How Does the Internet of Things Actually Work?

January 22, 2020 - 8 minutes read

By now, you’ve probably heard of the Internet of Things (IoT). Maybe you’ve even cobbled together a rough idea of what it is: a connected system of sensors, the cloud, and devices working together. But how does it actually work? Perhaps this question raises another in your head: Why should we, as consumers, care about how IoT works?

As the years pass, IoT will become ubiquitous throughout all of our lives. We’re going to be interacting with IoT systems at home, at work, in retail, and even at the grocery store. Ultimately, many of our devices will become part of an IoT system, whether it’s a smart home set-up or smart office space. So it’s imperative that we all develop an understanding of how IoT functions.

IoT’s Rise in History

Many of us remember the late 90s and early 2000s when we had flip phones, paid per text message and calling minute, and lost reception quite often. Since then, our primary means of communication have markedly evolved and improved with stability, low latency, and the ability to connect our devices with other ones. If you’ve got your phone connected to an Alexa or Google speaker, you can even send a text message through that avenue now.

It has been nothing short of a meteoric rise for devices connecting with each other over Bluetooth, via QR code, or through a single-sign-on login system.

Although, even with this set-up, we’re limiting ourselves greatly. But with IoT, we can add more dimensions, types of devices, and connection methods to our systems. Imagine if you could connect to your car, fridge, local farmer, local city infrastructure, and more. Now imagine if this connection could enable these complex devices to talk with each other.

The fridge might alert your local farmer that you’ll likely pick up some tomatoes at this weekend’s farmer’s market. Your car could navigate red lights around town with efficiency and reroute you during rush hour as needed. These are rudimentary examples, but they point to a greater picture of what IoT bestows upon us in our daily lives.

The Foundation of IoT Systems

IoT connects devices, things, and spaces that are usually “outside” of the Internet to our Internet-connected devices. These remote and cloud-based connections will only stabilize with the implementation of 5G globally, allowing us to generate data, find insights, and even send the analysis back to the main device that needs optimizing.

How is this all possible? A mix of programming, hardware, security protocols, cloud integration, networking, data science, and AI combine seamlessly to produce robust IoT systems. Let’s take a closer look at each component.


IoT devices are programmed to work and communicate with each other using code that IoT developers often write in C++ or C. For bigger IoT systems or ones that need to scale up eventually, many developers are turning to Python and JavaScript. Even if a developer knows how to code, they must also have a deep knowledge of hardware, like circuit boards, microcontrollers, circuit design, and more.


Hardware is one of the most important aspects because it is one of the only physical parts of an IoT system. Interconnected devices, sensors, and controllers help IoT systems understand (and sometimes even control) the world around them. Often, devices are computing on the device itself instead of the cloud (through the help of microcontrollers, system-on-a-chip (SoC), field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), etc.), which brings more importance to choosing high-quality, secure, and sturdy devices.

Security Protocols

Security is the most overlooked aspect of any technology application or system. At our Los Angeles-based mobile app development studio, we place security as a high priority on all of our projects. In many IoT systems, security gets layered on top last, making it an afterthought for many developers. On the contrary, security must be developed and thought of at every step of the design and development of IoT systems. Millions of new devices connect to the Internet every day, and the number of viruses and malware is increasing rapidly. When you consider that many IoT systems also house sensitive information, like payment data, trade secrets, machine information, and more, multi-layered security is non-negotiable. And no, you cannot rely on the devices’ built-in security — these have been shown to be behind in industry standards.

Networking and The Cloud

Connecting to the Internet is of utmost importance for IoT devices. Without the connection, it wouldn’t be possible to include the device in an IoT system. Setting up a stable network from the get-go is important, but IoT systems developers need to constantly monitor the network load and bandwidth to ensure more optimization isn’t needed. Having a poor network can cost a company a lot of time and money. On a related note, cloud computing and cloud storage should be monitored closely and optimized accordingly constantly throughout an IoT system’s lifespan.

Data Science

Analyzing data for insights can help companies cut costs without infringing on employees. With the amount of data generated every day in IoT systems, the term “big data” suddenly doesn’t seem to encompass enough. But this data is multi-dimensional and valuable. A good data analyst or scientist can elucidate new insights, patterns, and optimizations out of tons of data. And a great analyst or scientist can help trim down data points that are useless to the company’s bottom line, thereby improving network bandwidth, cloud computing credits, and storage costs.

AI and Machine Learning

AI and ML can work together to automate data scientists’ manual work. They can also help watch for patterns constantly to alert analysts for deeper analysis. Over time, AI can produce predictive analytics and even make small decisions without human oversight.

IoT Is an Integral Part of Our Future

IoT will continue improving as it expands. As with any emerging technology, its complexities will only grow with so many moving parts within and outside of the system.

Yes, “The Internet of Things” sounds vague, complex, and all-encompassing. But it all breaks down to a handful of features working together seamlessly.

We hope you’ve gained a deeper understanding of how IoT works from this article! What aspects would you like to learn more about? Let us know in the comments below!

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