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Key Considerations Before Using Managed Network Services for IoT

By Special Guest
Wolfgang Thieme, Chief Product Officer at BehrTech
February 24, 2020

In the rapidly evolving digital world, companies are feeling an increasing urge to plunge into IoT implementation. However, many of them lack the resources and skills needed to architect, integrate and maintain a connected solution in their enterprise environment. To tackle the vast unknown world of IoT, organizations often turn to managed network services to bring physical assets onto the Internet. Service providers take over the tasks of building network infrastructure and managing devices and data. Cellular connectivity offered by mobile operators is probably the most popular, but there are a growing number of other public connectivity options as well.

While the benefits of IoT managed services are easily identifiable, they don’t override the major concerns that are often less tangible. Reduced complexity is a compelling advantage, but it shouldn’t be the sole decision-maker. Managed connectivity comes with a centralized business model where many aspects of your IoT architecture are largely under the operator’s control. For those looking to join a public IoT network, below are three important factors to consider before making up your mind.

Network Coverage

While the idea of not having to procure your own infrastructure (e.g. base stations) is highly tempting, it also means that you’re entirely dependent on the operator’s network footprint. Be wary of the “worldwide coverage” IoT service providers often offer, as it isn’t equivalent to truly ubiquitous connectivity. Roaming agreements might be in place to help devices connect to compatible networks when traveling across borders. Nevertheless, they don’t guarantee that the connectivity is accessible or consistently reliable everywhere.

Coverage is a complex function of radio link budget, cell tower/ base station availability and the operating environment of a connected device. That’s why it’s very challenging, if not impossible for operators to ensure an “absolute” nationwide coverage, let alone worldwide. If you look closely at the coverage map of any incumbent telco provider in your country, you will easily find abundant network gaps. It’s always a question of what your applications are and where the devices are installed. Outdoor endpoints deployed in an urban environment are most likely supported by public IoT infrastructure. However, when it comes to industrial assets located in remote areas, underground and/or inside a steel-made factory, this might not be the case.

Security and Data Privacy

Industrial users turn to IoT to capture previously untapped data that can transform their operations and bolster their competitive edge. Due to the business-critical nature of these data streams, any security breach threatens to incur severe financial and reputational damages. On top of that, compliance with rigorous data protection frameworks is often a critical business requirement. As such, it’s no surprise that many organizations favor an on-premises or hybrid IoT deployment over a cloud-driven one to retain complete data and security control and mitigate risk.

Now, the challenge with IoT managed services is that, regardless of the operator and connectivity type in question, it’s necessary to integrate the operator’s server into the IoT architecture. This cloud-based server acts as a central hub that stores all user data and administers devices and connections. If you’re set on implementing an on-premises or hybrid system for security and compliance purposes, managed IoT services won’t suit your strategy.

Network Uptime and Longevity

When it comes to mission-critical infrastructures and applications, companies always strive for a 100 percent network uptime, even in times of crisis. In managed connectivity services, network uptime is susceptible to unpredictable disruptions resulted from physical or technical failures of the operator’s infrastructure. Even with a Service Level Agreement that guarantees 99.9 percent network uptime, organizations are left with almost nine hours of annual downtime. What’s more, since sensor data must be retrieved from the operator’s backend for end application uses, companies are further exposed to the disruption risk from internet availability.

Impending technology sunset is another major factor to consider if you plan to go for a cellular carrier. Given the very long lifetime of industrial assets, it’s often the case that the cellular technology phases out way before the end of the asset useful life. Telco providers are quickly shutting down 2G and 3G networks amid increasing LTE prevalence and 5G rollout. And, given the backward compatibility gap, this transition isn’t as simple as swapping the 3G module for an LTE or 5G one. Technological and regulatory changes that happened along the way add up to the complexity of the migration process, and thus, the disruption time of your industrial network.

In conclusion, despite some inherent benefits, IoT managed network services do not always cater to the unique requirements of industrial enterprises. Companies looking for full flexibility and control over network coverage and uptime alongside security and data protection will find a privately managed wireless infrastructure pay off in the long run.

About the author: Wolfgang Thieme is the Chief Product Officer at BehrTech, an enabler of next-gen wireless connectivity for Industrial IoT. He has more than 12 years of experience in academic research and development; successfully innovating and implementing new technologies with commercial partners and managing development and product teams. He worked for over 10 years at Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits where he led the advancement of early stage technology development and technology transfer processes with a specific focus on integrated circuits, internet of things (IoT) and communication and sensor technologies.

Edited by Ken Briodagh
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