graphics get better and the capabilities of our current devices develop, you’ll want a little breathing room. Choosing a plan with room to grow also means you’re less likely to have to call your internet service provider to upgrade.

Second, choose devices that work for you. This means options that will make an impact in your life and choosing those that will play nice with what you already have. Apple products pair best with Apple, Google with Google, and so on, although you can mix brands. Bonus: do your research first to cut down on installation headaches or returning items.

Finally, make sure you have the support you need. More devices can mean more chances for something to malfunction. And if you, like us, tend to get rid of the instruction manual after you’ve got it put together, you might have to resort to frantic YouTube searches. Instead, invest in remote technical support, like EarthLink EasyTech. Remote technical support can offer personalized help on all your devices, and it doesn’t even require leaving your home (or letting someone else in).

Whether you need a high-speed internet plan that can support all your devices, remote tech support, or other ways to protect your personal information online, EarthLink can help. Our Internet Experts can find the best plan for you and your budget. What are you waiting for? Call 866-383-3080 and get started today.

Erin Ellison

Erin Ellison

Erin Ellison is the Director of Content & SEO for EarthLink. She has more than 15 years of writing experience for businesses, agencies, and the media. Her superpower is translating complicated tech jargon into language we can all understand. She currently lives and works in Atlanta. Connect with Erin on LinkedIn.

See all posts from Erin Ellison.

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