Today, most consumers are familiar with the short-range wireless protocols, such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, that they use to connect their laptops, tablets, wireless headphones and other electronic devices to the Internet. However, while these protocols are fine for someone who wants to browse the Internet on their iPad, listen to music on their JBL headphones or play Fortnite with friends online, they are not designed to support a growing number of Internet of Things (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 that asset.
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, high capacity, 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 we 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; 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 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, respondents said that 48% of 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.
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 is not 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 ensure there are no 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 any schedule slippage.
Reducing development time also reduces development costs (our survey revealed to have a median of $500,000 per project). 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 an average of 23% using such an integrated wireless solution. For basic IoT devices—where the wireless functions constitute a larger than average portion of the entire project—savings can be even higher, approaching 30%.
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.
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.
OEMs and other companies across a wide variety of industries increasingly see IoT systems as a 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.
Find the original, unedited version published by Sierra Wireless here:
Steve Hoffenberg is a market research professional who brings his expertise to Embedded Software and IoT. He has more than two decades of experience in market research and product management for technology products and services. At VDC, Steve covers industry trends, market sizing, marketing strategy, and competitive analysis, for a variety of IoT-related technologies, including embedded systems, security, wireless communications, cloud platforms and data analytics. He is also a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).