While the Internet of Things (IoT) is often thought to be something for large enterprises, small/medium businesses (SMBs) can also benefit from deploying IoT networks. There are already millions of IoT devices in use for applications as diverse as fleet tracking, EV charging, vending, smart lockers, energy delivery, video surveillance, environmental control, customer traffic analysis, and many others. With IoT networks in place, companies are significantly reducing costs, gaining business operational insights, and improving customer service. If those benefits seem attractive, you’re probably wondering how to get started with planning and implementing an IoT network.
There are lots of factors to consider. All IoT networks require distributed devices (each of which has a SIM or SSID), a network that connects them, and an application that processes the devices’ data and provides analytics and/or control. It sounds pretty basic, but the devil is in the details. Let’s look at some key factors.
Setting up IoT connectivity infrastructure can be expensive and time consuming, but being able to accurately predict connectivity costs, even as circumstances change, is vital for SMBs so they get a clear return on investment (ROI). You probably have a limited budget, and you may prefer scalable operational expenses, rather than having a capital outlay and up-front costs. This requires a connectivity solution that can be deployed quickly and can be accessed as a service, with pay-per-usage or other flexible options.
How to Connect?
Cellular LTE networks are key enablers for many IoT use cases because they allow companies to place IoT sensors where they’re needed and eliminate the time and expense of deploying wired network infrastructure. In addition, LTE networks are more secure than Wi-Fi networks and offer better overall performance with global coverage. However, LTE networks incur monthly usage fees, which must be tracked and managed.
SMBs are frequent targets of cyberattacks, as their networks are often considered easier to hack than those at larger companies. It’s vital that any connectivity solution provide water-tight data security. Wi-Fi frequencies can have exploitable flaws, especially if they are using unlicensed spectrums. Cellular connectivity, in contrast, uses data encryption by default. Carriers have invested enormous amounts in the security of their cellular networks, so SMBs can rest assured that their data is properly secured when it is being transferred from their devices to the cloud.
SMBs typically don’t have in-house tech teams that can implement a connectivity infrastructure. Recent research shows that 75% of businesses struggle to deploy their IoT solution due to connectivity issues. SMBs need solutions that can be easily integrated into their existing technology, and they need an experienced, full-service provider to ensure a painless implementation. Moreover, if the IoT solution spans different regions, it may involve interacting with different carriers. It’s time-consuming to manage SIMs with a group of carriers, as it may include multiple invoicing and payment arrangements. A connectivity service provider can make the process simpler.
Monitoring and management
An effective connectivity solution should include a cloud-based management platform to aggregate and access IoT data and to provide visibility into device performance, data usage and other parameters. For SMBs, this can be a major cost-saver as it enables them to be efficient and proactive by provisioning new devices efficiently and by quickly diagnosing and resolving issues in the network.
Many SMBs gain a competitive advantage from having greater agility than larger competitors. When implementing a connectivity solution, SMBs need to be able to get to market within a short time frame. This can be challenging, whether opting for Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity, and it requires fully enabled solutions and partners that are experienced in managing IoT deployments. Having a single partner that offers effective, plug-and-play connectivity options can help companies get up and running quickly.
After investing in an IoT solution, the last thing a company wants is patchy coverage and poor-quality data transfer. The location of your IoT devices and whether your use case is mobile or fixed will have a major impact on your connectivity strategy. Mobile applications such as asset trackers or fleet management may require fast attachment to various networks as the asset moves across geographies. Fixed assets, like video cameras and vending machines, require consistent data throughput with minimal latency and downtime.
Reducing downtime and maximizing reliability is a crucial element for any connectivity solution. If a vending machine is out of action, then it directly impacts sales. If an industrial printer breaks down during a print run, then it can cause substantial monetary loss. If an IoT sensor goes dead, it could result in inventory being mislaid. To maximize resiliency, you need a cellular solution that provides access to a range of networks in each region or country, with multiple redundant routes to each network.
The connectivity partner you choose depends on the exact needs of your IoT deployment. Important decisions include network speed (2G, 3G, 4G LTE or even 5G), the number of devices and location, monthly data requirements, how much flexibility you need in your arrangements, and how quickly you need to get to market. It’s also important to consider scalability and flexibility; for example, will it be straightforward to add new devices to the network or expand the deployment into new locations?
If this all seems daunting, it’s only so if you’re trying to buy, build, and configure an IoT network on your own. Connectivity is the hardest part, but the road ahead becomes much easier if you have a trusted IoT partner who can manage carrier relationships for you. At Sierra Wireless,
we understand the operational challenges faced by SMBs and have products and pricing plans that are specially designed for this market. In addition, our AirVantage® platform provides a single view of all devices and SIMs in your IoT deployment. This makes it easy to provision SIMs, track usage, monitor devices and diagnose issues in the field.
We also work with our customers and keep them informed about IoT trends and how they can get the most out of their applications. We believe that by giving customers greater visibility and control over their IoT networks, they can optimize costs and simplify management, while ensuring that their data is secure.