IoT innovation typically follows five steps, spanning from the idea stage to potential global deployment, with each phase presenting a new set of challenges and considerations around IoT connectivity. Usually, as the business scales decisions on how the ‘thing’ connects to the Internet intensify as the need for an always-on service and the risks of a cyber-attack, grow in importance.
This article will examine the five key stages of an IoT project and outline the IoT connectivity considerations.
Every IoT project starts with an idea, and not a purchase order. Today, makers have never had it so good with lots of opportunity for quickly turning concepts and ‘what-ifs’ into something real. In many of these cases, a Raspberry Pi or Arduino will do the job fine. Connectivity isn’t a problem at this stage. You could even use a physical cable to link the sensor to a gateway, although Wi-Fi is the more likely option.
Rapid prototyping has become increasingly easier and cheaper. It used to be very expensive and came with a commitment to creating early-stage proof-of-concept devices; now, you can get some manufacturers to build in volumes of one. But once you bring the proof of concept from your lab to the field – whether that’s to a customer on a farm, an oil rig, or perhaps showing the prototype at an investor meeting – can you rely on the Wi-Fi signal? Depending on the environment, you might think cellular connectivity is your best option, so traditionally, many makers have gone to the nearest mobile operator to buy a cheap SIM card.
Here’s where things can get tricky. Once you have an idea of what you’re trying to build, it’s prudent to consider if the connectivity options adopted at the earlier stage will still be in use as you refine your original idea? For example, will you be able to source SIMs reliably at higher volume? Will the cost model of buying retail SIMs work with a 500-unit-a-month deployment? This step is where you will encounter issues like security, authentication, or authorization on your connectivity, which leads to questions if your chosen connectivity service can reliably handle these problems?
By design, IoT devices are constrained – that term has a specific meaning, which implies limited processing power, storage, and bandwidth. Where you plan to deploy physically will also be a factor: if you aim to put a mini computer on every traffic light in an urban area, it isn’t practical to visit every one of them every week to install a patch. Or, if you fit a sensor in the road, it is embedded in concrete, and you only have one time to get it right.
Asking which type of connectivity you are going to integrate into a service as you deploy it is an important question. If you’re serious about building an IoT innovation to operate on a global scale, it makes sense to think about IoT connectivity from the very start. The alternative is getting stuck on a spinning hamster wheel, where you are continually solving the same problems over and over again as you try unsuccessfully to progress through the five steps as outlined here.
Add geographic roaming issues to the mix, and the headaches increase. For example, SIMs from the EU will not roam in Saudi Arabia, and a US SIM won’t necessarily work in France. In some of the biggest growth markets, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Brazil, the governments don’t permit global or permanent roaming. There are similar restrictions in places like Cambodia, Indonesia, and Myanmar.
So if you want to ship your ‘thing’ all over the world, you’d need to check at the idea, prototype and iterate stages, that you’ve built in connectivity that works for your global application.
It’s clear that connectivity is an integral component of successfully developing and deploying an IoT solution. The alternative option of putting your devices on Wi-Fi doesn’t provide a guaranteed service. Additionally, from a security perspective, connecting constrained, or low-power devices to the public Internet is a risky move. In light of the recent Mirai botnet attacks, anyone considering this route would be wise to think about the security implications of connecting their assets across the public internet.
Fortunately, technical advancements can provide you with some options to address these issues. For example, online IoT connectivity marketplaces now sell connectivity management and network connectivity as a subscription-based service, enabling you to link services and ‘things’ over the internet at industrial scale but at volumes of on. As a result, you can start small with your idea and then flex your network as you go through the subsequent steps (prototype, iterate, deploy and scale). By applying software automation to what has previously been a collection of manual, bespoke steps, a million-device network for a single bench device is now available.
Users can now access an environment that can be stood up, used and thrown away or stood up, used and scaled.
To conclude, the availability of secure and flexible connectivity means there has never been a better time to develop and deploy an IoT solution.
Keith O’Byrne, Head of Solutions, Asavie – In his role Keith consults with carriers in USA, Europe and Asia on next-generation IoT and mobility solutions. Keith has over 18 years of security and IT experience advising some of the world’s leading organizations on their Infosec posture and network design. Prior to Asavie, Keith worked with BeTrusted, Baltimore Technologies and Scottish Provident. Keith was CISSP accredited in 2001 and has earned a host of IT/Networking vendor certifications from the usual suspects. In his spare time Keith’s a bit of a pistonhead, and is at his happiest tinkering with the oldest and newest of engines.