IoT connectivity has grown considerably more powerful over the last few years. Connectivity providers have begun rolling out a new generation of tools that dramatically accelerate speed to market. To take complete advantage of these capabilities, however, has required IoT solutions to be architected around the specific connectivity option that a given provider offers.

While designing multiple connectivity options into IoT hardware has always been a possibility, the cost and complexity of doing so has been a barrier for most businesses. For example, if a device supports both Wi-Fi and cellular connections, Wi-Fi might be used whenever possible to offload cellular data cost, with cellular as a backup when Wi-Fi becomes unavailable. However, where a cellular service provider offers desirable tools to integrate IoT devices with cloud services without software development kits (SDKs), or to set up private networking or secure remote access, users would still have to choose between architecting around cellular service to access those features or building all the necessary features by themselves.

Does that mean innovators have to miss out on the potential of using multiple connectivity options in IoT deployments? Is there not a way to build blended networks of things that leverage both multiple connectivity options and state-of-the-art IoT platform capabilities? What if innovators developing IoT solutions could use the same tools and controls for every connection, and manage them centrally, regardless of connectivity type? What new opportunities would arise?

If a connectivity platform could establish a secure link over any Internet connection, for example, cellular, Wi-Fi, Ethernet and satellite, it would be able to provide the same set of services, features, and management tools to every connection in a user’s IoT network. Such a secure link would solve the challenge and make it possible to leverage both multiple connectivity options and leading-edge IoT platform capabilities to build a secure, scalable and manageable IoT system without creating everything from scratch.

A Wealth of Opportunity

Having access to more than one type of connectivity, for example, Wi-Fi, Ethernet and satellite, offers new capabilities for anyone developing an IoT solution. These include:

  • Accelerated prototyping. IoT solutions can be prototyped in the lab using existing Wi-Fi or Ethernet capabilities without setting up cellular connectivity, which reduces data transmission and hardware costs early in the project development cycle. Cellular can be activated through the management portal when needed. With lower barriers to entry and an accelerated time to market, more IoT applications can be developed.
  • Fluid connectivity and elegant failover. As existing deployments expand, so too do the challenges with introducing new connectivity options. A platform that supports blended connectivity options eases this transition by allowing a single management console to manage every connection. Likewise, such a platform lets devices offload data transfer from cellular to Wi-Fi when in range, without disrupting cloud integrations. If Wi-Fi becomes unstable, the connections are moved to the cellular network or other designated connectivity option. 
  • Secure communication over public networks. As devices are deployed to new locations, a secure link over any available public Internet connection can help solutions developers to maintain end-to-end secure connections back to the cloud—even on networks they do not control. Meanwhile, they can still make use of features offered by the connectivity provider, such as secure remote access, cloud integration without SDK, private networking and so on.

There is a wide range of IoT solutions across industries that would benefit from a more heterogenous approach that blends two or more connectivity options. Some examples include:

  • Shipping and aviation. In these industries, satellite is the only option when out of range of terrestrial networks. But in port or at the airport, LPWAN can be used for low data applications, while cellular or Wi-Fi is an option when more data is needed. This provides great flexibility to businesses.
  • Precision irrigation and agriculture. Sensors and actuators are used in the field, while AI in the cloud uses the sensors as its eyes and ears, and triggers the actuators. However, when a signal from a main provider is weak, a backup connection from a different provider is required. A secure link over any Internet connection allows businesses to use the same integration as the back-end service without rearchitecting applications.
  • Smart Energy. LPWAN and cellular connectivity can be used in a blended way, providing great flexibility. LPWAN can be used to control systems like HVAC, with cellular available for more data-intensive processes such as firmware updates.

Connectivity options vary widely and selecting the right one often represents the first major hurdle between concept and execution. The ability to connect devices via virtually any connectivity type—and managing them all centrally—will help bring new products to market quickly and open the door to a wealth of new opportunities and experiences.

Previous articleHow to Become a Good Programmer
CTO and co-founder of Soracom, where he has led deployment of the industry’s most advanced cloud-native telecom platform, designed specifically for the needs of connected devices. Before co-founding Soracom, Kenta served as a solutions architect with AWS and conducted research for connected homes and cars at Ericsson Research in Tokyo and Stockholm. Kenta holds a Ph.D. in engineering from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, with additional studies in computer science at Columbia University's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.