The First Mile of IoT™
By Bill Dykas
August 15, 2022
For consumer internet access, bridging the last mile means stretching the cable from the curb to the house to link a customer to the web. It’s an image that evokes reaching out to make a final connection. Data and audiovisual content are sent from the cloud or servers to the network’s outer reaches.
In the world of Smart X, which operates by “think digital first and absolutely connected” Internet of Things (IoT) enablement, it works in reverse. Everything starts at the edge, with the devices and the data they generate. That’s the First Mile of IoT, an area many IoT platform providers ignore or undervalue.
It’s an essential puzzle piece. IoT promises better decision-making based on analytics applications. However, you can’t run actionable analytics if you are not networked with the edge device sourcing the business-critical information. IoT solution providers must architect the IoT network to collect and transmit data efficiently and securely from edge equipment to the cloud.
Real-time communication (or near-real-time typical for low-power edge devices and sensors) with devices is crucial to effective management. In many cases, operators must establish gateways to enable data to travel securely from the edge IoT platform to third-party business systems.
The First Mile is the beginning of a journey. Here’s a closer look at what that course entails.
The initial challenge is connecting and onboarding devices, such as:
These devices could be linked physically to the network. Still, a flexible, scalable wireless connection can more readily deliver the promise of IoT digital transformation.
Wireless IoT connections require layers of technology integration that can provide dependable connectivity, including:
Today’s most secure modules are manufactured with individual identification and credentials, as well as embedded SIM (eSIM) functions.
All that information is encrypted and stored inside each module at the hardware level, making it impossible to erase or change it. This sealed-in identification provides a deep level of security. Once the device is in place, network operators can remotely provision the module to begin operations.
Secure boot is another device-level security function. It ensures the IoT provider that manufactured the module’s software originates and controls it. If a bad actor tries to hack in and modify the software, the module will automatically shut down and become unusable.
Security features (e.g., module credentialing and secure boot) provide IoT managers with confidence that anything stored within the device, including software, can be trusted.
IoT’s ever-growing plethora of data sources requires streamlined integration with many existing communication methods or protocols. There are many device types, data formats and business applications at play. Organizations must find ways to bridge the data divide and make devices and platforms interoperable.
Data must be curated before it can cross the First Mile of IoT. Therefore, devices must be smart enough to transmit only actionable data when and where it’s needed.
It requires edge intelligence to extract, transform and transfer the IoT data. Without this intelligence embedded in edge devices, organizations are strapped with massive wireless costs and inefficient operations.
Some IoT providers have introduced zero-touch onboarding to handle the complexities of device management. This feature allows companies to activate their devices and integrate them remotely with their existing platforms. Once devices are connected, a management app permits operators to view and control the edge devices’ key operating parameters and networking protocols.
This information includes:
They can also push down firmware updates from afar to ensure the latest security patches are in place upon release.
Security at this level requires encryption of all communications in both directions. Modules that carry individual identification and credentials also contribute to the security level of data transfers. The IoT provider automatically recognizes their transmissions, providing additional protection against cyberattacks.
From sealed modules to encrypted data transmissions, security at the edge is essential. However, the journey is not complete when the data reaches a cloud environment. The IoT platform must be secure and allow seamless data movement into third-party business systems.
The IoT platform should provide optimal protection against threats. Such protections include:
Within a shared environment, it should keep each customer’s data sandboxed and secured from other customer data and the provider’s operations.
If device data is heading for third-party analytics or cloud applications (e.g., AWS, Microsoft or Azure), then the platform should provide a way into those applications. Enterprise gateways create direct paths. Organizations can receive data from inside the IoT management platform and process it in their environment with other tools.
Data types moving through the gateway could include:
Many IoT devices are on the move or placed in remote areas, such as farm fields or inside shipping containers. Keeping those devices connected to a cellular network can present additional challenges.
Today’s IoT native connectivity solution providers offer custom data plans with eSIM, localization and roaming. These solutions work seamlessly across different regions and networks worldwide.
Devices equipped with these capabilities can stay online as they travel. Operators pay one fee for connectivity instead of multiple carriers with varying prices and agreement terms. Providers may also offer comprehensive connectivity management tools to enable connection provisioning and management across wireless networks.
The First Mile may be the most crucial part of the IoT journey, but it doesn’t stop there. The entire ecosystem must be secure and reliable. This feat is best performed by an expert IoT provider with integrated product and service bundles.
We deliver IoT hardware, software, management portals and tools that work stand-alone or seamlessly integrated. Experienced and new customers and IoT adopters can focus on their business vision, not the complex engineering of a high-performing First Mile.
In summary, the First Mile of IoT requires a complete set of systems services, including:
All these IoT systems services are prerequisites for successful IoT applications.
Our expert team is always available to provide advice. Our customers can tap into a global IoT ecosystem of device suppliers and system integrators.
With over 23 years of industry experience, we can help and support you on your IoT journey.
Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published on 24 July 2019 and has since been updated.