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Better Connected: Three tips for strengthening the IoT

(Image credit: Shutterstock/Bakhtiar Zein)

The Internet of Things (IoT) continues to gain momentum rapidly. Gartner suggests that during 2016, 5.5 million new ‘things’ will have been connected each day. This is because valuable data is everywhere, from smart cities to industrial environments. As we see more connected devices and machines, intelligently linking them together to create new information flows is crucial to the value and success of the IoT.   

Combining the individual data feeds of multiple sources creates much deeper, more meaningful insights; into how cities work, the interactions of different systems or how to improve everyday lives. But as the diversity of IoT solutions grows and the value of data rises, every IoT application will require suitable connectivity. The question: is how can we achieve this? We’ll take a look at three areas that will help to achieve a stronger, more agile IoT. 

Smart up your life

Thanks to growing computing power, cloud technology, and highly developed sensor systems, the Internet of Things is on the verge of another significant breakthrough. The collection, processing and application of data makes everything ‘smart’, be it private homes, manufacturing plants, or even entire infrastructure complexes.

When it comes to connecting their ‘things’ to the internet, creators of IoT solutions can choose from many different technologies. On one hand, there are cable and mobile networks such as 2G, 3G, and 4G, radio and TV signals, then there are more recent innovations, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Long Range (LoRa) Low Frequency. And there will be more in the upcoming years, from 5G to those that have yet to be created.   

Each option has benefits and drawbacks, so finding the right fit for the devices you’re connecting means studying each one. Some are more secure, others are more cost-effective. Some allow for more data (and intelligence) to be transferred, others are lower bandwidth. Find the right one for you. 

The process of finding the right connectivity will be helped by looking at three areas: 

1. Local versus non-local

Do you need connectivity to a local or non-local solution? In many cases a local solution is the best and fastest route to connectivity. Wi-Fi, for instance, is highly suitable for coordinating local traffic systems through thousands of sensors. It can also be used in car parks to gain real-time insights into how many parking spaces are available at any given time.   

There are, however, many situations where local solutions are not suitable or sufficient. Where there is a high risk to the power supply, for instance. If a fire breaks out in a warehouse for example, dependency on a local solution such as Wi-Fi is too much of a risk. No electricity means no local IoT solution is able to work, so emergency systems need to run with non-local solutions, such as 3G. 

2. Staying mobile

If the device is portable and will use a lot of data, SIM cards are a good option. If you own a smartphone you know that you can send and receive large quantities of data if there is sufficient connectivity. But that issue of connectivity is an important one. To make sure a device can always use the best network with the best overall coverage, they need a specific type of SIM. New SIM cards that allow ‘unsteered roaming’ ensure devices have the best connectivity available, no matter the service provider. 

Unsteered roaming SIMs make use of the network that offers the strongest signal to ensure that the device can send and receive data any time and in any place.   

Additionally, new eSIMs, designed the same way as computer chips, could become an alternative that are built into devices in the near future. This will help integrate connectivity, with the benefit of better engineering around vibration or heat resistance, for instance. The opportunities in industrial environments and manufacturing would be significant. Moreover, eSIMs can be produced at a lower cost because they can be built into the devices during the manufacturing process. 

3. Securing the best service agreements 

Not only do SIM cards need to change, Telco providers also need to adapt. Traditional contracts and IoT devices are not a perfect combination. Service agreements need to be flexible enough to adapt to customers’ specific needs.

By making agreements and devices flexible, all companies, but especially mid-sized ones, can implement a cost-effective IoT solution. Devices with multiple sensors can be easily deployed to measure the status of cargo in a truck in real time, or for HD video streaming in a vehicle.

Telco providers have created their own departments, specialising in the development of solutions for IoT or Industry 4.0. These are not only about SIM cards but also Long Range (LoRa) applications, which are very good for communicating small amounts of data. LoRa devices send and receive data at a pre-defined time which makes the technology extremely energy efficient.   

LoRa is ideal for uses such as traffic management. A street lamp could be synchronised with the actual traffic volumes and shut off when there is none. LoRa is also perfect for car park management, when arriving cars are guided to specific available spaces to optimise utilisation. 

Connectivity is what the customer makes of it

Optimised connectivity requires developers and providers to critically examine each type of connection and find out which suits them best. Use cases are individual situations requiring their own solution, based on functional requirements such as bandwidth, location, environment, transactional volume and many more.   

Local IoT solutions are suited to Wi-Fi, but as the network of machines grows, developers need to take advantage of non-local solutions that allow portable or remote M2M connectivity. The mobile 2G, 3G and 4G networks play an important role, with LoRa already available in the Netherlands, suitable technology exists for every possible IoT application. In other words: connectivity is what the customer makes of it. 

Erik Peeters, Managing Director IoT, KPN 

Image Credit: Bakhtiar Zein / Shutterstock

Erik Peeters
Erik Peeters is the Managing Director of IoT at KPN, a Dutch mobile and landline telecommunications company.