Bubbles and business cases – the path to ubiquitous global IoT connectivity
Neil Hamilton, Thingstream VP Business Development explains why bubbles of connectivity such as those provided by WiFi, SigFox and LoRa aren’t suitable for a large…
The solution for providing IIoT connectivity to emerging markets exists today and could also hold the key to unlocking IoT connectivity in developed markets.
The recent and rapid adoption of cloud-based-IoT-powered consumer and Industrial IoT (IIoT) applications in developed markets has already changed the way in which services are consumed, opening up new revenue streams for many businesses.
In developing markets such as Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Latin America, the potential of IoT is limitless; IDC predicted that in IoT in Africa and the Middle East would see a growth of 15% to $7bn in 2018. This growth is already becoming evident in South Africa where businesses are being forced to adapt to the new business models brought about by IoT.
Major players are now emerging to take advantage of this potential growth, deploying solutions that can transform a client’s operational efficiency and bottom-line. However, the fragmentation in connectivity within these countries and their developing infrastructure is still a significant barrier to enabling effective and widespread IIoT applications.
The current, unreliable cellular and wireless networks in emerging markets actually make it easier to choose the right connectivity, i.e. an effective Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN). Current voice and data networks still struggle outside of major cities and towns in even the most technologically advanced of nations, so the issue of overcoming fragmented rural connectivity in emerging markets is far from a short-term fix.
While cellular connectivity in many emerging markets is still limited, it is still more prevalent than other LPWANs offered by unlicensed providers; these networks still need to connect to a cellular network to communicate with the broader IoT ecosystem.
This is why businesses need a cost-effective, reliable, secure and low-power option that provides ubiquitous connectivity, taking full advantage of the existing infrastructure in developing markets.
There are many vital industries in these countries, such as engineering and transport, in which cellular or unlicensed technologies severely restrict the deployment of IIoT applications, largely due to a lack of roaming coverage.
For example, an organisation that wishes to track assets across borders and in rural areas cannot have full visibility of its goods when cellular or wireless connections are lost. Similarly, for fixed-location services in rural areas with a lack of coverage, regularly sending data to the cloud isn’t always possible using a cellular network. When it is available, roaming charges that can be incurred when crossing borders can be prohibitively expensive.
When thinking of connectivity, the most ubiquitous network available today is the voice network which forms part of the GSM telecommunications system. GSM is a well-established network, available in more than 190 countries worldwide and increasingly reliable when compared to cellular data (2G, GPRS and 3G UMTS).
IoT devices can automatically connect with a corresponding IoT application wherever GSM connectivity is present, utilising the strongest network available. This avoids disruption when moving between carriers on a cellular signal, ensuring worldwide connectivity. As a result, it makes sense to leverage this network for IoT, as other cellular and internet-based options cannot currently compete in terms of cost, reliability and coverage.
The most reliable and cost-effective solution for IIoT traffic is low-bandwidth messaging, achieved through a Message Queueing Telemetry Transport for Sensor Networks (MQTT-SN) set-up. Communicating across a simple USSD messaging protocol that’s available on the GSM network, this lightweight publish-to-subscribe messaging protocol can send tiny packets of data – 160 bytes or less – providing true ubiquitous connectivity for IoT devices.
This is boosted by the inclusion of integrated Quality of Service (QoS). Particularly crucial in areas of low-bandwidth or unreliable connectivity, MQTT-SN protocols handle the transmission and re-transmission of messages, guaranteeing delivery to the corresponding ‘thing’ or application. The level of QoS is fully customisable for IoT adopters, depending on network security and application logic.
Furthermore, IoT sensors can be programmed to communicate almost any type of information that can be carried across a low-bandwidth signal, such as humidity, temperature and pressure, avoiding the need to have multiple IoT devices that further clog the network.
The power issue is also circumnavigated, thanks to the way in which the devices can work. By sending small amounts of data only when needed, a device’s on/off setup enables battery efficiency and longevity to be maximised. Instead of remaining on and transmitting data when not necessary, the device can be programmed to last not only months but years, creating a true LPWAN.
This is also advantageous in emerging markets with relatively unreliable power grids. Because outages are more common, MQTT-SN is an ideal solution for low-cost, battery-operated devices. Instead of sending data at regular intervals to offline servers, this allows for data to be delivered by the device when it is awoken, i.e. when parameters have changed.
The low-power dependency of such technologies can be demonstrated in the growing number of engineering and construction projects in developing nations. Small and inexpensive sensor-based IoT devices would allow for remote conditioning monitoring of equipment, allowing for maintenance schedules to be better predicted.
Another major advantage of GSM technology is undoubtedly security. Data is not actually communicated using the internet, greatly improving cybersecurity through having no need to use IP addresses between devices and a connectivity platform. This helps to keep connectivity levels high and costs low.
This positions GSM-based connectivity favourably when compared with cellular and wireless options. For devices which are remotely connected via such networks, the issue of securely bridging the ‘air gap’ between operational technology and IT systems, such as the cloud, continues to prove a major challenge for the safe transfer of data.
The emergence of LPWANs, such as a GSM-based network, has forced businesses in emerging markets to change how they approach IoT deployment. They must think about what data is actually required from devices and how often the data is needed. If this can be included in 160 bytes or less, what’s the point of paying for an energy-sapping cellular or wireless internet connection that is costly to implement and run, while visible to external intrusions?
An alternative, GSM-based network is the strongest and most reliable option that offers true, global connectivity for IoT devices to communicate in emerging markets. Using a network with an already-established infrastructure offers huge advantages in scalability, connectivity, security and cost.
Choosing such a network can enhance efficiencies in a variety of sectors such as agriculture, logistics and utilities, all of which are economically crucial in emerging markets. This type of connectivity will enable IIoT projects to be quickly accelerated in developing countries, helping to create a truly global supply chain.
VP Business Development @ Thingstream
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