Can you risk your application becoming obsolete after a year in the market? Imagine basing your entire product around one connectivity protocol, only to discover after deployment that the market has changed and it is no longer viable. It sounds like a developer’s worst nightmare, but it happens. Just look at the upheaval created by the 2G sunset in the US. An estimated 10 to 12 million devices need to be swapped out, costing businesses several billion dollars. With the market moving quickly towards new protocols this will become an ongoing issue. Developing IoT applications now means asking important questions at the design stage.
What connectivity standards will be in place over the next few years? Which contenders will win in the 3GPP vs Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) space? Which technologies are suited to different applications? These are all questions that don’t have a precise answer right now, so developers are having to hedge their bets when designing their devices to ensure that they will cover any eventuality. In many cases, connectivity is considered to be the last piece in the IoT puzzle when designing a new application. But it’s perhaps the aspect that could cause the most catastrophic consequences for the business if the market changes. How many companies consider at the design stage what they would do if the network they were using suddenly increased its pricing? How would this affect their business? What is their back-up plan? The special requirements of the IoT have led to a connectivity market crowded with different options, all vying for market share, from Cat 1, Cat M and ultimately NB-IoT on the 3GPP side to ultra-narrow band modulation, Weightless-W, Weightless-N, Weightless-P, Cynet, Starfish and Random Phase Multiple Access, among others, on the Low Power Wide Area Network side.
Evaluating the pros and cons of each is complicated and with so much uncertainty about how the market will evolve, deciding which route to take can be a difficult decision. Often times devices must remain in the field for many years to see a significant return on investment, meaning that future-proofing must be built in at the design stage. So as an IoT business, which technology do you choose? The following points should help you decide. Whatever decision you make, future proofing your connectivity now could avoid costly consequences in the future and will allow you to run your business with ease.
Why is the connectivity decision such an important one?
Connectivity is the single most important feature that unites all IoT devices. On the other hand, it is also the aspect over which companies have the least control. Consider that networks are constantly re-negotiating their roaming agreements, adjusting their pricing and re-farming spectrum to meet demand. These decisions can affect companies that have built their whole business model around connection to one network, or one type of connectivity technology, which is why it’s important explore all the available options and ensure that your final choice will evolve with your business.
What are the different connectivity options available now for IoT applications?
It has long been recognized that while the existing cellular bands offer the advantage of widespread, standardized connectivity globally, they have been almost exclusively designed for consumer use. The fact that major global networks are sun-setting their 2G services demonstrates that the more profitable consumer applications will always take precedence over the M2M and IoT applications being serviced by these bands. The cellular alternative to the existing network bands is NB-IoT, a narrowband technology being developed by the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project). However, this is going through a standardization process and will likely not be commercially available until next year. In the meanwhile, a broad range of LPWAN technologies are currently vying for a position in the market. Rather than competing with consumer needs, LPWAN is designed exclusively for IoT communication. There are many options available, including RPMA from Ingenu, ultra narrow band modulation from Sigfox, LoRaWAN and Weightless. Whilst it is likely that there will be several prevailing technologies, due to the huge differences between the requirements of different applications, this highly fragmented market makes it difficult for developers to decide which technology to use when designing devices now.
Which wireless connectivity technologies have the best prospects for long term deployment?
One of the reasons for the sudden increase in LPWAN technologies is the need for low power, long range connectivity at a low cost. For the vast majority of IoT applications (although not all), this is the optimum situation, so the original choice of either short range, low cost and low power technologies such as Bluetooth and Zigbee or the longer range cellular technologies which enable high power but at a higher cost were not suited to many of these applications. Most LPWAN technologies have been designed from the ground up especially for the IoT, but how can you be sure that they will still be viable in the future? Since IoT applications are so diverse, from the short range, low power smart home applications to long range, high power applications in security and agriculture, there really is no one size fits all. This means that there will probably not be an overall winner in the LPWAN race, rather that different technologies will be better suited to different applications depending on their requirements. However, there are some technologies that are well suited to many applications, such as RPMA from Ingenu, since they tick many of the boxes required across the board. According to ABI Research, the main points of comparison for LPWAN technologies are spectrum, coverage, capacity, scalability and battery life, with interference robustness, two-way data, authentication and security and location/mobility support being additional factors to consider. Of course, the cost of the modules and the time to market will also be an important part of the decision-making process.
How can IoT businesses be future-proofed in such a complex market?
The recent 2G sunset announced by various networks in the US and in other areas of the world has brought this issue to the fore. Developers are now wary of designing applications based on one network or protocol. In recent years, connectivity management has evolved to allow a more flexible architecture for development, enabling applications in the field to adapt to changes in the market. This has been Pod Group’s approach for several years now. We have designed an IoT connectivity solution based on multiple IMSIs (International Mobile Subscriber Identities) from a wide variety of different core networks globally. These IMSIs can be included on one SIM card, managed by one centralized platform. The addition of our multi-IMSI application and OTA (Over The Air) platform means that the SIM can automatically switch IMSI if the core network experiences technical difficulties, re-routing the data through a completely separate infrastructure. Additional IMSIs can also be added to the SIM OTA at any time, allowing for changes in market pricing and coverage and ensuring that the device can be updated remotely. What this means for our customers is that we can extend the life of their application despite market changes such as the 2G sunset on AT&T. By enabling our customers to choose which carriers they work with and remotely update their devices, we effectively give them the control over the connectivity of their devices. However, to avoid an inevitable repeat of this situation with other cellular protocols, we are also offering connectivity via LPWAN technologies, with Ingenu’s RPMA being the first to be integrated into our platform. This combination of cellular and RPMA technologies managed via one centralized platform will enable systems integrators and applications developers to build agnostic solutions that can be quickly and remotely adapted to changes in the market. Interested in finding out more? Visit Pod at booth 234 at the IoT Tech Expo in Santa Clara on October 20-21st!