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    Jan, 10 2023

    7 IoT Challenges in 2023 and How to Solve Them

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    For over two decades, the Internet of Things (IoT) has transformed industries by enabling businesses and consumers to remotely monitor, analyze, and control devices. The use cases for IoT are constantly increasing, and there are now billions of connected devices worldwide.

    But while it’s opened the door to many new possibilities, IoT has also brought new challenges to developers, manufacturers, and customers who rely on their products and services. Many of the greatest IoT challenges today have been there from the beginning. Still, they’re becoming more pronounced as IoT becomes more prolific and accessible.

    Adding connectivity to a device is easier than ever. But every new IoT application has to address or ignore the same challenges, and many manufacturers are still unaware of how today’s IoT technologies help solve them. In this article, we’ll look at the seven main challenges facing IoT today, plus the technologies that address them.

    1. IoT security

    From the beginning, IoT devices have been notoriously vulnerable to cyber attacks. There are countless examples of IoT devices being incorporated into botnets (like the infamous Mirai botnet) or being hacked to misuse or access other parts of a network. This problem isn’t going to just go away because, unfortunately, it stems from some inherent issues with IoT devices.

    IoT devices often have a limited power supply and need to last for years in the field on a single charge. As a result, they need to transmit and receive data with little power. Adding encryption, authentication, and security protocols can significantly increase the power consumption of basic transmissions, so many IoT devices don’t have these capabilities.

    Additionally, it’s almost inevitable that, over time, new vulnerabilities will be discovered in the device firmware as new technologies and techniques emerge to exploit it. Without updates, these vulnerabilities can accumulate over the lifetime of the device. But unfortunately, IoT devices are typically too distributed for manufacturers to perform on-site updates and directly access the device. Remote firmware updates can consume significant power if the device doesn’t have enough data throughput.

    Add the fact that IoT devices may rely on the end users’ network infrastructure (such as WiFi), and you have a perfect storm. The device becomes increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attacks and can be used to access other devices and applications on the network.

    The solution

    Thankfully, low-power connectivity solutions continue to implement new security technologies. And this is an area where cellular IoT is particularly valuable. Cellular networks authenticate devices through SIM cards, and security features like IMEI locks ensure that only the intended device can use a particular SIM card. Cellular networks also allow you to perform remote firmware updates as needed while consuming minimal power. Finally, providers like emnify can help close security gaps with virtual private network (VPN) capabilities and greater control over your devices’ communications. 

    2. Coverage

    To transmit and receive data, IoT devices need a network connection. Lose the connection, and you lose the device’s capabilities. While there are numerous IoT connectivity solutions, they’re all best suited for different types of coverage. The solution you choose can severely limit where you can deploy. This makes coverage a constant IoT challenge.

    For example, WiFi is a common choice for IoT connectivity. But your devices can only operate within a short range of a router, and you can only deploy your devices at locations that have WiFi. When the infrastructure isn’t available, you have to either pay to build it or outfit your devices with a backup solution that already has coverage.

    The solution

    Several technologies provide wide coverage, enabling IoT devices to operate within a few miles of the network infrastructure. While cellular is the most popular option, there are also Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) like Sigfox and LoRaWAN. In the years to come, satellite connectivity will likely become more common as well.

    3. Scalability

    IoT businesses often have hundreds or thousands of devices in the field. The largest IoT manufacturers have millions of devices deployed around the world. As businesses scale, they often piecemeal together their IoT stack, adopting different connectivity solutions for deployments in new regions. Each of these comes with different management platforms, support systems, and underlying technologies. And suppose you have to fundamentally change your product to support a new connectivity solution. In that case, you need multiple SKUs for a single product. The larger the scale of your operations, the more overwhelming device management, and logistics become.

    This is even a problem with cellular IoT, where connectivity is available worldwide but owned by disparate Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). To connect to a new carrier, you need a provider with roaming agreements with that carrier or a new SIM card. 

    The solution

    Global IoT solutions like emnify circumvent this challenge by creating agreements with carriers all over the world. With a single emnify SIM card, your devices can connect to more than 540 networks in over 195 countries.

    4. Interoperability

    One of the incredible things about IoT is the seemingly endless ways you can configure your tech stack to suit your unique circumstances. But it also creates a challenge: Not all IoT devices and solutions are compatible with each other or with your business applications. Adding new hardware and software to the mix may require you to make a chain reaction of changes to keep the functionality you need while accommodating the new tech.

    There’s another way interoperability challenges IoT manufacturers. Some of the underlying tech your IoT solution depends on may be open source. That isn’t a problem itself, but if that open source technology doesn’t have a regulating body to create a clear universal standard, you can wind up with different businesses and/or countries using different variations of the open source tech. This makes it difficult to add technology from a different vendor or deploy your IoT solution in a new country. It’s certainly not a problem for every IoT application, but some industries need to accelerate their adoption of universal standards to improve interoperability.

    The solution

    Thankfully, most components of your IoT stack are relatively easy to exchange for other tech. And the trend within the industry is to make IoT solutions versatile by making integration as simple as possible.

    5. Bandwidth availability

    Radio Frequency (RF) bandwidth is a finite resource the entire world has to share. Even with billions of connected devices, there’s more than enough to go around. But when too many of these devices use the same frequency bands in the same location, their signals interfere with each other.

    A common example of this is WiFi in apartment buildings. Every resident with a WiFi router creates a separate network that uses the same frequencies (usually 5GHz or 2.4GHz). Since they’re so close together (in some cases on either side of the same wall), their signals can easily interfere when everyone tries to use these frequencies simultaneously.

    In IoT, you often have thousands of connected devices in relatively close proximity. As we continue adding billions of new devices, the RF spectrum will grow increasingly crowded. Signal interference and the availability of bandwidth are something manufacturers need to be aware of. Thankfully, there are several ways the industry is addressing this.

    The solution

    MNOs worldwide pay for a license that essentially privatizes segments of the RF spectrum, like a toll lane on a highway, making it so that only their customers can access this bandwidth. Different MNOs who operate in the same area each have their own licensed bands, which helps decrease the likelihood of interference.

    Some IoT solutions, like LoRaWAN, use unlicensed bands available to the public. These can be prone to interference in high-traffic areas, but this flexibility can help businesses avoid concentrating their devices on already crowded bands.

    New IoT technologies are also finding more efficient ways to use bandwidth. Narrowband IoT, for example, is a cellular network technology that uses narrower bands, including the “guard bands,” which normally serve as unused gaps between networks. While 5G isn’t quite ready for widespread use in IoT, it will soon give businesses access to a much greater range of the RF spectrum. This will allow the world to distribute IoT devices across more frequencies.

    6. Limited battery life

    Most IoT devices have small batteries. This is mainly because the devices are often incredibly small—and new generations of IoT technology are trending smaller and more efficient devices and components. Larger batteries could restrict a device’s use cases or limit where and how the device can be installed. For example, putting a larger battery on a predictive maintenance sensor could prevent you from installing the sensor where it would be most protected from extreme temperatures, debris, impact, and other conditions that could cause damage.

    For devices that spend the majority of their lifecycle in the field without access to another power source, the battery is designed to last for years. But it can only last all that time if the device’s regular operations drain minimal power. Transmitting or receiving data for extended periods drains too much battery life.

    The solution

    Newer networking technologies like NB-IoT and LTE-M have power-saving features like Power-Saving Mode (PSM) and Discontinuous Reception (DRX). These features can help extend the battery life of IoT devices to 10 years or more. But many older technologies still in use today don’t have these capabilities, leaving businesses to choose between too little data throughput and too much power consumption.

    Another way manufacturers can make more efficient use of their batteries is with specialized IoT routers and gateways. These pieces of network infrastructure can serve as intermediaries between IoT devices and the applications and network entities they need to communicate with. The gateway or router can support the more complicated protocols and security processes like encryption and authentication, keeping devices secure while minimizing their power consumption.

    7. Remote access

    The type of connectivity an IoT device uses can change how you’re able to access the device. For example, using your customers’ WiFi or ethernet requires support personnel to either have VPN privileges or be on the premises. On-site visits are extremely expensive, but if that’s the only way a technician can troubleshoot or update your device, you’re stuck paying the additional costs.

    Remote access capabilities dramatically lower the costs of support and maintenance—for you or your customers—and make routine firmware updates far more manageable at any scale. Unfortunately, many IoT connectivity solutions lack the data throughput to make global remote access viable. A single firmware update over a network with low data throughput consumes too much power for devices that rely on batteries.

    This is another strength of cellular connectivity. Cellular networks offer the data throughput needed to efficiently push updates to your devices and the required technology for secure remote access through VPNs.

    Let’s solve your IoT challenges together

    emnify is a leading cellular IoT connectivity provider. Our global IoT SIMs help you build scalable, resilient products that can connect to more than 540 networks in over 195 countries. With our intuitive connectivity management portal, you can easily control, monitor, and automate your devices from a single pane of glass. Our technology adds layers of IoT security to your solution, gives you greater flexibility, and helps you get more from your devices.

    Want to see how emnify helps you address the challenges of IoT?

    Start a free trial or talk to one of our IoT experts.

    Nathan Schlaffer

    Nathan Schlaffer

    More than 7 years of experience translating hi-tech connectivity and SaaS products for Internet of Things into simple and compelling use cases across a broad range of vertical markets from manufacturing to transportation to oil and gas.

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