No matter what industry you’re in, the internet of things (IoT) is a powerful tool. IoT applications can improve automation, efficiency, and process analysis in almost every business sector. So it makes sense that the proliferation of IoT devices has accelerated in the last few years.
This guide is for anyone who wants to leverage the power of IoT, but needs guidance in deploying their first IoT networks.
IoT connectivity best practices
The first things to understand are a few IoT best practices, which can be applied regardless of which type of network you use, or what the goal of your IoT implementation is.
Choose the lowest power network that will do the job
Power consumption will always be at odds with range and throughput. The more range and throughput you need, the more power your IoT devices will require. Since power is one of the things that you’re paying for when you operate an IoT network, a lower power network is going to be more cost efficient.
Obviously, the network you use must meet your range and throughput requirements. But any unused performance is a wasted expense. So evaluate your use case and make sure you know what you need before you make any hardware purchases or sign any network contracts. Take a look at Telnyx wireless which offers access to over 30 LTE-M networks to cater for low power IoT use-cases.
Plan for expansion. And ensure that the network you choose will support as many devices as you need. But it’s not wise to pay for an IoT network that’s capable of connecting devices over 2 kilometers apart when a 30 meter range is all you need.
Plan for device maintenance and updates
Every IoT device on your network represents an access point into your network. One of the most common causes of security breaches is IoT devices that have out of date software.
It’s easy to forget to update the software and firmware on your IoT devices, especially when they’re small things like sensors.
Before you even get your network setup, establish policies and procedures for updating and maintaining your IoT devices. Those policies and procedures may need to be tweaked, based on the workload of keeping all your IoT devices updated. But it’s better to start with a policy than to realize you need a policy for updating your IoT devices because there was a security breach.
Never use default passwords and credentials
If you have an IT team, they should already have a procedure for this. But most IoT devices ship with default access credentials.
These default credentials often get used because people don’t think to change them (after all, it’s just a baby monitor or doorbell, right?) Or because people don’t even realize there’s even a way to access the device with a username and password.
Make sure that every device gets checked and secured before you deploy it on your IoT network.
Network types: what kind of network do you need?
As we mentioned earlier, you want to use a network that has just as much capability as you need, for the sake of cost efficiency. However, the range and throughput of your IoT network depend mostly upon which network you use. You can just get the most powerful network possible, then turn it down. Different network types have different capabilities and ideal applications.
Short to medium range networks
There are a few short to medium range network types that work if your IoT devices only need a range of about 30 to 100 meters. Short to medium range networks are practical if all of your IoT devices are in a single building and aren’t too spread out.
These are a few short to medium range network options:
- Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
- Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
These networks tend to be power efficient, because they’re purpose built for short-range connectivity. But they usually only connect IoT devices to each other. And they usually support a limited number of devices. You’ll need an additional network if you need to connect devices to the internet or have a lot of IoT devices.
You can also use standard wi-fi devices to build an IoT network. Wi-fi is handy because it’s easy to connect to the internet. However, it also comes with some severe cybersecurity issues, since wi-fi networks are the easiest to access from almost any device.
So it’s often best to use a dedicated IoT network standard for local IoT networks.
Wide area networks
If you have IoT networks in multiple locations that need to communicate, or if the distance between each device will be further than the capabilities of short range networks. Wide area networks are also less limited in how many devices they can support.
There are some proprietary network protocols for IoT applications. But the most practical option for most businesses is cellular (3G, 4G, LTE, etc.). The main benefit of cellular IoT networks is that they are capable of spanning much longer distances, because cellular devices can communicate directly or connect to the internet for long distance communication.And cellular devices can connect directly to the internet—without a supporting network like wi-fi—if need be.
So cellular networks work well if you have multiple facilities with IoT networks that need to be interconnected, or if you need your IoT devices to transmit data to an offsite location.
Furthermore, you can build private LTE networks if you only need local communication between IoT devices. There’s also a very broad range of devices that are capable of connecting to cellular networks, where most of the short and medium range protocols have more limited compatible device selections. So cellular networks (LTE in particular) are a very capable and flexible option for building an IoT network.
However, as with any type of network, there are a few things to be aware of. The biggest factor to consider with cellular IoT is your carrier. Unlike a local network, a wide area cellular network requires a cellular provider. Otherwise your cellular devices will have very limited connectivity. It’s similar to how your cell phone can connect to your home wi-fi network without a carrier connection. But your phone can’t connect to the cellular data network (3G, 4G, LTE) without connecting through a wireless carrier.
Questions to ask when comparing wireless carriers
Are they reliable?
Choosing a reliable carrier might be the most important decision involved with building a cellular IoT network. The functionality of your IoT depends on your cellular provider. If your carrier network goes down, you’re going to lose a big chunk of your IoT capabilities, if your IoT isn’t entirely crippled. So your carrier’s network should basically never go down. Your carrier should have automatic failovers and redundant connections in place to ensure that their network uptime is nearly 100%.
Do they offer active steering?
Active steering is a method of controlling a SIM card that enables device owners to specify which networks they want the device to connect to and which networks they don’t want the device to connect to. Active steering requires that the SIM card can be actively controlled remotely while it’s in the device. This gives users more control, and will ultimately result in a higher quality connection.
What are the costs?
There are several different pay models: pay per device, pay per unit of data, and so on. But, typically, if you want to connect a cellular device, you’ll have to pay a cellular provider for the connection. So cellular IoT networks tend to have higher upkeep costs than some of the short and medium range networks. However, the upkeep costs are totally manageable if you work with a cellular provider that offers good rates and a pay structure that matches your needs.
Is the network secure?
Cellular networks aren’t nearly as leaky as wi-fi networks. However, you do need to take the proper steps to keep your cellular network buttoned up. IoT networks have a lot of end points, each of which is a potential cyber attack vector. Fortunately, your cellular provider can help you keep your cellular IoT networks secure.
Do they operate their own private network?
Work with a cellular provider that operates their own private network With wide area networks, it’s necessary for data to leave your local network, and use your cellular provider’s network to communicate with remote sites, cloud storage servers, and anything else that can’t be accessed through the local network.
This often means that your data is sent over the public internet, which may be problematic.
The public internet presents a lot of exposure to man-in-the-middle attacks where bad actors access your data as it passes through third-party networks. That’s why it may be necessary to work with a cellular provider that keeps your data off the public internet. The most effective way to do that is by keeping your data on a private network.
So, when you choose a cellular provider, find out if they operate their own network, or if they use the public internet and contracted third-party networks to transmit your data. A carrier that operates their own private network has security and network reliability advantages, because your carrier has complete control over the network they use.
Ultimately, IoT connectivity is a matter of choosing the right network type, setting it up properly, and adequately securing it. A cellular IoT network is flexible and capable enough for most IoT networks and IoT use cases. However, there is the added dimension of choosing a wireless provider to support your cellular IoT network.
If you choose the right cellular IoT provider, your cellular IoT network will be dependable and secure. And IoT connectivity will be the least of your worries.
Questions? Get in touch with our team of experts.
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