By Mark Longstaff, director of technology EMEA at OpenMarket
No sooner have we moved into the smartphone society, we seem to have carried on running headlong into the Internet of Things (IoT) world. The number of connections between people, things and everything inbetween are being increased almost exponentially. The mobile phone has become our conduit to the world; it’s our de facto tool of interaction.
It seems a shame then, that one of the biggest stumbling blocks for the smartphone society is set to plague the IoT world; connectivity. We all remember the days of standing in that spot of our kitchen, on one foot, leaning sideways and displaying Olympic gymnast levels of balance to be able to make a call. Thankfully that’s a thing of the past for most of us, but when it comes to IoT we’re faced with similar problems of ensuring that all connected devices are exactly that; connected. An IoT based on patchy connectivity has all the structural reliability of a house of cards in a wind tunnel.
IoT doesn’t mean IP only
The IoT is an inter-connected web of devices, constantly interacting and communicating with one another to deliver better experiences for people. This could be in the shape of richer entertainment, workplace efficiency or healthcare diagnostics; no matter what you choose to use IOT for, it all depends on reliable connectivity.
The assumption then might be that each device needs to be 4G or Wi-Fi to work, but that isn’t really the case. For your smartphone or a connected camera, the higher the data rate the better. If it’s a vending machine sharing updates about when it needs to be refilled, not so much.
This is where there is a problem of perception for IoT; not all tasks or all devices are made equal. Let’s look at the examples we just covered; data rates for the two would be at complete opposite ends of the scale. 4G for live streaming of video would virtually be a must and as such only really applicable in areas with the requisite infrastructure. The vending machine example could be done with SMS on networks that are probably older than some of the people reading this.
This is something that companies should bear in mind when trying to tap into the potential of IoT. There’s often an urge to try and take advantage of the newest and shiniest thing when it’s not really fit for purpose. For many applications SMS won’t just ‘do a job’, you’d think it was purpose-made if you didn’t know better; low data-rates, near ubiquitous coverage and reliable communication.
Bringing IoT to everyone
For IoT to deliver on its promise of inter-connected cities that can learn from one another to improve the standard of life for everyone, it needs to reach all of us, wherever we are. One application for IoT that has been regularly singled-out is agriculture, where connected devices and equipment would reduce wastage and improve yields.
By their very nature, farms tend to be in remote locations away from urban centres. These also happen to be the same places where mobile broadband penetration has been low. There are obviously many uses for IoT in agriculture, many of which could use SMS as the channel of communication. Not only would this prove effective, it will reduce strain on the wider network for more data intensive applications.
Agriculture isn’t the only place this will make a difference. Smart metering in urban areas, even those with good mobile broadband coverage, are another example where SMS can lighten the load on the wider network.
The value of IoT arguably increases as more devices become connected, connecting as many of them as possible is fundamental to its success.
Devices are becoming smarter by the day. If you can think of an appliance it’s fair to say you can get a ‘smart’ version of it. The next step in industry relies on the bringing those devices together to make smart devices part of intelligent networks, networks that can interact and amplify their individual benefits.
This all hinges on connectivity; the right connectivity for the right job. This might mean 4G for real time diagnostics of a fleet of vehicles; it might mean SMS for smart meters as we’ve already seen SMS appearing in street lighting and MRI scanners. As IoT gathers pace and new applications are found, it’s important that we remember connectivity is the key to making it work.
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