The First Mile of IoT™
By Bill Dykas
November 12, 2019
In the world of consumer internet access, bridging the last mile means stretching the cable from the curb to the house to link a customer with the web. It’s an image that evokes reaching out to make a final connection — sending data and audiovisual content from the cloud or servers to the outer reaches of the network.
In the world of IoT, that order works in reverse. Everything starts at the edge, with the devices and the data they generate. That’s the First Mile of IoT™ — and it’s an area many IoT platform providers ignore or undervalue.
It’s an essential piece of the puzzle. IoT promises better decision-making based on analytics applications, but you can’t run analytics if you can’t access the data. IoT network operators must ensure data can be collected, stored and transmitted efficiently and securely from edge equipment to the cloud. Real-time communication with devices is key to effective management. In many cases, operators must establish gateways so data can travel securely from the edge IoT platform to third-party business systems.
The initial challenge is connecting and onboarding devices — anything from small sensors to industrial machinery, trucks, buildings or factories. These devices could be linked physically to the network, but a flexible, scalable wireless connection can more readily deliver on the promise of IoT digital transformation.
Wireless connections require new layers of technology integration, including enterprise-grade cellular modules, SIMs and data cards that can provide dependable connectivity. Today’s most secure modules are manufactured with individual identification and credentials, along with embedded SIM 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 module’s software is originated and controlled by the IoT provider that manufactured it. If a bad actor tries to hack in and modify the software, the module will automatically shut down and become unusable.
IoT’s ever-growing plethora of data sources requires streamlined integration to many existing communication methods or protocols. With many device types, data formats and business applications at play, organizations must find ways to bridge the data divide — making devices and platforms interoperable.
It requires edge intelligence to extract, alarm, normalize, transform and transfer the data. Without this intelligence embedded in edge devices, organizations are strapped with massive wireless costs and inefficient operations.
To handle the complexities of device management, some IoT providers have introduced zero-touch onboarding. 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 multiple layers of data. This information includes device activity, carrier information, signal data, battery life status, real-time operating data and complications. They can also push down firmware updates from afar, ensuring that the latest security patches are in place as soon as they are released.
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 an additional layer of protection against cyber attacks.
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 itself must be secure yet allow for seamless data movement into third-party business systems.
The IoT platform should provide optimal protection, such as role-based security, virtual private networks and transport-layer security, against threats. 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 Azure or SAP HANA), then the platform should provide a way into those applications. Enterprise gateways create direct paths so organizations can receive data from inside the IoT management platform and process it in their environment, using other tools. Types of data moving through the gateway could include device information (e.g., maintenance updates or connection status) and data collected by the devices (e.g., sensor readings from an agricultural IoT deployment).
Many IoT devices are on the move or placed in remote areas, such as inside shipping containers, aboard trains or in farm fields. Keeping those devices connected to a cellular network can present additional challenges.
Devices equipped with these capabilities can stay online as they travel, and 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, stable and reliable — a feat that’s best performed by an expert IoT provider with a full repertoire of services. From modules to connectivity data plans to device management, Telit handles IoT hardware, software, management portals and tools so our customers can focus on system and app design.
Our team of experts is always available to provide advice, and our customers can tap into a global IoT ecosystem of device suppliers, system integrators and applications.
With more than two decades of experience in the industry, Telit is here to help you embark on your IoT journey and provide the support you need to see it through to the finish line.
Editor’s Note: This post was first published on July 24, 2019, and has since been updated.