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IoT System Developers Cite Power Consumption, Security, and Development Time as Key Challenges

by Steve Hoffenberg, Director, Industry Analysis, IoT & Embedded Technology, VDC Research
Short-range wireless protocols, such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, are not designed to support a growing number of IoT applications. For example, they can’t be used by a shipping company to monitor their cargo as it is transported across the country, or to track other mobile assets as they travel across a wide geographic area. They can’t be used by an oil company that wants to monitor a sensor on a remote oil pipeline, or to connect to other stationary sensors and devices in locations where no secure local network is available. They are hard to use if a utility wants to collect data from smart meters located in a building’s basement, if an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) wants to monitor an air compressor used at a manufacturing facility, or if another asset owner or manufacturer wants to connect to their asset, but do not own or manage the local network near it.

In these and similar situations, where securely and reliably connecting to a local wireless network is difficult if not impossible, long range wireless communications technologies are preferable. In particular, Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) network technologies, including technologies based on 3GPP standards like LTE-M and NB-IoT, offer long-range communications, along with broad coverage, the ability to handle a large number of devices and, perhaps most importantly for IoT use cases, low power consumption, which enables battery-powered IoT devices to operate for 10 years or more.

Despite these advantages, companies still face challenges as they develop and deploy LPWA-based IoT systems. In a survey VDC Research conducted for our new report, IoT System Development with LPWAN: Benefits, Challenges, and Architectures respondents identified several challenges related to IoT system development using LPWA including 1) minimizing power consumption; 2) securing IoT data; 3) lowering project development time; and 4) reducing total cost of ownership.

In reviewing wireless solution market offerings for the report we also found that low-power, low-cost integrated wireless solutions - like Sierra Wireless’ Octave™ solution - can help customers tackle these challenges, and reap the benefits of LPWA.

Challenge 1: Minimizing Device Power Consumption

In our report’s survey of 225 engineers and product/project managers involved in the development of IoT devices that use long-range wireless communications, 48% of the respondents said that the devices on which they were currently working were not connected to the main electrical grid and did not utilize any AC mains power. 

This means that those devices are primarily or exclusively powered by batteries. As such, power consumption, including that of the embedded wireless module, is an important consideration in the design of the majority of these devices, lest the batteries be prematurely drained. Battery replacement in the field would not only incur the cost of the new battery, but the labor cost to send a person to replace it, not to mention the potential impact of device downtime. 

In basic battery powered IoT sensors, wireless communications may be the most power consuming function of the device. However, IoT system development can lower this power consumption by utilizing the latest generation of wireless modules. In addition, integrated wireless solutions that offer data orchestration allow IoT system designers to process, prioritize, and filter data at the edge, helping them further maximize efficient usage of their IoT devices’ limited power resources.

Challenge 2: Securing IoT Data

Our 2020 survey of professionals involved in the development of IoT systems using LPWA showed that respondents rated security as the most important factor in selecting a wireless technology vendor.

This isn’t surprising given the increasing prevalence of high-profile cybersecurity breaches which have required IoT device makers to take security into account in every aspect of their product designs, including wireless communications technology.

Although security for IoT devices encompasses a wide range of hardware and software requirements, our survey revealed that communications security (IPsec, TLS/SSL, etc.) was the most commonly employed security enhancement in current IoT projects (53.8% of respondents). 

This highlights the importance of selecting an established, trusted vendor for LPWA wireless communications solutions. In addition, integrated wireless solutions can orchestrate security from end-to-end, including IoT device hardware, the firmware it runs on, and the network the device uses to transmit data, helping minimize the potential for security vulnerabilities anywhere within the solution.

Challenge 3: Lowering Project Development Time

In our survey, the average project development time reported by respondents was 13.7 months, with 31% of respondents saying their projects were running behind schedule. 

One of the most compelling benefits of an integrated wireless solution is that it can reduce development time by 15% to 20%, shaving two to three months off a typical development schedule and preempting schedule slippage.

Reducing development time also reduces development costs a median of $500,000 per project in the survey. Additionally, by bringing products to market more quickly, OEMs have the opportunity to garner additional sales, market share and profits, benefitting the bottom line – another strong motivator for addressing this challenge.

Challenge 4: Reducing Total Cost of Ownership

In addition to development costs, IoT system developers have expenses related to certifying and managing devices, managing connectivity subscriptions, maintaining the IoT system, and cloud connectivity.

A low-power, low-cost, integrated wireless solution can be quite compelling in reducing these costs. Using median project cost figures from our survey, it is estimated that an OEM’s total cost of ownership (including non-recurring engineering costs, bill-of-materials costs, product maintenance costs, communications services costs, and cloud connectivity costs) can be reduced by up to 24% using such an integrated wireless solution.

By integrating communications services, cloud connection services, and data orchestration into an all-in-one solution, then, IoT solution vendors can significantly reduce Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for IoT system developers.

How Integrated Wireless Solutions Address the Challenges Faced by IoT System Developers

Octave™ all-in-one edge-to-cloud solution for connecting industrial assets to the cloud can help customers navigate these and other IoT system development challenges. 

With its lower power consumption, Octave addresses the challenge of minimizing device power consumption. It enables enterprises to deploy edge-to-cloud connectivity in power-constrained devices, extending their ability to safeguard critical assets, collect valuable data to maximize performance and uptime, and offer new business models such as equipment-as-a-service and consumption-based services.

Security is built into Octave, addressing challenges around securing IoT devices, communications channels, and data handling. Octave establishes a trusted relationship between edge devices and the cloud, using verified security measures to ensure that data is not lost or altered. Data is then transmitted over an encrypted and, resilient network.

Additionally, Octave integrates devices, network, and interfaces to all major cloud service providers, to accelerate, simplify, and reduce the risk of IoT initiatives. It provides businesses with predictable, controllable, and transparent pay-per-message pricing, while substantially reducing the complexities of implementing and scaling IoT solutions. Together, these capabilities lower project development time and reduce total cost of ownership.

These four challenges are not the only challenges that OEMs face in developing an IoT system that utilizes LPWA. Other concerns include the need to intelligently buffer, filter, store, and transmit data, not just to optimize system level power consumption but to provide the right data, at the right time, to the right cloud application, enabling more frequent sensor readings and more extensive data processing. Octave can address this challenge as well, securely extracting, orchestrating, and acting on data from remote assets and sensors at the edge to the cloud. Octave also addresses challenges around configuring, updating, and managing edge devices’ rules and then cloning device attributes to other devices with the ability to handle massive scale.

OEMs and other companies across a wide variety of industries increasingly see IoT systems as way to gather asset data they can use to lower costs, increase uptime, and offer customers new revenue generating services. With the right IoT solution partners, OEMs can navigate around the challenges associated with developing IoT systems that require long-range wireless communications and use LPWA-network technologies to realize these and other digital transformation objectives.

To learn more about how integrated wireless solutions such as Sierra Wireless Octave™ can address the challenges faced by IoT System Developers, read the report, IoT System Development with LPWAN: Benefits, Challenges, and Architectures, or watch the webinar, 23% Reduced TCO: A New Paradigm in Industrial IoT