The best wireless connectivity for long-life IoT devices

Last updated: 12 June 2019

There’s no denying the significant increase in long-life IoT applications deployments recently, such as large fleets of battery-operated smart meters or healthcare devices, which need to operate in a highly-efficient way, to last for many years, 10, 15 or more. But contrary to high-speed applications such as automotive ones, these devices typically need to send small packets of data and allow some latency. As you can imagine, for such applications, one often (naturally) turns to LPWAN (Low-Power WAN) connectivity options, which have been developed for such low-speed, power-efficient applications. Simple, right? But when making your choice, have you considered which are the best LPWAN ( Cat-M or NB-IoT) modules to turn to? We would like to lend a helping hand on this issue. See below for a couple of key things to consider when making your choice…

Firstly, how will you run updates or push corrective measures on devices spread in the field?

It is common that device upgrades or firmware updates are required to keep connected devices performant over their long lifetime. These are necessary to address infrastructure changes at the network operator side, and cope with unintended software flaws or new security vulnerabilities. In this context, it is key to think about implementing a device lifecycle management solution to be able to quickly and efficiently address large fleets of devices, remotely. This will avoid sending time-consuming and costly physical maintenance teams in the field.

Incremental software updates or FOTA (Firmware Over The Air) are also a crucial element to think about, specifically for the power-constrained devices we are looking at. It will limit the size of the update to only address the specific part of the device which needs to be updated, therefore saving precious battery power.

In order to adapt to new field conditions and remain competitive on the long run, it is also key to be able to monitor device fleet behavior and get automatic alerts if something seems to go wrong, for ex, a device not sending data anymore or operating above a limited scope. Again, a remote device management platform can help you quickly react and push corrective actions towards remote devices, when needed, in an efficient way.

But connected devices will need to have been built in a way to receive secure updates or configuration corrections. So, you´d better think about it from the design stage, and make sure your engineering team integrates the right features to enable an efficient fleet device maintenance strategy.

Watch Francis D´Souza, Gemalto VP IoT Services:

How to reduce TCO for CAT-M and NB-IoT devices?

Secondly, how will your devices securely onboard to ecosystem partners and cloud platforms? How will you switch from one cloud to another, in the course of time?

Credentials and diversified IDs can be injected into the roots of the devices, in modules for example, at the manufacturing stage. This is a core element to guarantee that future operating devices can securely authenticate to other legitimate devices or cloud platforms. This will establish a trusted ecosystem where only securely authenticated partners will be able to exchange encrypted data.

These credentials provisioned in the roots of devices will also allow OEMs or service providers to securely switch devices across multiple IoT hubs, for instance when a device is moving from Europe to the US. Such device is then decommissioned from a cloud instance and easily enrolled into a new one.  Secure encryption mechanisms based on these pre-provisioned device credentials help move from Azure IoT to AWS, or vice versa, anytime needed.

Choosing the right LPWAN cellular module is key, but it is now also crucial to look at the suite of services and lifecycle management solutions going with it. These will make the difference. They will ensure secure updates for devices to continue working at their best. They will protect your connected devices and the data they exchange, and bring the flexibility needed to work with one partner today, and another tomorrow.

In conclusion, make sure you think of all aspects of security and device lifecycle management when choosing a connectivity module, because it´s not just about lowering down your BOM (bill-of-materials) today. As your devices will be in the field for many years, it´s all about being able to manage them efficiently and lowering your TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) as well.

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