September 4, 2018

9 Min Read
Industry 4.0, Internet of things (IoT) and networking, network connections

By AVSystem

The IoT market is getting bigger and bigger with billions of devices to control. It’s time telcos – the experts in device management – came on the scene and took the lead in building the foundation of connectivity

One of the reasons of the networking boom, was to connect people and to let them work more efficiently but today the number of devices connected to the Internet is much bigger than the entire population of the world. Even if your house is not built around a smart home concept, the probability that you use an IoT solution on a daily basis is very high. We use parcel tracking when waiting for gifts purchased for Christmas, we pay tolls on highways or for crossing bridges or simply we secure our bikes with geofencing gadgets. Not to mention health- and fitness-oriented devices such as smartwatches or fitness trackers that capture our biometric readings. It is just a matter of time before everything in the world is connected. So many devices to manage and so much valuable data to control provide a lot of business opportunities. Naturally, the competition is fierce. The IoT market attracts not only technology giants such as Google, Amazon or Facebook but also vendors of devices such as Apple or Samsung and, of course, telecommunications companies. The last ones, however, seem to have an edge over the rest of the contenders.

Telcos really seem to be cut out for introducing and taking the lead in the development of the IoT market. The companies have ready-to-use infrastructure and a lot of experience in managing connected environments as well as managing security and customer relations. They already have huge numbers of customers and they know how to gain their trust. With proven methods of support and reliable engineering resources, all they need is a plan on how to make the most out of the IoT.

One way to open up new revenue streams is providing connectivity to certain industries. The most lucrative verticals as of today would probably include: connected cars / automotive, fleet management and logistics, and industrial automation. Large companies can take it even one step further and become IoT service providers themselves. By creating IoT devices and making them traverse their own network, telcos could even become fully autonomous in the IoT industry. Unfortunately though, it can be very costly to build the entire IoT section from scratch. Large telcos can surely afford it, the question remains though whether it would be profitable. A safer and much wiser solution seems to be letting other companies (like vendors of devices or IoT software providers) participate in the IoT ecosystems. By forging partnerships and creating whole environments together with other companies, telcos can bring the best possible profits from areas of the market they focused on and developed with both internal and external resources.

It is a key to successfully introduce and operate any IoT service. Certainly, for companies rich in resources controlling their services end-to-end, it might be very attractive to use shortcuts and select in-house invented (or designed) protocols and technology instead of those, which are standardized by internationally recognized standardization bodies, like Open Mobile Alliance or 3GPP. It is very seductive and dangerous, at the same time – going that way is like hanging on a single tree branch and it seems that more reasonable solution is to rely on diversification of the supplies which is the most basic and well known strategy in economy.

An important factor that potential IoT providers need to take into account is that IoT solutions have to be adjusted to specific needs of one’s business. Therefore most IoT solutions are going to be unique and profiled according to business use cases, especially if all of the big players decide to create their own technologies. That is why flexibility and interoperability are so important in IoT deployments. The big question, however, is: how will we be able to manage so many things?

There has been a lot of focus on creating new IoT devices and services recently, but not many people are fully aware that one of the essential parts of success lies in device management. In order for the IoT deployment to be successful, telcos and enterprises should especially focus on device lifecycle management which implies regular management and proactive maintenance activities. Over-the-air firmware upgrade (FOTA) and software updates (SOTA), remote monitoring & diagnostics, configuration updates, and ensuring secure connectivity for data collection are among the most necessary functionalities provided by device management systems. Essential in modern device management is also the correct choice of the technology stack. Usually, this involves selecting the best bandwidth requirements, real-time performance or memory footprint of a standard, among others.

As MachNation – an analyst company dedicated exclusively to testing and researching IoT platforms and middleware – summarises, typical device management features include: asset provisioning, firmware upgrades, security patching, alerting, and reporting on specific metrics associated with IoT assets such as gateways, industrial equipment and Linux-based devices like Raspberry Pi. As far as IoT device management key functionalities are concerned, MachNation points out that integration, scalability and security are among the most important aspects to be taken into account when choosing an IoT platform. When looking at integration capabilities, the use of industry standard API protocols is crucial to ensure efficient integration of external services or even providing customer-specific user interfaces and workflows. Another must-have component of integration are the SDKs that may provide support for different types of operating systems and hardware platforms (like FreeRTOS, ThreadX, ARM Mbed OS, embedded Linux etc.). The platform that utilizes device management should also have capabilities allowing for simple integration with other types of IoT platforms, like those utilized for data processing, aggregation and reporting. The above-mentioned elements form fully fledged integration capabilities that should be a part of every carrier-grade IoT device management platform. If you want to know more about device management in Internet of Things environments and what to look for in an IoT device management platform, check out AVSystem’s whitepaper “IoT essentials: enabling IoT device management.

Device management, however, is not only about integration. As far as scalability is concerned, this should without a doubt be managed automatically by vendors of device management. A well-built IoT device management platform should not only support scaling up (without any human involvement), but also be able to scale down when there is a need for it. Not unlike scalability, security is crucial to long-term success of every IoT solution. Protecting data and encrypting the communication seem to be obvious features without which quite dramatic consequences could occur. MachNation points out however, that a good quality device management system should provide both certificate-based and PSK-based authentication of assets to avoid being easily compromised by hackers. We all know that insurance is highly recommended for all business owners and while some may argue that device management does not play an important role in the revenue generation process, its undeniable that it ensures security. That is why it should be purchased even as a so to speak insurance policy. As it turns out, there is a new emerging device management standard in the IoT – Lightweight Machine-to-Machine (LwM2M) – that can boast a very robust security and supports both certificate-based and PSK-based authentication methods.

LwM2M developed by Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) SpecWorks specifies device management and service enablement mechanisms initially designed for devices that have limited processing and storage capabilities (although basically any connected device can be managed via LwM2M). The technology functions very well over potentially unstable and low bandwidth networks such as cellular or sensor networks as well as LPWA radio networks. The standard is furnished with fundamental features needed for efficient device management, including: bootstrapping of devices (as a security measure), firmware updates, remote management (changing settings, triggering actuators etc.), fault management (reporting errors, querying status of devices) and information reporting. The biggest strengths of LwM2M are its flexibility thanks to extensible, well-defined object model and low requirements as far as device resources or network capabilities are concerned, which results in simplicity of usage and enhanced applicability in various IoT environments. Combining LwM2M with an IoT ecosystem appears to be a very promising approach for telcos and larger enterprises and might be a good idea for them if they are interested in conquering new markets, discovering blue oceans or just strengthening current market position with the completely new IoT industry.

Luckily, starting your journey with LwM2M can be very easy. Thanks to the existence of open-source LwM2M SDK such as AVSystem’s Anjay LwM2M SDK, any kind of hardware can become compatible with the protocol and managed out-of-the-box within hours!

It goes without saying that the Internet of Things is revolutionizing the landscapes of all industries, including telecommunications where for years telcos have been seen as simple providers of access to telephony and data communication. The evolution of telcos into highly versatile providers of IoT services seems to be imperative in order to have any influence in the future of the IoT world. Telcos are presented with a great opportunity to leverage new sources of revenue. Of course, they face many challenges as well. They need to deal with the competition while competing with each other at the same time. They need to carefully choose the industries that are suitable for the IoT business and technology which secures their investment. And most importantly, they need to carefully devise a strategy that will ensure success.

It remains to be seen whether telcos will prove to be successful in this rapidly expanding world of the IoT. As a starting point though, telcos need to remember that there is no IoT without device management. By adopting emerging technologies such as LwM2M, companies can pioneer a sustainable IoT device management solution and emerge as leaders of the IoT industry.

About AVSystem
As device management is a central part of today’s IoT ecosystems, AVSystem’s Coiote IoT Device Management and Coiote IoT Data Orchestration use the company’s vast experience to provide scalable and industry-agnostic IoT environments. Coiote IoT products family speeds up any IoT deployment with standards-based IoT device management (utilizing OMA SpecWorks’ LwM2M) as well as extensive data orchestration.

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