The business strategy of the end customer should be considered when deciding on connectivity options for the new breed of industrial IoT solutions.
Industrial IoT solutions are spreading into new application areas fast.
Take a smart lighting system for a city, for example. Never before have city planners worked with so many connected systems, so the role of a developer in advising which connectivity option to use has never been more crucial.
But what makes the best solution from a technical perspective is not always best for the customer.
A question of strategy
In order to choose the best connectivity option, questions must be asked at the planning stage about the required flexibility, quality of service, operational and maintenance issues, but also the longer-term business strategy of the end user.
> Read more: Wired or wireless technologies: The trade-off
This week, I’m going to look in more detail at some of the strategic considerations from the customer perspective – something that’s easy to miss out during the technical-heavy discussions of the planning stage.
What markets is the solution for? Often overlooked, geography is an important factor to consider because some technologies are not standardised across the globe, especially those that run on sub-GHz frequencies. Here 2.4GHz has an advantage, because it is a global ISM frequency. This aspect may affect the scalability of your solution, which leads on to the question of standards...
Standard or proprietary
Is a standard or a proprietary technology best suited for this application? Some connectivity solutions are standardized, backed by strong industry alliances. Successful organizations developing connectivity standards include 3GPP (responsible for developing LTE cellular standard and now 5G) and the Bluetooth SIG.
Using a proprietary solution can be a strategic choice: you may want to go to market first, without waiting for a standard, or you can deploy a proprietary solution to differentiate your offering from competition.
However, not using standards have negative side effects, such as more expensive design costs, lower support from SoC vendors, limited supplier availability and possibly shorter lifetime of the technology.
Looking at the industrial lighting market, some proprietary mesh technologies have been used for early deployments. However, Bluetooth Mesh is now being adopted by more and more companies for industrial lighting solutions because it is an open standard built on solid foundations. The likelihood of the standard being supported and improved over the coming years is high.
Lifetime of connectivity solutions
What is the desired lifetime of the solution? Let’s suppose that you need to design a connected sensor for massive scale deployment in a smart city. And the battery only lasts 3 years, due to the amount of data to be transmitted or due to the external environmental conditions.
If the local council deploys a certain amount of these sensors every year, then by the fourth year, they will need to replace the sensors deployed on the first year. In order to have a homogenous network, the council will require the same solution to be installed. It is clear that, when having a large-scale network, a long lifetime of the solution (not only of the product itself) is preferred (e.g. 10+ years), to avoid the need to replace the entire network a few years after installation.
Many customers new to industrial IoT, such as local governments, want the confidence that a huge capital spend won’t be wasted on a technology that will be left obsolete in a couple of years.
For this reason, the longevity of the connectivity solution is important. When this matters most, Cellular IoT (LTE-M and NB-IoT) is a leading contender for long range applications.
> Read more: What is Cellular IoT?
Do I want to guarantee interoperability? Sourcing everything from one single supplier can be convenient but what happens if that supplier decides to close that product line? Or what if another supplier offers a much more convenient solution?
Some connectivity options can be made interoperable without a problem, but this is far from guaranteed. Bluetooth Low Energy is a great example of interoperability and of course the growing cellular IoT market has a big number of competing suppliers within it.
IoT developers understandably view technical considerations first and foremost when deciding on connectivity. When deploying large-scale networks, the impact of even a small change to a device will get amplified because of the scale of the network.
Factors like quality of service, installation and commissioning, maintenance and so on help to steer you in the right direction, and we’ll take a closer look at these factors next time.