The internet of things – explained

You may have heard or read about the ‘internet of things’ – but what is it, what are the ‘things’, and how will it make our lives easier?

Broadband has brought with it some amazing advances. The move away from having to dial-in for internet access to having always-on connections has meant that we can connect more and more to the internet than ever before.

Wireless, too, has improved things no end. It has given us small, portable devices that can all talk to the internet.

And it is from this that the so-called ‘internet of things’ (IoT) has grown.

[Read more: BT chief researcher explores the expanding ‘Internet of Things’]

What’s the idea of the internet of things?

This concept is about giving more and more devices in your home ability to talk to each other. 

In the future, every LED lightbulb and home appliance will be able to tell you their status, as will your heating and security systems - and you'll be able to control them from anywhere in the world.

You can even get them to communicate with each other, perhaps to use a motion detector to switch on your bedroom light when someone walks up your drive, or have your fridge order food when you're running low.

How will we use the internet of things?

Watch the video below to see how all your devices can be linked together through your phone. 

Expect to see your phone manage your heating and air conditioning by detecting where you are on your journey home and turning on the heat via a device like the Nest thermostat.

Philips' Hue connected lighting system brings lighting controls to your smartphone, while the Smarter coffee machine wakes you when your morning coffee is ready.

[Read more: The thermostat that saves you money – video]

How can they work together?

Devices within the internet of things will be able to communicate with each other. The Nest Learning Thermostat works with the Nest Protect Carbon Dioxide alarm. If the carbon monoxide alarm goes off, the Nest Thermostat automatically turns off your boiler.

Google-owned Nest's 'Works with Nest' programme allows devices from other manufacturers to work with the Nest system.

These include:

  • Google Home and Google Home Mini
  • Whirlpool washer dryers – works with the Nest Thermostat to detect when you are home and switches to quiet mode, or if it notices you are away, activates a refresh mode so your clothes remain fresh.
  • Phillips Hue lighting – when Nest Protect senses something is wrong it flashes on/off to get your attention

Back at the CES 2015 trade show, Samsung boss BK Yoon, talked about the importance of an open ecosystem within the internet of things, so devices from different manufacturers could communicate with each other.

"I have heard some people say they want to create a single operating system for the IoT. However, this OS only seems to work with their own technology. That's not enough. The IoT experience needs to be seamless. “

"I know in my heart to make the IoT happen, it takes more than one company, more than one industry, to create this IoT universe. We all have to work together. It's coming. What we are holding in our hands are infinite possibilities. Now it's up to us to unlock them."

[Read more: See how your voice, your smartphone and cameras can control your home]

What is the point of the internet of things?

Well, no doubt some people will see none at all, and will actively avoid this technology.

For others, it might be used for security, such as Fibaro’s system telling if someone is breaking into your home - or keeping an eye on your children, and where they go after school.

Like all technology, it could be enormously intrusive or a massive boost to convenience.

The potential for the internet of things is massive, but it's also perhaps the most daunting direction technology has taken us yet.

There are people who are worried about Facebook, so how are they going to react to the idea of every electronic device in their home monitoring itself (and perhaps you) and feeding that information to outside companies or individuals?

Friend or foe, it’s clear that technology will integrate further with our home lives.

[Read more: Will the Internet of Things be more trouble than it’s worth?]

How is BT involved in the internet of things?

BT along with nine other British companies was awarded £50,000 from the government in 2015 to research the potential of the internet of things.

BT’s idea is to devise a service using information from traffic-related sources. This could include transport apps that estimate journey times based on what is happening on the road. The information could be help the police or Highways agency to deal with incidents more efficiently to get traffic moving.

BT is also working in Manchester on City Verve. BT is working with Cisco, the city, local universities and small businesses to run innovative services using the IoT. It has received £10 million UK government funding.

[Read more: Everything you can do with the Amazon Echo]