The Internet of Things (IoT) has revolutionized various industries for more than twenty years by enabling remote monitoring, analysis, and control of devices for businesses and consumers. The applications of IoT are constantly expanding, resulting in billions of connected devices worldwide.
However, the convenience of IoT comes with new hurdles for developers, manufacturers, and customers. Significant IoT challenges have existed since its inception but have become more pressing as IoT solutions become more ubiquitous.
Although adding connectivity to devices has become more accessible, every new IoT application must confront or disregard the same obstacles. Unfortunately, many manufacturers remain uninformed about how modern IoT technologies can overcome these challenges. This article will explore the seven primary obstacles confronting IoT today and the corresponding technologies that can address them.
Security is a pressing issue in the realm of IoT. Since its inception, IoT devices have been highly susceptible to cyber-attacks, such as becoming part of botnets or being hacked to access other areas of a network. Unfortunately, this problem is intrinsic to IoT devices and not easily solvable.
One of the main issues with IoT devices is their limited power supply, requiring them to transmit and receive data with minimal power. Including encryption, authentication, and security protocols would significantly increase power consumption during basic transmissions, and as a result, many IoT devices lack these capabilities. Additionally, new vulnerabilities in device firmware can emerge over time, and without updates, accumulate over the device’s lifespan.
However, updating IoT devices can be a challenge since they are typically distributed and inaccessible for on-site updates.
The problem is compounded when IoT devices depend on end-users’ network infrastructure, such as WiFi, making them more susceptible to cyber-attacks and potentially compromising the entire network.
Fortunately, low-power connectivity solutions are continually developing new security measures, and cellular IoT is particularly valuable in this regard. SIM cards authenticate devices on cellular networks, and features like IMEI locks ensure that only intended devices can use specific SIM cards. Cellular networks also enable remote firmware updates with minimal power consumption. Providers like Softeq offer virtual private network (VPN) capabilities and greater control over device communications to help address security gaps.
The network connection is crucial for transmitting and receiving data in IoT devices. However, since there are various IoT connectivity solutions available, each one is best suited for different types of coverage. As a result, the coverage you choose can significantly restrict where you can deploy your devices, making coverage a constant challenge in IoT.
For example, WiFi is a prevalent option for IoT services connectivity. However, it has a limited range, and you can only deploy devices in locations with available WiFi infrastructure. If the infrastructure is not available, you must either pay to build it or equip your devices with a backup solution that already has coverage.
Fortunately, several technologies can provide wide coverage, allowing IoT devices to operate within a few miles of the network infrastructure. While cellular networks are the most commonly used option, Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) like Sigfox and LoRaWAN are also viable alternatives. In the future, satellite connectivity is likely to become more prevalent in IoT as well.
IoT businesses typically have hundreds or thousands of devices deployed in the field. In some cases, the largest manufacturers have millions of devices deployed worldwide. As businesses expand, they often use different connectivity solutions for deploying devices in new regions, resulting in a fragmented IoT stack. Each IoT solution comes with its own management platforms, support systems, and underlying technologies. If a new connectivity solution requires significant changes to your product, you may need multiple SKUs for a single product. As the scale of operations increases, device management and logistics can become overwhelming.
This issue is not limited to cellular IoT, where connectivity is available worldwide but owned by different Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). To connect to a new carrier, you need a provider with roaming agreements with that carrier or a new SIM card.
The solution is to use global IoT solutions like Softeq, which has agreements with carriers worldwide. With a single Softeq SIM card, your devices can connect to over 540 networks in almost 200 countries, avoiding the challenge of fragmented connectivity.
The versatility of IoT allows for endless configurations to suit unique circumstances, but it also presents interoperability challenges. IoT devices and solutions may not be compatible with each other or with business applications, requiring changes to maintain functionality. Open source technology can further complicate matters when variations exist without a universal standard, hindering technology adoption and deployment in different countries. To address this, industries need to accelerate their adoption of universal standards to improve interoperability.
Fortunately, the industry trend is towards making IoT solutions more versatile by simplifying integration and making components easily exchangeable.
The finite resource of Radio Frequency (RF) bandwidth is shared by the entire world. When too many devices use the same frequency bands in the same location, their signals can interfere with each other. For instance, in apartment buildings, every resident’s WiFi router creates a separate network that uses the same frequencies, causing interference when they use these frequencies simultaneously.
With IoT, thousands of connected devices can be in relatively close proximity, and the increasing number of devices will crowd the RF spectrum even more. To address this challenge, the industry is taking several approaches.
Access the bandwidth, reducing the likelihood of interference. Some IoT solutions, such as LoRaWAN, use unlicensed bands available to the public, which may lead to interference in high-traffic areas but can help avoid concentrating devices on already crowded bands.
New IoT technologies are finding more efficient ways to use bandwidth. Narrowband IoT, for instance, is a cellular network technology that uses narrower bands, including the “guard bands,” which typically serve as unused gaps between networks. Although 5G isn’t yet widely available for IoT, it will soon enable businesses to access a broader range of the RF spectrum, allowing for the distribution of IoT devices across more frequencies.
6. Limited Battery Life
Due to their small size and the trend towards smaller and more efficient components, most IoT devices have small batteries. This means that adding a larger battery could restrict a device’s use cases and limit its installation options. Devices that rely solely on batteries are designed to last for years but can only do so if their regular operations drain minimal power. Transmitting or receiving data for extended periods drains too much battery life.
To extend the battery life of IoT devices, newer networking technologies such as NB-IoT and LTE-M have power-saving features like Power-Saving Mode (PSM) and Discontinuous Reception (DRX). These features can extend battery life by over 10 years. However, older technologies still in use today lack these capabilities.
Manufacturers can also use specialized IoT routers and gateways to make more efficient use of batteries. These pieces of network infrastructure can serve as intermediaries between IoT devices and the applications and network entities they need to communicate with. The router or gateway can support complicated protocols and security processes such as encryption and authentication, keeping devices secure while minimizing power consumption.
7. Remote Access
The type of connectivity used by an IoT device determines how it can be accessed. For instance, using a customer’s WiFi or ethernet requires support personnel to either have VPN privileges or be physically present on the premises. On-site visits can be prohibitively expensive, making it challenging to troubleshoot or update devices without incurring additional costs.
Remote access capabilities significantly reduce support and maintenance costs, making routine firmware updates more manageable. Unfortunately, many IoT connectivity solutions lack the necessary data throughput to make global remote access feasible. A single firmware update over a low-data-throughput network consumes too much power for battery-powered devices.
Cellular connectivity offers the necessary data throughput to efficiently push updates to devices and the required technology for secure remote access through VPNs, making it a more viable option.
Once you can overcome these challenges, you will enjoy the full potential of IoT. IoT has the power to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and improve customer service. Thus, by investing in IoT solutions, you can stay ahead of the competition and create a more competitive advantage for your business.