Managing billions of devices in the IoT era: The network technologies that will make it happen

Managing billions of devices in the IoT era: The network technologies that will make it happen Mark Smith is media, tech and telecoms advisor at IBC.

As one of the key technology trends in the era of digital transformation, the Internet of Things (IoT) is expected take huge strides forward in the coming years, with nearly 50 billion devices/things predicted to be connected to the internet by the year 2020, up from 7 billion in 2008.

IoT’s capability in functioning as a network that connects physical entities such as smart machines, wearables, autonomous driving and tech in almost every environment from streetlights to parking and traffic sensors, and a myriad of exciting applications, that will bring a seismic shift to businesses, societies and people everywhere. IoT is already becoming one of the next big battle grounds for many tech giants and major players from a variety of industries.

This isn’t much of surprise considering that businesses are realising the value of IoT as a tool to improve operational processes and as such, many have already started thinking about implementing IoT strategies across their operations with the expectation of it driving tremendous cost and resource savings, enhance customer experiences, improve operational efficiencies as well as birthing entirely new revenue streams and business models.

Before an organisation can adopt IoT, it needs to consider a number of key things such as the type of technology and network to run and manage the connected devices in a safe, secure and efficient manner.

Network technologies that will enable mass connectivity

There are currently a number of IoT network technologies touted that have various different capabilities, functionalities and benefits, all of which are vying to become the connectivity of choice for many industries looking to adopt IoT.

The main network technologies for IoT connectivity include Standard Wireless Access which comprises of WiFi, 2G, 3G and standard LTE connectivity, Private Long Range which includes Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA) and Sigfox connectivity and lastly, Mobile IoT Technologies which encompasses LTE-M and NB-IoT connectivity.

Standard wireless access

This type of network connectivity is arguably the most widely adopted of the three as businesses and consumers alike rely heavily on networks such as WiFi, 3G and LTE connectivity to enable the function of everyday technologies such as home appliances, computers, Smart TVs, and critical communication devices such as the likes of walkie-talkies.

The network strength of these technologies make them the ‘go-to’ choices for IoT connectivity, however the wireless element of their function doubles up as both a benefit and a pitfall, with its long range and sieve-like power consumption making it difficult to use the devices connected to these networks for long periods of time.

Private long range and mobile IoT technologies

The leading technologies in this category consist of Low-power wide-area network (LPWAN), which is comprised of networks that enable communication over extensive distances with the use of low/minimal power.

These networks include mobile technologies 3GPP, LTE-M, NB-IoT as well as unlicensed Sigfox and LoRa-based-standards, most of which are conveniently designed with specific compatibility for IoT – hence the ability to send small volumes of data over long ranges to and from multiple devices with low power usage. Mobile technology networks in particular such as LPWA 3GPP, LTE-M and NB-IoT have been advanced to deliver connectivity to billions of devices facilitating a superb standard of IoT connectivity.

IoT is expected to revolutionise business processes as well as our personal lives, and with mass adoption of the technology expected to facilitate the connectivity of billions of devices, both in our homes and workplaces, these connected devices need to be deployed and managed efficiently and accordingly, considering the amount of strain that they will likely place on networks software and hardware.

Having the know-how and tools in place to secure, deploy, connect and manage these devices over the various different networks, can go a long way to benefiting from the adoption of IoT whether that being increasing operational efficiencies, reducing costs or unlocking new revenue streams.

Staying secure and connected in an IoT network

Securing and deploying connected devices in a safe and measured manner is paramount to the up keeping of an efficient IoT ecosystem. As devices such as the ones used to operate smart cities and CCTV surveillance cameras operate remotely in various different locations, they need to be kept secure as they are often vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

Cyber-criminals often harness the power of connected IoT devices to access extensive pools of additional data over a network which makes them ideal targets for cyber-attacks. In order to secure your IoT devices and also sensitive data, you can use a range of methods including device authentication, that provides individual devices with unique identification codes that help validate them within a network whilst also filtering out unknown devices that enter the network. This can also be applied to monitoring devices, wearable smart technology and home devices.

Managing and updating connected devices

Devices connected to an IoT ecosystem need to be managed efficiently, and this involves actions such as device rebooting, configuration, software updates, status and progress reporting, which are all things that need to be managed in devices connected to a network, whether they are operating remotely or locally. Managing devices efficiently is paramount, as this ensures that they are not only in working order, but also that they are carrying out the operations expected of them.

Connected devices of any amount can be tracked, monitored and managed through one central IoT hub that is connected to the operational network of choice. This hub will function as a form of ‘control panel’ that will provide updates and key information on the status of individual devices connected to the IoT network in real-time.

This includes monitoring devices for early virus and malware detection, performance data, as well as the maintenance of remote devices to avoid system outages. In the case of a device malfunctioning or not working to set standards, this information can be relayed to the control hub for consideration and early intervention.

There are many types of networks that can accommodate IoT connectivity, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and choosing the right connectivity option for your business/home will require you to consider a few important things including; the type of connected devices you’ll be working with, the type of project for deployment, and business goals, all of which are things that need to be considered before choosing the most suitable type of network to make your business a more smarter and connected one.

Want to find out about digital twins from executives and thought leaders in this space? Find out more about the Digital Twin World event, taking place on 9 November 2021, which will explore augmenting business outcomes in more depth and the industries that will benefit.

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