The Internet of Things (IoT) — devices and sensors that communicate with networks and each other — is poised to explode in the coming decade. Little more than an interesting concept just a few short years ago, the vision is now a reality, and the rapidly increasing availability of connected devices has made IoT device management a top priority for organizations across industries. Adding to the urgency, the arrival of 5G will trigger a flood of new types and classes of IoT “things.” Device developers and manufacturers need to design now for 5G, and cellular networks and service providers need to be prepared to support device management for massive IoT deployments.
The primary advantage of IoT is that it vastly increases the functionality of connected devices compared to standalone devices. By connecting to each other and networks, IoT devices can leverage relatively simple hardware capabilities to achieve superior functionality. Networked devices and sensors are crucial for all sorts of monitoring and automation, and they can enable control of a growing number of tasks and functions remotely. The coming 5G networks will result in a new breed of IoT devices that can be programmed remotely and bring enormous increases in speed and performance. IoT offers the promise of connecting multiple endpoint sensors and devices, enabling companies to achieve faster, more efficient, less costly processes in industries including agriculture, healthcare, hospitality, smart cities, retail, financial services and manufacturing.
More than 64 billion networked IoT sensors and devices are expected to be in place by the end of 2025, up from about 10 billion in 2018, according to Business Insider. The business researcher predicts that the IoT market will grow to more than $3 trillion annually by 2026, with roughly half of IoT spending devoted to commercial and industrial applications.
Challenges of IoT Adoption
IoT will play a central role in wide-ranging digital transformation projects, but with security, cost, skills gaps, and infrastructure readiness among the main roadblocks to IoT, addressing these issues is critical to its growth. One of the predominant challenges facing IoT developers is the significant complexity involved in scaling and managing IoT deployments.
IoT solutions, with potentially millions of endpoint sensors and devices, need to meet daunting remote-management requirements to meet efficacy KPIs inside the systems they are designed to enhance and improve. Manufacturers, integrators and solution providers will need fast, reliable remote-management capabilities to repurpose software and configuration and scale solutions. Bolt-on and DIY approaches to IoT device management will need review for future-readiness, especially given the needs of ongoing massive rollouts.
The Promise and Perils of 5G
Organizations’ planned investments in IoT solutions are growing fast with the rollout of 5G cellular networks and the concurrent increase in IoT adoption. Both high-speed/high-performance and low-power branches of the 5G technology promise to revolutionize how businesses use telecommunications, including considerable new applications in IoT. The 5G standard will create vast new opportunities for innovation due to 5G’s significantly faster speeds (between 10 and 100 times faster than 4G), lower latency, lower cost and much higher reliability, performance, flexibility, scalability and energy efficiency. On the low-power, transactional branch, 5G is designed to support massive numbers of IoT devices — up to 1 million endpoints per square kilometer — a volume that would not be viable under legacy device-management solutions.
The 5G standard will further enhance the usefulness of cellular-based IoT solutions in areas where 5G is available. In fact, nearly half of all IoT providers report that they will include support for 5G networks in their solutions in the next two years.
As high-speed 5G networks continue their rollout, thousands more cells will be needed to deliver considerable coverage for high-bandwidth application requirements. The logistics of placing all the added cells will mean that high-speed coverage of 5G won’t be ubiquitous for some time. Conversely, massive IoT 5G coverage leverages hardware and systems from the current infrastructure and is poised to be instantly available wherever LTE-M and NB-IoT are available now.
Lightweight M2M: 5G Ready
Once 5G reaches critical mass, it will need an adequate means of managing IoT devices. The industry is responding by collaborating on an evolutionary remote-management standard: the Open Mobile Alliance’s (OMA) Lightweight M2M (machine-to-machine) also called LwM2M. The LwM2M standard, already broadly used by mobile networks and IoT service providers globally, is evolving to enable efficient control of devices in 5G networks. One of the main goals of LwM2M is to create a secure, reliable, flexible means of managing devices and services over any cellular technology. LwM2M enables solution providers to handle large quantities of devices and manage these devices efficiently, allowing businesses and industries to scale their solutions to satisfy the needs of nearly any application.
The endpoints of the massive IoT will be low-power, low-bandwidth devices and sensors, which will minimize power consumption, processing capabilities and use of the cellular radio link. Given the potentially enormous numbers of endpoint devices, manual configuration will be impractical at best. Therefore, devices will need to be wirelessly configurable and upgradeable.
LwM2M is ideal for managing devices remotely including but not limited to low-power, low-bandwidth. Its use cases are growing fast. They include smart city, smart metering, asset tracking applications and more. Large mobile network operators are already deploying LwM2M in full production environments. Hardware manufacturers and chipset vendors also support the standard in their products, and the number of compliant devices will grow at an increasing rate in 2020 and beyond.
LwM2M is the ideal device-management solution for massive IoT, and it will remain the preferred standard as use cases and the variety of 5G devices and applications grow. The OMA Device Management and Service Enablement Working Group is continuing to add new functionalities as 5G specifications evolve. Therefore, LwM2M will remain the standard of choice for 5G-based IoT solutions in the foreseeable future.