As you all know, we have connected devices all around us. Take a look around your immediate environment – laptops, smart televisions, mobile phones, routers, cars, and yes, even perhaps a fridge or toaster! (we know it’s inevitable…). And beyond what you can identify with a sweeping glance, there is a whole other category below the surface as it were – street lamps, road signs, multitudes of meters and sensors.
All of these connected devices have unique and generally bespoke, methods of connecting to the public or private cloud. The various connectivity standards are slowly re-aligning themselves for the expected surge in devices in the coming years. However, some of these standards need evolving. There is a need to match the appropriate type of connectivity to the “Thing” in question.
Take Wi-Fi as an example. A large proportion of connected devices making their way into the consumer and office environment use Wi-Fi as the primary means of connectivity. For example IP cameras, or home automation systems. After all, it makes sense – the device is sitting in an environment where a “pipe” is already available – the local Wi-Fi network. All it has to do is join the network and the cloud is there for the taking. Simple, right? So why do anything else?
One of the recent growing concerns is that the surge in IoT devices will create a pressure point for Wi-Fi as a transport path. However, it’s nothing to do with something technical, like the number of MAC addresses. Actually the problem stems from the fact that Wi-Fi networks aren’t reliable – not in a technical sense, but rather in a human sense.
Over time, routers and wireless AP’s get reset or upgraded in the home, and office buildings change policies or settings to keep in line with security changes. This means that every time some component of the Wi-Fi network is changed, the settings on all the connected devices have to change as well. As a function of cost and convenience, this may be acceptable now in the short term but fast forward four or five years in the future, when the average home might have many more Wi-Fi connected devices. When the broadband router is changed, for example, moving to another ISP, can we really expect one to remember to change all devices in the home? Especially critical systems that could play an integral role in home operation or security – entry systems, cameras or smart meters.
I recently met with a company that had designed a kitchen water filter. It had a smart flow sensor to monitor water usage and would alert into the cloud when the filter needed changing. However, when I bought up the question about the only connectivity method being Wi-Fi, the company representative was a bit taken aback as if the scenario had never been posed before (and promptly assured me that a cellular solution was in the pipe – no pun intended).
In terms of data cost, Wi-Fi (and its supporting fixed line broadband) cannot be beat. However, developers of these solutions, or the customers that purchase them, should keep in mind the reliance of the device on an intrinsically human factor. The network could drop out under the device and the end user could be none the wiser.
It’s important to look at the solution and consider alternative connection paths, such as cellular or narrowband, to supplement a failed primary path. Or have a really loud alarm!