Internet of Things: Its journey the last twenty years

Internet of Things or IoT has been the buzz word and will continue to be at the center of major technology discussions in the next couple of years. An increasing number of industries and enterprises are adopting and implementing IoT solutions to increase optimization. It is surprising that the concept that was coined in 1999, twenty years ago, only gained its mainstream status in the last decade. How did a jargon become a technology movement that has the world investing billions of dollars? IoT has been the underdog of tech advancements, it remained in the background for the first half of its life and then suddenly it took over like wildfire. IoT has an interesting origin, and even more interesting journey. 

Kevin Ashton, the Executive Director of Auto-ID Labs at MIT, in his attempt to optimize the supply-chain for Procter & Gamble, by using Radio Frequency Identifications (RFID) came up with the term Internet of Things to explain the concept of tagging and tracking of goods/packages. A term that was used to simplify a presentation went on to revolutionize the tech world. The term was coined in 1999, however, it took almost ten years for the tech world to realize its potential. In the last five years, it has gained global acceptance and adoption. 

In its basic form, IoT is a network of connected devices (or things) using sensors, wireless connection, and solution. Be it plants, animals, humans or objects, anything can be tracked/monitored using IoT. One of the first attempts to popularize “the connected device” was undertaken by LG Electronics in 2000, when they launched a smart refrigerator that tracked items using RFID. However, the product did not sell as the market wasn’t ready to adopt such technology. 

In the next ten years, many similar concepts (but not the same) sprouted around IoT but didn’t reach the same prominence, like M2M, Pervasive Computing, Intelligent Systems, and more. Machine-to-machine communication is connecting one device to another like connecting your fitness devices, home appliances, security system with your smartphone. That explains why this technology is popular in the Telecom sector. Pervasive Computing, on the other hand, is used for improving the capabilities of devices to enable them to effectively perform tasks. A simple example is smartwatches that can connect to your phone and laptop/desktop to keep tabs on emails, calls, events, messages, and more. An Intelligent System is a machine with the capability to collect and assess data and communicate the same with other systems. 

It was around 2010 when the tech world started to talk about IoT when Google used this technology for its StreetView feature. In 2011, Gartner in its market research study on emerging technologies named IoT as one of them. Then following the trend, in the next year, IoT was written about in Forbes, Wired, Fast Company, and other big publications. In the same year, IoT was spoken about in one of Europe’s biggest tech conferences, LeWeb. Then in 2013, a report published by IDC stated that the Internet of Things would be a USD 8.9tn market by 2020. It was in January 2014 when Google purchased Nest, maker of smart home products, that the world knew that IoT will soon be a widely adopted technology. Since then the movement has been on an upswing. 

IoT has penetrated all aspects of our lives in the last five years – connected homes, connected workplaces, and connected industries. Most smartphone owners connect all personal gadgets with their phones, like fitness trackers, laptops, smartwatches, health monitors, and more. This seamlessly connected network further expands to a smart home. An increasing number of people are investing in smart home solutions like lighting, heating, cooling, security, all controlled through a smartphone. Some of the more common, popular products include Alexa, Echo, Google Home, smart TVs, and other entertainment-oriented electronics. 

Just like our personal spaces get more and more connected so is our work environment. Nowadays, employees and workplaces are completely in sync. Phones are programmed to authorize access, perform tasks, and issue commands to machines on office premises, including workstations, desk phones, printers, coffee makers, snack dispensers, and more. By using smart solutions, employees can access CRMs, ERPs, emails, messages, projects, and attend meetings. Basically, be productive from anywhere at any time. These are “front of the house” capabilities that businesses are harnessing. The “behind the scenes” scope of IoT is a completely different technology segment. Businesses are rapidly adopting Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solutions to increase efficiency and utilization. 

As the name suggests, Industrial IoT is about connecting business processes, equipment, machinery, and assets at an industrial or enterprise level. An increasing number of core sectors are implementing IIoT solutions. The popularity gained by this technology is firmly based on the potent benefits it offers, such as optimization of business operations, increased efficiency of processes, smart utilization of resources, sustainable growth, and data-driven decision-making.

Here are a few brief examples:

Building & Construction

Sites are powered with smart solutions that monitor manpower to improve productivity and site security. In addition, equipment and heavy machinery is monitored in real-time to keep track of usage, access, machine health, maintenance, and to mitigate risks.

Transport & Logistics

Heavy vehicle solutions specifically designed to monitor container trucks and reefer trucks to have real-time access to location, weight, temperature, vehicle health, route optimizations, driver behavior, goods security, and more.

Oil & Gas

Primarily used for monitoring fuel transportation and storage. To track fuel level, avoid theft during transit, notification on product tampering, optimize refueling, etc.


Solutions are used for monitoring equipment and machinery to increase production and reduce waste. Data on usage, machine health, raw material input, final output, stock, dispatched goods, and other such vital parameters are collected.

Aviation & Shipping

Cargo security is a key concern for this industry, hence, solutions are implemented to manage cargo theft, tampering, and ensuring identified access. Furthermore, features like geofencing are used to exercise more control and caution.


Solutions are being implemented to improve crop production by using sensors to monitor soil moisture, acidity, pH levels, etc. Producers are using technology to track plant growth, health, and automated watering systems, etc.


Cars come fully equipped with smart systems to track location, vehicle health, servicing alerts, passenger safety features, and more.


These are just to name a few. There are many more sectors and companies coming up with clever ways to implement IoT to improve various aspects of the business. That is not all. IoT is being used for healthcare, education, wildlife management, tackling climate change, and more. The flexibility and possibilities offered by IoT are endless. It can be customized to work with a large variety of environments and industries, which makes it a potent technology. In 2020, we will see bigger investments in IoT and more data-driven businesses. IoT holds the potential to connect entire ecosystems in the future.


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