What Is IoT (Internet of Things)?

The Internet of Things (IoT) connects ordinary objects to other objects and applications in the cloud, making them intelligent and interactive. Such "smart" devices make our lives richer and healthier and help to optimize the use of scarce resources.

What are some benefits of IoT devices?

IoT brings the “smart” into ordinary devices. At home, your ordinary wristwatch now becomes a smart watch, stereo speakers are now smart speakers, the TV is a smart TV, the car is a self-driving smart car…and the days of smart refrigerators and smart toasters are upon us already.

Businesses are making their buildings smarter with technologies like smart lighting, smart locks for better security, and self-regulating smart HVAC systems that adapt automatically to occupancy levels.

What is the role of IoT in industrial operations?

The biggest impacts of IoT technology can be found in the industrial sector, where it powers digital transformation and modernizes processes for better efficiencies, higher yields, and safer, more sustainable execution. Industrial IoT is ushering in Industry 4.0, a term given to the digitization and automation of processes, now being widely adopted across industries.


Manufacturers are rapidly digitizing their plant operations and deploying new IoT devices at a large scale. Use cases for manufacturing include tracking of materials, industrial automation with mobile robots and autonomous vehicles, and better connecting the workforce.

Industrial IoT solutions for digital manufacturing 


In order to deliver reliable, safer, and more efficient delivery of power, utilities are modernizing the grid, automating their substations and distribution networks, and merging renewable energy sources with traditional ones.

IoT digital utilities


Road authorities are increasingly relying on IoT solutions to improve safety, reduce congestion, and lower carbon emissions. Such solutions include automating traffic signaling, increasing video surveillance, making road signs dynamic, and investing in automated tollbooths.

IoT solutions for connected roadways and intersections

The extended enterprise

Enterprises are investing in IoT devices outside their carpeted areas, such as campus parking lots and distribution warehouses. These devices include energy-saving lighting, safety surveillance equipment, powering kiosks, monitoring air quality, etc. 

IoT solutions for the extended enterprise

Terminal operations and ports

Being a critical part of global trade and supply chains, shipping terminals are under pressure to increase throughput. In response, they are increasing teleremote and autonomous operations, increasing cargo handling capacities, and securing their infrastructures.

IoT solutions for terminal operations and ports


To achieve their objectives of safety, punctuality, superior service, and affordable costs, rail operators are turning to advanced technology that improves asset visibility, helps offer new and value-added services, enhances the passenger experience, and opens new revenue streams.

Connected rail

Smart cities

A connected community uses digital technology to connect, protect, and enhance the lives of citizens.

IoT sensors, video cameras, and other inputs act as a nervous system, providing the city operator and citizens with constant feedback in order to make informed decisions for public transportation, water supply, waste management, schools, libraries, parking decks, and other public services.

Cities and communities

What is the role of the network in IoT?

The network that connects IoT devices is the key to making IoT work effectively. It must be able to provide the required connectivity for a diverse set of devices, as well as the required bandwidth, scale, security, and flexibility of deployment.

Wired Ethernet

Ethernet connects devices in a wired LAN. It is inexpensive and secure, and it offers inline power and fast, reliable connections. It has evolved from 10 MBps over copper cables at its inception to more than 400 GBps today over fiber-optic cables.

Ethernet is easy to manage and debug, and it is still widely used in offices, schools, and the manufacturing industry. It connects stationery equipment and requires cabling that may be expensive and limits mobility.

Cisco industrial switching

Wi-Fi (802.11)

Wi-Fi is the pervasive wireless connection for many IoT devices. It is fast, reliable, popular, and available around the world in homes, offices, healthcare, government, and industrial environments. Wi-Fi is unlicensed, inexpensive, and secure.

New revisions of Wi-Fi standards such as Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E offer high throughput and efficiency, and they can serve a large number of IoT devices. Wi-Fi is used for AR/VR (augmented reality/virtual reality) applications, 4K streaming, asset tracking, and other applications. Deployment of Wi-Fi requires careful placement of access-points to help to ensure signal strength.

Cisco Industrial Wi-Fi

Long-range wide-area network (LoRaWAN)

Operating using frequencies in license-free zones, LoRaWAN offers low-power, long-range, and narrow-bandwidth communications. It is ideal for connecting IoT devices that run on batteries and communicate periodically with data rate measured in just a few kbps.

LoRaWAN is ideal for usage extensively in sensors for oil and gas installation, utilities, and supply-chain monitoring for production environments.

Cisco solution for LoRaWAN

Wireless Smart Ubiquitous Networks (Wi-SUN)

Wi-SUN enables a large-scale IoT wireless field infrastructure, and it is known for its reliability, security, and extensibility. Wi-SUN creates a resilient mesh that can support multiple applications.

Wi-SUN is extensively used in utilities and smart cities for metering, distribution automation, resource control, municipal lighting, parking management, and EV charging stations. Like LoRaWAN, Wi-SUN provides low-power long-range coverage with slightly higher data rates.

Cisco solution for Wi-SUN

Cellular 4G LTE and 5G

Cellular technologies are widely available worldwide in cities and urban areas. The 5G standard in particular offers wide-area coverage both for low-powered, low-bandwidth IoT devices and for real-time IoT use cases requiring extremely high data rates and low-latency.

It is expected that both public and private 5G will find wide acceptance in cities (self-driving vehicles) to the production floor (robots and autonomous vehicles). Being licensed, cellular technologies tend to be expensive, subject to spectrum availability and local regulations, and in limited (but expanding) coverage areas.

Cisco Industrial Routers and Gateways

Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul (CURWB)

CURWB is designed for mission-critical applications that require low-latency, high data-rate, and fiber-like connectivity. Its zero-loss seamless handoff between access points makes it ideal for connecting objects that may be traveling at high speeds. Its same-as-Wi-Fi unlicensed frequency use makes it relatively inexpensive and under enterprise control.

Use cases for CURWB include connected rail, terminals and ports, mining, and manufacturing.

Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul

How can IoT be deployed at scale?

The enabling network is the key; it must be scalable itself.

Technologies such as plug and play and zero-touch deployment, enabled by a central network management system, allow automation of routine networking tasks so that new network equipment, such as switches, routers, and wireless access points, can be added quickly and keep pace with the increasing number of IoT devices.

Intelligent network management systems can help to ensure that the network is running smoothly and performing at its best so that connected IoT devices do not experience outages.

The management system should be able to flag bottlenecks and under-performing equipment and suggest effective solutions, so that any outage can be reduced.

In industrial organizations, there is usually an IT team responsible for the network and an operations technology (OT) team for the running of operations. These two teams must work closely together so that their skills and knowledge can help to ensure overall success of the operations and the organization.

Cisco IoT management and automation

How can IoT be secured?

As IoT becomes an increasingly indispensable part of our lives, it attracts a variety of bad actors ranging from lone hackers seeking thrills, to organized crime trying to extract ransom, to state actors threatening cyber warfare.

These attacks can be more than mere inconveniences, as they can disrupt day-to-day life and even endanger public safety. Security concerns are front and center when deploying IoT at any scale.

Historically, security measures were limited to “perimeter” security, that is, placement of firewalls around the site, but those have proven to be insufficient as malware can inadvertently be carried into trusted locations.

The network enables more sophisticated measures such as zero-trust security to authenticate devices, detect the presence of malware, limit its spread, and initiate appropriate response.

These measures are made possible by tools that provide granular visibility, vulnerability assessment, network segmentation, threat detection, and threat response.

Cisco industrial IoT security

What is the future of IoT?

The coolest thing about IoT might be its limitless possibilities. Rapid growth in related technologies continues to fuel more and more use cases.

Considered futuristic just a few years ago, self-driving cars are on the verge of becoming mainstream. Lower carbon emissions, intelligent roadways, and renewable energy, in part facilitated by IoT, will help to make the planet more sustainable and our lives richer.

Advances in networking, security, analytics, and cloud computing are making a smarter, more connected future possible for all of us.

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