Gopinath Polavarapu, Vice President Industrial IoT Solutions
They say no man is an island, but when you look at the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), all you see are islands, islands everywhere. Islands of projects and initiatives individually designed to reap the benefits that the IIoT can offer. They are islands because there is no easy way to connect them – there’s no ubiquitous IoT. And that’s going to be a big issue as businesses look to scale their small IoT successes into bigger ones.
Enterprises have different reasons for turning to the IoT. For some, it’s an effort to achieve operational efficiencies, automating processes to make them run more smoothly without manual intervention. For others, cost reduction is a big driver. For yet others, it’s a variety of other reasons: mitigating risks, maximizing ROI, tracking valuable assets at rest or in motion, increasing customer retention, resolving insurance claims, predicting workflows, keeping sensitive data secure, and so on.
Today’s enterprises are global and it’s the internet that has made them so. Companies can conduct business or sell goods in their own backyard, or halfway around the world. They may have several smaller offices, or one or several big ones. They may have assets such as trucks or equipment in urban areas, remote areas, or even out in the middle of the ocean. Those assets may be stationary or mobile. Every business case is different, and that’s actually part of the problem – the variety of businesses exploring and adopting the IoT today are everywhere in the world, and they need IoT connectivity everywhere they do business. For the Industrial IoT to reach its potential, connectivity needs to be available anytime, anywhere these companies do business.
However, today’s IoT connectivity is anything but ubiquitous. Cellular networks, low power wide area networks (LPWAN) and satellite are all options, yet each has its strengths and weaknesses:
- Cellular is pervasive, but weak spots abound, and it is not available in many places where the Industrial IoT is prevalent – remote areas that serve industries such as oil & gas, or maritime and shipping. Cellular is also in a state of flux, as 2G networks – the old mainstay for many Industrial IoT applications – are being sunsetted by carriers around the globe. Newer high-speed cellular networks are on the way, but “people” traffic will still likely take a priority over “machine” traffic.
- Today cellular carriers are sunsetting their networks and asking enterprise customers to migrate to 4G+ devices for a longer technology cycle. 5G is almost upon the cellular carriers. LTE-NB will firewall the consumer cellular networks with IoT networks, however it’s still evolving. Any Industrial customers who is looking to deploy IoT cellular devices should look for LTE-based devices. Emerging economies are adopted to LTE networks quickly and spectrum shortage will force the carriers to sunset their 2G networks.
- Low Power, Wide Area (LPWA) networks are popping up seemingly every day using technologies such as LoRa, Sigfox, Ingenu and others. These networks operate in the unlicensed spectrum, are designed specifically for IoT traffic, and use cellular and/or satellite for backhaul. The short-term problem: these networks, too, are islands, popping up here and there in cities and countries around the world where short-term needs dictate. Plans for ubiquitous coverage are forthcoming, but it may be years before we approach anything resembling ubiquity, especially in remote areas where many Industrial IoT solutions operate. In many of those areas, companies are building private LPWA networks to meet their needs.
- Satellite Connectivity solutions can provide coverage and connectivity everywhere on the globe, utilizing constellations that can reach all seven continents. There’s no doubt that satellite offers the best option for ubiquitous IoT connectivity. The downside: satellite connectivity is usually not the most cost-effective option when compared directly with cellular and LPWA in areas where those connectivity options are available. Because of that, it is often dismissed overall as “too expensive” to meet the needs of the Industrial IoT, oftentimes without companies digging deeper from a ROI perspective. Satellite operators have their own unique standards and it requires an integrator to make it easier for the industrial customers by handling logistics, customs, regulatory and device management.
Enterprises need ubiquitous, global Industrial IoT connectivity, anytime, anywhere. So what is the answer to achieving this? To reach the level of “ubiquity” global enterprises need for their individual businesses, they need to know how to integrate multiple IoT technologies and networks across their business. There is no one-size-fits all model, no pre-integrated global solution that checks off all of the ROI boxes for each company that needs it. It’s not here now, and it’s not coming anytime soon. Most aren’t sophisticated enough to do this on their own they’re experts in their own core business, not in IoT. These connectivity options should be selected based on the ROI model rather than the other way around. Cost of deployment, regulatory and logistics are always higher than the cheaper connectivity option.
The problem is NOW is the time for businesses to embrace the Industrial IoT. Those businesses that aren’t stepping up to the plate now or in the very near future risk getting left behind as their competitors embrace the opportunity and realize the benefits of the Industrial IoT. Finding the global answer one that allows businesses to define and follow a path that embraces multiple technologies and multiple networks is a key requirement to unlocking the ROI potential of the Industrial IoT.
About the Author: Gopinath Polavarapu is Vice President of Mobility Products and IIoT Solutions, Globecomm Systems. He has more than 15 years of experience across all the facets of the telecommunication industry. Polavarapu has worked with multinational companies like UTStarcom, MCI, Tata Teleservices, Reliance Communications prior to joining Globecomm in 2012.
For more information visitwww.globecommsystems.com/