You’ve analyzed the marketplace, defined your strategy, and purchased the necessary IoT hardware. But now comes one of the most challenging aspects of an IoT deployment – the connectivity layer. Connectivity is the bridge that connects IoT devices to the cloud and allows the reliable and timely transmission of actionable data. For small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs), connectivity can be a key differentiator in their IoT journey. With limited resources and time, they need a solution that is simple, secure and can be up and running quickly, so they can start harvesting data from their IoT devices and maximizing the value of their solution. However, this is often easier said than done.
Whether you are connecting a new generation of smart lockers, implementing a network of security cameras or tracking inventory through a warehouse or fulfilment center, we examine some of the crucial IoT connectivity elements on which SMBs need to focus.
Connectivity is complex and can be what makes or breaks an IoT solution, with poor coverage, outages and spiraling costs being the most commonly cited issues. These challenges are compounded for SMBs, which often do not have in-house tech teams to assess the best approach, manage the implementation or trouble-shoot any emerging problems. One way to de-risk this process is to opt for cellular connectivity as it does not require building a separate infrastructure. Cellular networks are ubiquitous and provide robust coverage in almost any location, while 4G technology and standards have been adapted for the IoT and are standardized so they can be easily integrated with existing tech stacks. Many SMBs also opt to partner with an experienced partner to take care of the cellular connectivity implementation, significantly reducing time-to-market. Plug and play solutions are a good option as they do not require upfront capital expenditure. This also means that connectivity can be accessed as a service, with a variety of flexible pricing packages, with a single point of contact for billing and operational support.
Connectivity costs can be unclear, making it difficult for SMBs to budget their operational expenditure and demonstrate a clear return on investment (ROI). IoT devices can vary their data usage, resulting in unpredictable invoices, or bill shock. If the deployment spans multiple regions it may involve working with different carriers all with their own price plans. SMBs also need clear visibility into their devices, with notifications for over-spends and the flexibility to act quickly if business conditions change, such as being able to suspend a data plan. In addition, they need simple invoicing and management arrangements so all potential costs can be monitored and forecasted, across different MNOs.
If a customer-facing application like a vending machine loses connectivity, it can result in lost revenues. If a tracking solution dies, it can lead to mislaid inventory or a poor customer experience. For mission-critical applications, like medical equipment, the need for reliable connectivity is even more acute. Cellular solutions such as 4G LTE or LPWA are a viable choice for IoT deployments as they are designed to keep assets connected even in remote locations or hard-to-reach places such as basements or industrial settings. There is also more flexibility to locate the assets in the optimal position, as they do not need to be near a fixed line connection. This is especially important for security cameras, digital signs and displays or mobile assets. However, cellular carriers can still have outages. To maximize uptime, SMBs should opt for a connectivity solution that has multiple redundant routes to each network and can instantly connect to the next best option if one carrier goes down.
As cyberattacks continue to proliferate, data security is a major concern for SMBs, especially as they may not have extensive inhouse security resources. They need to know that their IoT deployment is secure, from the device through to data transmission, with no weak links in the chain. Any connectivity solution should offer built-in security, including end-to-end data encryption, as well as the choice of static or dynamic IP addresses and private APN/VPN options.
Getting a connectivity solution up and running is only one part of the process. For a successful deployment, SMBs need a simple and streamlined way to monitor and manage their IoT network on an ongoing basis, otherwise they risk running into operational problems. What if a device disconnects? What if costs are more than expected? What if they need to add devices and expand the solution? The best approach is to opt for an integrated cloud-based management platform that provides visibility into all devices in the fleet from a single portal and gives managers the ability to troubleshoot problems. For example, they could bundle their devices to track data usage, or add consumption limits to prevent costs spiralling. Remote monitoring functionality can be used to diagnose issues and resolve them quickly. If they opt for eSIMs for their devices, then they also have the option to provision devices over-the-air, which is far more efficient and scalable.
Considering these five key issues will help SMBs to navigate the many challenges that IoT connectivity can bring and ensure a successful deployment. Meanwhile, partnering with a company that is a one-stop-shop for IoT connectivity and understands the unique challenges faced by SMBs can help reduce time to market, optimize costs and maximize the value of your IoT data.
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