Internet of Things (IoT) represents a huge set of products, technologies and use cases. Knowing how to start is a challenge that can seem insurmountable. It’s useful to examine smart cities, smart buildings and smart utilities as these markets represent a diverse set of applications but face many of the same challenges.
In cities, buildings and utilities, physical environment can create the biggest challenge: any network that connects sensors to the internet must pass through steel, concrete and even underground in the case of utilities. These deployments are known to be difficult for many networking technologies, so it is important to choose a technology that can meet the needs of your environment. Another consideration is how much data you need to transmit. This is critical because it has a significant impact on project cost. Sensor readings are very small data transmissions, cost-effective, low power wide area networking (LPWAN) is the right approach. Power is another consideration since most end-devices need to be deployed for many years, using networking technologies that can run on very low power reduces costs (fewer batteries are needed) and maintenance requirements to change the batteries.
Using open networking standards is also a requirement for cities, buildings and utilities because they offer organisations the most options for future expansion. Using open standards offers the widest variety of vendor and product selections which allows for price competition. This makes deployments more cost-effective up front and provides significant increases to ROI over the long term as new use cases are added with little increase in cost. Finally, with open standards, end-devices are backed by certification programs – adding another layer of confidence to deployments.
It is also essential to be realistic about how much time and labour you want to spend on your network and data, now and in the future. There are many different models for delivery of networking services. On public networks, users subscribe to an existing service on a pay-as-you-go or contract basis. This reduces the need for investment in hardware and system design, set up and maintenance. Private networks provide organisations with tailored deployments to address specific use case requirements and are often lower cost over time. Technologies that offer flexibility – hybrid solutions – also offer an advantage because they recognise that different use cases may have unique requirements. Other models include satellite and community networks, which increase connectivity options. Finally, whether end-devices need to roam should be considered from the start for assets that are not fixed.
So, what does this mean? As a category LPWANs are already globally deployed in many smart cities, buildings and utilities. They are effective at transmitting small amounts of data and available at price points that allow organisations to achieve strong ROI – quickly. Of the LPWANs, LoRaWAN stands apart, recognised as a standard by ITU (an international standards body) and backed by a rigorous certification program for end-devices that ensures they will work as intended.
Ultimately, IoT starts with the question: what problems are you trying to solve? To answer this, work with solution providers who understand the different technologies, the value of open standards and certification, and who also engage actively with established technology ecosystems. The fact is, not all LPWANs are equal, but finding the best solution can be very simple once you know what you want to achieve and have the right solution partners.