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

By Steve Hoffenberg, VDC Research

Steve Hoffenberg is director of industry analysis, IoT & embedded technology at VDC Research.

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:

https://www.sierrawireless.com/iot-blog/top-challenges-for-iot-system-developers/?lsc=db_internal-eblast_eblast___eblast-iot-sys-dev-bl-211108-weekly-bl&cid=7018Y000001dglcQAA&campaigntype=database-marketing-lead-nurture&utm_source=internal-eblast&utm_medium=eblast&utm_campaign=eblast-iot-sys-dev-bl-211108-weekly-bl

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).

Opinion: A Brave New World Called the Metaverse

By Ernest Worthman

I often refer, in some of my ramblings, to sci-fi movies. Obviously, I am a fan. So, I am taking some editorial license here to do a bit of ethereal daydreaming about the brave new digital world being called the metaverse. The timing with this getting some traction is pretty good. It seems that things on the sci-fi front have been a bit slow if late – mostly zombies and invaders from outer space. Perhaps Hollywood can get a whiff of this and create some really cool flix with it as a theme.

It is interesting that someone finally came up with a name to breathe some new life into the well-worn internet and up the ante for what we describe as the digital world. Although definitions of the metaverse vary slightly, the bottom line and the common thread are that, just like the universe, which contains everything and anything physical, the metaverse contains anything and everything digital.

Actually, I like it. It is kind of a cool name. Even though the term has been around for a while — it was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi book, Snow Crash — I am a bit surprised it has taken this long for it to connect to the internet. It seems it is about time to rebrand the internet to give marketers something new to work with. And everybody is hopping on the bandwagon – from The Motley Fool to Forbes to Nvidia.

This column’ topic is borrowed from one of the other products in the wireless publishing space. That is what got me going on this. The story headline likened it to the Matrix film series. There are a lot of similarities, and my hat is off to whoever came up with the thought.

However, there is one big difference. This brave new metaverse is real and not just a virtual world created by a Skynet-iteration of a supercomputer with one of its appendages stuck in everyone’s brain.

We could easily have continued with the term internet. But what the heck, why not add a bit of 21-st-century creative fantasy to what has become a well-worn ecosystem.

It is a great way to bring in things that are on the edge. For example, at the just-concluded Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (IAA – International Automobile Exhibition) in Germany, one of the coolest things was an exhibit by Mercedes-Benz showing a futuristic vehicular platform that allows the driver to pilot the vehicle with Telekinetic powers — or for now, a brain-computer interface (BCI), but without the probe.

The presentation at the IAA used a headset that is actually a BCI. It enables the wearer to manage some rudimentary functions via brainwaves, such as finding a parking spot, managing the 21-st-century equivalent of the radio – streaming media content, like Alexa without the voice – and dialing down the interior ambient lighting. So far, this is only a vision. However, BCIs are real and functioning in other areas, so why would we not be able to port them to vehicles – especially autonomous ones.

The BCI, sometimes called a neural control interface (NCI), mind-machine interface (MMI), direct neural interface (DNI) or brain-machine interface (BMI), like the metaverse, has been around for a while – since the mid-1990s, as a matter of fact. Some of the more common applications are in the medical realm with electroencephalographs (EEG) and the oft-barbaric shock therapy.

The future metaverse will couple the BCI with other objects within it, such as 3D holograms, all types of virtual realities, medical applications and retail. Another huge space is in video conferencing. Imagine a digital twin of every physical location of a company.

There are many others, some yet to be developed and integrated. But make no mistake, it is going to happen. Everything would simply be objects within the metaverse.

Another good reason for a metaverse is that the various sub-categories of the internet (IIot, IoPT, IoST, IoMT, yada yada)1 are now simply digital objects in a universe. A metaverse is a place where all of these worlds can live in harmony without having to justify what they are or have a slew of interfaces.

Imagine things like vehicles, medical devices, smart home devices, each having digital twins or some other digital avatar that manages them. One might never have to physically manage anything. One only needs to look to massively multiplayer online role-playing games to catch a glimpse of some of what will be ubiquitous within the metaverse.

The nice thing about the metaverse, unlike the internet, is that when looking at it as a “universe,” untethered intergalactic travel among apps will be the goal. The final stoke will be a single app that is capable of communicating with every “world” in the metaverse. The metaverse will become a platform that is not tied to any one app or any single place.

The metaverse will make it possible for objects and identities to move from one virtual world to another, even into the physical world, with augmented reality. It will seem as real as our world today.

I could go on about this for hours. The metaverse itself is not that fascinating, but what it will enable, is. That is the exciting thing.

One can only hope that the concepts of metaverse worlds catch on and everybody gets on board. It will make tying all of this together so much easier and quicker. This is truly a concept that can tie together the widely disparaged and fragmented world that is our internet of today. Let us just hope the politicians keep their noses out of it.

Footnote

1. IIoT – internet of industrial things; IoPT – internet of personal things; IoMT – internet of medical things; IoST – internet of smart things, yada yada.


Ernest Worthman is an executive editor with AGL Media Group.

 

 

Opinion: We Have Been Warned – And Not Just Once

By Ernest Worthman

The warnings by the cybersecurity segment in the consumer segment still tend go relatively unheeded by consumer wireless vendors. Because of that we can expect nefarious activities in that sector to continue to ramp up. But we all know that. So why are they not doing more to thwart it?

So far, hacking consumer devices tends to be a low-yield activity compared to hacking government or enterprises. However, with the implementation of 5G and the expansion of the Internet of Anything/Everything (IoX), that is going to change.

While the non-consumer IoX segment is further down the line with security, the consumer vector seems stalled. So far, and luckily, this segment has not seen a pandemic-scale attack on its IoX devices. But it is just a matter of time until such an event occurs, simply because of the proliferation of smart consumer IoX devices.

One of the major talking points around 5G is security. Most agree that 5G will be the great enabler for the IoX. It makes sense, especially when one considers that many IoX devices will be capable of using mmWave frequencies. As this evolves, the attack surface increases logarithmically.

The consumer supply side is, and always will be (except for the well-off) a very competitive segment. Consumers are price conscious-so what else is new? That puts the pressure on the vendor to be price competitive; meaning (obviously there are exceptions), putting in just enough to make sell and be profitable.

And, Like it or not, security is not a big selling point for the consumer. However, the time has come (again) to rethink that, especially in light of 5G. And there are hints that this should happen sooner than later.

What caught my eye and spurned this discussion is I recently saw a story about a cybersecurity company, GeoEdge, which has uncovered a global-scale malvertising attack. This is noteworthy because it is the first ad-based cybercrime aimed specifically at home-network-based IoX devices. It is believed to have originated in Slovenia and the Ukraine.

It first became visible a couple of months ago. This particular malware  silently install code on home-WiFi-connected smart IoX devices.

This is a dangerous precedent. Not because it is a harbinger of things to come (which it certainly is), but because this malware is so easily implemented on a very fundamental level. All that is required is a basic understanding of device API documentation, a bit of JavaScript knowledge, and rudimentary online advertising skills. Heck, I could do this!

If we look at some of the predictions for how many IoX devices will be out there in the next few years, a reasonable figure is 30 – 40 billion, globally, by 2025. By any stretch of the imagination that is a huge attack surface. And most low-tier, consumer devices are not equipped to spot this kind of malware.

In case you are not familiar with malvertising, or malicious advertising here is a birds-eye view. This is the kind of code that is embedded in ads – yes, the kind we are inundated with constantly. These are the type of ads that load when the site is opened. No user action is required. One would wonder how an IoX device would open malware. The fact is they do not directly but hang on a moment.

Malvertising injects malicious code into online display ads via online advertising networks.  Such networks are generally unaware they are serving up malicious content. And with a more recent version of this malware, users are not even required to click on the infected ad or navigate to a malicious page to initiate the attack on home network devices. That is why this is no nefarious.

This works so well because of the fragmented nature of online ads. Typically, the device, whether it is a computer, tablet, phone, whatever, is receiving and sending data all over the place via a variety of ad-related servers when it loads a website. One server delivers the online ads, another might play a video ad, and a third server might trigger a pop-up. This happens again when you click an ad as well.

The hacker hijacks the IoX device and inserts their code. Then the hacker can intercept or redirect traffic or insert malware into the channel. In simple terms, the IoX device is simply the medium running compromised code to allow infiltration of the users network. Now attackers simply intercept these traffic requests passing between the device and your browser and forcibly inject their malware or divert your traffic somewhere else.

It is the IoX device that will open the gate to this malware. Once it gets to the device, It is able to manipulate it by download apps without users’ consent, and risks theft of personal information and monetary data, as well as tampering with home systems such as smart locks and surveillance cameras.

Most antivirus measures, even firewalls of IoX devices are not able to spot or stop the code. To do so requires security capable of advanced, real-time ad blocking which is not a priority for such consumer devices.

This is only the tip of the ever-expanding malware iceberg. It is unlikely consumer IoX device manufacturers will move on this, at least not now.

In reality, these manufactures have no liability (unless gross negligence and verifiable damage can be proven) so there is no real motivation to up the security game. So again, it falls to the consumer to bear the costs.

The best defense, for now, is a good offence. Use the best available security options and software on your computers and smartphones. But, above all, be vigilant. Better to suspect a legitimate ad to be malware than to assume it is not.

_________________

Ernest Worthman is an executive editor with AGL Media Group.

Cellular LPWA vs. Proprietary LPWA — Myths and Reality

By Olivier Amiot, Director of Marketing, Energy, Sierra Wireless

With the IoT now enabling practically any asset to be connected to the internet, the need for wide-area, low-power, low-cost connectivity for IoT applications has grown. With this type of connectivity, utilities, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), transportation and logistics firms, construction firms and other organizations can deploy smart energy and resource monitoring, smart city infrastructure monitoring, predictive maintenance, mobile asset tracking, and similar IoT applications that allow them to collect, analyze and use asset data to lower costs, offer new services, increase customer engagement, and otherwise transform the way they operate.

At first, proprietary Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technologies like LoRa and Sigfox emerged to meet some of these organizations need for wide area, low power IoT connectivity. Then, over the past decade, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) introduced standards for two cellular LPWA technologies – Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and LTE-Machine Type Communication (LTE-M). Meanwhile, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have built out NB-IoT and LTE-M networks, with at least 156 such networks now in operation around the world today.

While shipments of proprietary and cellular LPWA IoT devices are roughly equal today, over the next decade industry experts expect growth of cellular LPWA devices to outpace propriety LPWA devices. BERG Insight forecasts that annual shipments of 3GPP LPWA (NB-IoT and LTE-M) IoT devices will exceed 300 million units by 2025, while annual shipments of non-3GPP LPWA IoT devices will grow more slowly over this period, to less than 250 million units.

Why will Cellular LPWA Grow Faster than Proprietary LPWA?

The reason why shipments of cellular LPWA device shipments are expected to be higher than propriety LPWA over the coming years is that cellular LPWA offers several advantages over proprietary LPWA. These advantages are leading organizations to increasingly choose cellular LPWA for their monitoring, tracking and other IoT applications.

Cellular LPWA, unlike propriety LPWA, offers organizations:

  • Ubiquitous Global Coverage: As this map from the GSMA shows, cellular LPWA network coverage is global, with MNOs operating LTE-M, NB-IoT or both types of networks in most of North American, South American, Europe, Asia and Australia.
    • Best-in-Class Security: With more than three decades of security experience in the field, 128 bit encryption, and physical SIM cards inserted or embedded in IoT devices, cellular LPWA offers industry-leading network security.
    • Firmware Over the Air (FOTA) Upgrades: Firmware and other software updates can be remotely sent over the air to cellular LPWA devices, enabling organizations to quickly and easily update the security and other functionality of their devices, reducing their total cost of ownership.
    • Guaranteed Service Over Time: With both NB-IoT and LTE-M specifications included in the new 5G wireless standard, organizations can be confident that MNOs will continue to build out and maintain their cellular LPWA networks over the next decade and beyond, while a large ecosystem of cellular LPWA solution vendors and service providers will be available to support their cellular LPWA-based IoT applications for years down the road.

Separating Cellular LPWA Fact from Fiction

Despite these and other advantages associated with cellular LPWA, some business leaders still think cellular LPWA’s power consumption, data throughput, and coverage or signal penetration capabilities are significantly weaker than proprietary LPWA’s.

However, upon further examination, the facts show that many of these cellular LPWA drawback drawbacks are fiction. For example:

Cellular LPWA Power Consumption is Comparable to Proprietary LPWA: While broadband LTE and 5G NR cellular chipsets do consume more battery power than proprietary LPWA chipsets, cellular LPWA chipsets deliver power performance on par with proprietary LPWA chipsets. Designed for IoT applications, these NB-IoT and LTE-M chipsets have been designed to use very little power when they are in sleep or standby mode. And because cellular LPWA data rates are higher than propriety LPWA data rates, they can connect and then disconnect from the network faster than proprietary LPWA chipsets, allowing them to save additional power by spending more time in sleep or standup mode

LoRa’s Coverage and Signal Penetration Are Not Significantly Better Than Cellular LPWA: LoRa, a proprietary LPWA technology, is perceived as having better coverage and signal penetration than NB-IoT and LTE-M. Yet, the difference in maximum coupling loss (the amount of the wireless channel that can be lost before device is no longer able to connect to network infrastructure’s antenna) between Lora (165db) and cellular LPWA (164db) is only one decibel. In addition, public cellular LPWA networks are denser than LoRa networks – which means, for a given area, cellular LPWA is likely to provide better coverage and signal penetration than LoRa.

Data Throughput Rates for Cellular LPWA Are Higher Than Proprietary LPWA: The latest version of NB-IoT, NB2, offers downlink (DL) speeds of 127 Kilobits Per Second (kbps) and uplink (UL) speeds of 158 kbps, while the latest version of LTE-M, M1, provides DL speeds of 588 kbps and UL speeds of 1119 kbps. These rates and real-world field tests of cellular LPWA and proprietary LPWA devices show cellular LPWA data speeds are higher than proprietary LPWA technologies. Thanks to these higher data rates, in the field FOTA updates that are not possible with proprietary LPWA devices can be completed with cellular LPWA devices. Moreover, because cellular LPWA uses licensed spectrum, quality of service and non-interference is guaranteed both today and tomorrow, further improving performance.

Cellular LPWA Delivers the IoT Connectivity Organizations Need in a Connected Economy

As organizations of all types seek to digitally transform their operations, being able to extract, orchestrate and act on data from widely distributed, battery powered, low-cost IoT sensors and other devices is becoming more important than ever.

Cellular LPWA’s ubiquitous global coverage, robust security, support for FOTA upgrades and guaranteed service meet this need, providing organizations with wide area, inexpensive, low-power connectivity for a wide range of IoT applications. In addition, with power consumption, data throughput rates and coverage that is comparable to or better than proprietary LPWA, and a technology standard supported by MNOs and other wireless industry leaders, these organizations can be confident that cellular LPWA will offer them the connectivity their IoT applications need not just today, but tomorrow as well.

Author Bio:

With more than 20 years experience in the data communications industry, Olivier Amiot, Marketing Director, is responsible for driving the business development and market strategy to address the IoT Solutions in the smart energy and industrial market segment at Sierra Wireless. Olivier joined Sierra Wireless from Wavecom, where he served as Product Marketing Director. Prior to that, Olivier held positions in Product Marketing and Innovation, Product Management and Product Strategy in Fortune 500 companies including Sony Corporation and Royal Philips. Olivier has an engineering background with a Master in Telecommunication and a Diplomarbeit.

To view the original blog at Sierra Wireless, go here: https://www.sierrawireless.com/iot-blog/cellular-lpwa-vs-proprietary-lpwa/?lsc=db_internal-eblast_eblast___eblast-cell-lpwa-vs-prop-lpwa-bl-210719-wkly-bl&cid=7011M0000016aOwQAI&campaigntype=database-marketing-lead-nurture&utm_source=internal-eblast&utm_medium=eblast&utm_campaign=eblast-cell-lpwa-vs-prop-lpwa-bl-210719-wkly-bl

RFS Launches IoT Lab to Enable Proof-of-concept Testing for Smart Cities

An internet-of-things (IoT) laboratory for testing infrastructure equipment designed for urban environments will help enterprises and municipalities with smart city applications. Radio Frequency Systems (RFS) said that the first such laboratory that it has opened by in Hannover, Germany, will be followed by a second facility in the United States later this year.

“The decision to open the lab facility comes after feedback that many customers are facing confusion when it comes to designing the best infrastructure to support specific applications,” a statement from RFS reads. “The lab will enable them to evaluate the various options and make an informed decision on the best solution for their locations, without incurring significant trial and error costs. Mainly working with enterprises and municipalities, a key focus area will be to help with the design of street level architecture to support smart city applications.”

According to RFS, the lab will test communications radios, IoT devices and management control software, using monitoring, IoT sensors and 4G/5G communications. Customers will be able to control and monitor a variety of IoT devices to determine the best solution for their environment, the company disclosed. Additionally, mobile network operators will be able to test their radio network designs for street-level densification, the statement reads.

“We hope the launch of the IoT Lab in Hanover will be a very exciting step for both our customers and the industry,” said Dietmar Brunsch, team technical lead at RFS. “The commercial success of IoT and 5G hinges on the ability to deliver efficient systems that truly perform when it comes to ROI. This facility will give customers the chance to test solutions in a ‘real-world’ environment, allowing them to make informed decisions in a cost-effective way to ensure that smart cities live up to their potential.”