IoT Solutions Fundamentals: A Look at the Basic Parts of the Internet of Things

What is IoT?

You have probably heard the term ‘IoT’ a lot over the past few years. In simple words, ‘IoT’ or ‘the Internet of Things’ includes the billions of physical devices all over the globe that are interconnected through the internet, sharing and collecting data. Anything from a small chip to an airplane can be part of the Internet of Things. Any physical device that can be connected and controlled/communicated with through the internet becomes a part of IoT.

While we have been talking to devices on the internet for over 20 years now, the term ‘Internet of Things’ only came into use a few years ago. However, there’s a lot more to the IoT than just connecting devices to the internet – and that’s what we will try to explore in the coming paragraphs as we learn about how IoT solutions are implemented and managed.

One of the simplest examples of IoT solutions in action around us is ‘smart’ home appliances. Similarly, our PCs, smartphones, fans, televisions, etc. can all be connected. But how do they communicate, since every device speaks a different ‘language’? The answer, is through ‘gateways’…


IoT Gateways

A ‘gateway’ in telecommunication terms is something that acts as a bridge between different technologies. An IoT Gateway follows the same principle – it provides a bridge for communication between the internet and the IoT devices, actuators, or sensors. The gateway is what gathers, translates, and processes the data before sending it onwards.

In even simpler terms, IoT solutions work because these devices, actuators and sensors ‘talk’ to the gateway, which takes all the data and then ‘talks’ to the cloud or another device. This is similar to how cellphones work – in reality we don’t communicate directly with another phone when we make a call – instead we talk to the nearest cell-tower, which then communicates with the service provider’s servers. The information then goes from the servers to towers near to the phone we want to communicate with, and then finally to the handset itself.

As Pod Group know, the use of gateways has many benefits. It eliminates the need for devices in remote areas to possess long-range communication capabilities, which leads to better battery life and lower power consumption. Communication over gateways can also be done using different network connectivity methods. Furthermore, it decreases communication time and provides for better security as well.

And it doesn’t stop there – gateways allow for fast and secure communication, are responsible for the translation of protocols, and ensuring encryption for the security of data. They help to keep your IoT solutions safe, and indeed the security that they provide is what we’re going to talk about next…


IoT Protocols

Protocols are another key component of IoT solutions. Protocols are a set of rules that define how communication over the internet takes place. Protocols ensure that the information sent from one device can be received and understood by another device. Considering the wide range of IoT solutions and devices that exist today, it is vital to use the right protocol if you want to ensure successful communication between devices.

The use of IoT protocols is what differentiates a ‘smart’ device from a ‘dumb’ one. These protocols enable smart devices to talk amongst each other, and not just to devices of the same type. In addition, these protocols also permit devices to communicate errors or failures automatically and request assistance or repair if required. When we talk about IoT device management, there are many different protocols in use – below we’ll talk about a few of the more popular options to give you an idea about what each one does.

MQTT: Message Queuing Telemetry Transport

This is a lightweight messaging protocol, also known as a pub/sub or publication/subscription type protocol. This protocol is similar to what you use in text and instant messaging applications like Whatsapp. Since it is a messaging protocol, you can only use it to send and receive messages – it can’t be used to control the devices in your IoT solutions, or for operations such as turning lights on or off.

Lightweight M2M

Lightweight M2M was created specifically for handling devices with limited resources. The Open Mobile Alliance created this protocol to facilitate remote application management and service enablement. An example use case would be in IoT solutions including battery-powered location tracking devices, or a controller for streetlights. However, it can be used for more resource-intensive devices – such as gateways and industrial hubs – as well.

DDS: Data-Distribution Service

This protocol is also based on the pub/sub method. DDS was created by OMG (Object Management Group) and provides M2M communication in real-time. This capability brings high-performance data exchange capability – that’s both reliable and scalable – to the connected devices in your IoT solutions, regardless of what their software and hardware platform may be. It supports truly broker-less design, providing interoperability and multicasting in IoT solutions. This protocol is used in IoT solutions involving things like autonomous vehicles, air traffic control, robotics, transportation systems, and more.

XMPP: Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol

XMPP is another commonly used communication protocol in IoT solutions provision. This is a message-oriented protocol that uses XML, and was developed to enable the real-time exchange of structured and extensible data between multiple clients. The major disadvantage of XMPP is that unlike newer protocols, it does not provide encryption or quality of service. As a result it likely won’t become a protocol standard like LwM2M or MQTT, but it should stay loosely connected to IoT solutions

We have talked about just 4 protocols here, but there are many more used for IoT solutions. These protocols provide devices the medium to become an IoT or a smart device. As the number of smart or IoT devices increases, it becomes important to ensure efficient management and monitoring. IoT device management is another critical aspect of IoT solutions.

Device Management In IoT Solutions

There can be hundreds of devices connected in an IoT deployment. For larger IoT solutions this number might increase to several thousand, possibly even in the millions. The ability to check that all of these devices are functioning properly and that they’re secure, to monitor their status and track their location, to troubleshoot problems, and perform device updates are all vitally important to the provision of reliable IoT solutions. This is where device management steps in. The IoT protocols are an important part of IoT solutions provision – not just because they let the devices do their job, but also in terms of device management.

From using scripts for large scale updates to status monitoring and more, device management within IoT solutions is a highly complex field in terms of the devices involved and the data being shared across the network. There are four fundamental requirements for successful device management in IoT solutions, and they are:

  1. Provisioning and authentication
  2. Configuration and control
  3. Diagnostics and monitoring
  4. Maintenance and software updates

The installation of IoT solutions is not usually something that you can do once and then forget about (though in some cases, it may be). From providing regular updates to the resolution of unforeseen tech issues and more – IoT solutions device management lays down principles and practices for it all.

Provisioning and Authentication

‘Provisioning’ refers to onboarding a device into the system, while ‘authentication’ refers to the establishment of the device’s identity so that it can be confirmed that the device is trusted. Authentication is important because it establishes that only devices possessing the correct credentials are allowed into the various networks on which IoT solutions depend. Most applications and devices use keys and/or certificates for authentication. Once a device is onboarded, the next step is configuring and controlling it.

Configuration and Control

Most devices come with some basic configuration already in place, but a more specific configuration (to fully comply with the end-user attributes and application settings) is usually required before individual devices are fully ready for use in their IoT solutions. For instance, in a fleet-tracking device this work may include setting a unique identifier for the vehicle (such as its VIN), defining how often location updates are sent, etc. Implementation of a control capability will also allow remotely resetting the device to fix errors and return to the last ‘good’ state. 

Diagnostics and Monitoring

For secure and smooth operation, diagnostics and monitoring are important to mitigate any downtime or reduce the impact of any error. For instance, monitoring attributes like networking, storage, I/O usage, etc. can help people or devices spot that something is not functioning correctly, and possibly also identify the problem area or it’s root cause.

Maintenance and Software Updates

No program is perfect, and every piece of software has bugs in it. As time goes on there will also be the need to add new features, layers of security, and functionality to the devices in your IoT solutions. All of these things are done by providing maintenance and software updates to the devices over the network. Whether it’s a security patch to keep your devices and data safe, or ensuring the smooth functioning of your IoT solutions and devices via a software update, or adding in a cool new feature – it all falls under the ‘maintenance’ umbrella in the world of IoT solutions.


Security in IoT Solutions

Safeguarding IoT solutions is one of the major concerns across the world today in our industry. There have been many incidents where a lack of proper security measures led to network infiltration and large-scale cyber attacks, where the original access point was an IoT device. It is critical to use the best possible security measures to ensure the safety of your IoT solutions and devices, as well as any other device that is in the network.

Some security practices are quite basic and simple when you think about it – for example replacing default passwords with more complex and hard-to-guess ones, enabling encryption for data transfers, ensuring regular software updates are applied, etc. However, many IoT devices, (for instance those that monitor temperature or humidity) do not contain the resources required to implement measures like advanced data encryption. Many IoT devices are also placed in a machine or a unit until the end of life, without any security upgrades.

There is still a lack of an industry-wide standard for security frameworks when it comes to IoT solutions. The security challenges have increased with the convergence of IoT operations and network technology, and It has therefore become more important to have an IoT solutions expert on-hand while implementing and supporting these devices to ensure that all possible measures for security are implemented, and implemented correctly.


IoT Solutions Platforms

An ‘IoT solutions platform’ acts as a middle-man, connecting the various devices in an IoT solution and the user applications in use. All the interactions between the application and hardware layers are managed by the IoT solutions platform. Some of the tasks performed by the IoT solutions platform include collecting data from devices via the relevant protocols, configuration tasks and control of remote devices, device management, and firmware updates.

IoT solutions platforms are independent of the underlying hardware and overlaying software. This is what allows an IoT solutions platform to manage any type of device that it is connected to in the same way. IoT gateways, protocols, security measures, etc. are all part of the IoT solutions platform.


IoT Solutions and the Cloud

Cloud computing is becoming a key part of IoT solutions. They both allow we humans to complete our daily tasks with greater efficiency, and they compliment each other well. The amount of data generated by IoT solutions is massive, and cloud computing provides a way for this data to be processed.

 When we talk of the cloud, there are 3 main deployment models that we must be aware of. ‘Private cloud’ offers the most secure option of them all. In this cloud model, only specific organizations can access the data held there. This is ideal for enterprises that store private data and work on sensitive tasks. ‘Public cloud’, on the other hand, provides data storage and processing resources that are shared between different organizations.

‘Hybrid cloud’ offers a mix of private and public clouds with on-premises local services. This solution provides decision-makers with greater control over the different components used to provide it. Cloud computing provides a pay-as-you-go model, providing a scalable infrastructure for IoT solutions. IoT companies can also allocate resources quickly with this model, and make use of other technologies like Big Data.


What does the future hold for IoT Solutions?

IoT solutions are all around us now. From creating self-driving vehicles, to smart cities that use IoT solutions in traffic management, parking, utility services, etc. – IoT is present in almost every area of industry. IoT solutions are being increasingly used in the agricultural and farming sectors as well, where it helps to boost crop yield, provide pest control, and manage large-scale farms in a better and more efficient manner.

IoT solutions have seemingly-limitless potential too. As network agility increases and advancements are made in the areas of industrial internet and AI, we will be able to deploy and automate IoT solutions on a huge scale. We’re not just talking about billions of IoT devices- but also about the large volumes of data they would be sending between themselves to automate a series of processes. As an exciting new array of IoT solutions come online every year, we can only be amazed at the potential that the Internet of Things holds for human advancement.


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