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Unlocking the Potential of IoT


New connectivity options for a networked world

 – By Duane Wald –

Internet of Things (IoT) has, over the past few years, become the hottest buzz word in the technology industry – driving connected devices and the applications they enable firmly into the spotlight.

Anyone who has been following IoT, even from the sidelines, can’t have missed the huge projections being bandied about:

  • In 2011, Ericsson famously predicted that 50 billion devices will be connected by 2020,
  • More recently, economists at GE forecast a $15 trillion addition to global GDP in 20 years,
  • Gartner believes the technology will contribute $300 billion in incremental revenue for companies adopting the technology by 2020, and
  • IDC values the total IoT market at $1.7 Trillion.

 

Although estimates vary widely, and debate about their accuracy remains spirited, one thing is absolutely clear, as analyst James Brehm puts it: the IoT market is already big and poised to become huge.

Why? Because the Internet of Things is creating new customer experiences and unparalleled economic value, while improving quality of life for countless people around the globe.

Moreover, there is not a single industry that won’t be affected to generate positive outcomes including: faster more effective emergency response; improved quality of life for the elderly or infirm; more efficient food production and distribution; safer, less congested highways, and a cleaner environment, among countless others.

So the only question that remains is: How? With what technologies? Leveraging what standards?

There are many ways to manage, control and collect information from assets, some wired and increasingly wireless. Those technologies are either managed or non-managed. Those technologies that address Short Range Communication, Personal Area Networks or Local Area Networks tend to be set up by the individual or enterprise with an emphasis on a CAPEX-only model, they buy it connect and manage it and enjoy economic, social or personal benefit. Longer range technologies tend to be managed, such as cellular, and as such involve a CAPEX-model upfront with an ongoing OPEX expense, which often cannot meet the business case of all assets that may benefit from connectivity.

The recent realization of LPWANs using ISM bands is disruptive as it turns this paradigm upside down for those who are prepared to invest CAPEX similar to a LAN or PAN to gain long range connectivity with devices more akin to Cellular for use cases where Short Range has been successful, such as sensor harvesting and remote control of industrial machinery.

New wireless technologies will not only drive the (now rather mundane) connection of things but also one’s own personal interaction with things and IoT network resources. Upcoming optical and sonic wireless technologies have the promise to provide contactless information transfer from a person or thing to another person or thing via the IoT to transparently enable and make available massive IoT network resources on demand. It represents just-in-time information flow for the consumer. The next phase of IoT is all about what we do with the connections that the first phase is now putting into place. Those eventual uses should feed back and drive what connections and connection types are being built out right now.

We’re now at the stage where cellular operators are voluntarily shutting down the earliest 2G networks and driving M2M/IoT customers to not only upgrade their physical devices, but also purchase bandwidth beyond what is generally needed for M2M and IIoT applications – 75% of which use less than one megabyte per month of data. The global carrier community is looking to variants of LTE and even forward years to 5G to address this disconnect. At the same time, a host of new Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) networking options are rolling out around the world.

LPWA solutions can run for years on batteries and operate in locations other technologies simply don’t reach. Plus, because many LPWA solutions operate on unlicensed spectrum, they deliver device connectivity at a fraction of the cost of cellular or even analog wireless solutions.

Among LPWA options available today, the leader has yet to emerge. Multiple options are making names for themselves. They include LoRaWAN, Sigfox and RPMA (Ingenu, formerly OnRamp Wireless). Each offers long range and long battery life, but they have important differences which impact their suitability to particular purposes. Moreover, there are new offerings coming out from the cellular carriers including LTE Categories 1 and M, as well as narrow-band IoT (5G).

Ultimately, we believe these technologies are very complimentary as each is suited to a subset of applications. Sigfox, for example, is ideal for simple sensor harvesting where its inherent limitations are acceptable due to the small size of the data being transferred and the need for optimal power efficiency. Ingenu offers a broader bit rate and tighter control, but requires antenna diversity at the edge due to the propagation of 2.4GHz creating an up-front CAPEX expense most suitable to very high-value assets where the additional complexity of integration can be effectively absorbed at the margin. LoRaWAN resides comfortably in the middle, providing higher bandwith and a faster data rate than Sigfox at a slightly shorter range and smaller link budget than Ingenue, but with a lower up front cost. And while Sigfox and Ingenue are both on the path to building ubiquitous nationwide networks, LoRa offers the ability, for those who prefer it, to deploy a private network to cover a campus, farm, refinery, etc. as well as the option to work with public network service providers.

As you can see, each available connecting technology has its pros and cons, but by understanding them, you are more likely to find the best for your specific purposes.  In fact, as technologies evolve and use cases become more sophisticated, blended connectivity solutions are likely to predominate the IoT space. When connecting your devices to the IoT, you will need to get used to working with several technologies at once for any given solution.

Duane Walde is VP and Managing Director EMEA and APAC, MultiTech Systems. Multitech Systems provides products and services to connect “things” to the Internet and deliver critical insight to businesses, governments and individuals. Such insights transform the way we live and work.

More than 25 million MultiTech products empoying a range of connectivity technologies perform critical functions for businesses around the globe.