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Commercial IoT design challenges

Commercial IoT lies between consumer IoT and industrial IoT applications. As a result, it has unique considerations when you develop and implement an IoT infrastructure. There is a real difference in the architectures, technologies and economies of scale. This means that the design challenges for use cases like asset tracking, smart office spaces and connected restaurants differ significantly from that of monitoring large machinery or connecting your phone to your Bluetooth headset. Based on lessons learned, this article shares how to proactively address the unique needs of commercial IoT infrastructure.

How does commercial IoT differ from consumer and industrial IoT?

If you think of IoT as a spectrum, consumer IoT such as wearables and smart home devices occupies one end. Protocols, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, allow applications on consumer smartphones or watches to connect with personal devices to make day-to-day lives easier. From a design perspective, two-way Bluetooth is the main choice for device connectivity. With a few (at most) simultaneous end-device wireless connections, the mobile device acts as the gateway to the cloud. Lastly, consumer IoT apps can often be developed by teams with mobile experience.

Industrial IoT lays on the other end of the spectrum. Industrial markets often require expensive hardware and technologies and even wired connections to withstand industrial environment use. Servers, sensors and systems need to work together on an “industrial strength” scale. From a design perspective, IIoT often mixes hardwired and wireless connectivity with connections designed for one-to-many between sensors and a server-class gateway. IIoT often includes a level of local command and control. And, as these systems can access power from the factory floor, many are AC-powered. These and other reasons make IIoT architectures costly and complex.

Between these two ends lies the domain of commercial IoT. Retail, hospitality, healthcare and logistics IoT teams develop commercial applications for smart buildings, automatic lighting, asset tracking and guest experiences. These experiences require ongoing maintenance and upgrades; they also have specific security requirements as devices become smarter, more connected and at greater scale than ever. Commercial IoT often requires additional scale and complexity over consumer IoT. Yet, it also needs to have a lower total cost of ownership and operation than complex IIoT systems. It requires a different approach.

Commercial IoT lessons learned?

In partnering with many commercial IoT teams on their system development, I’ve seen consistent challenges. They stem from two specific challenges of this domain:

  1. Developers often spend more time building IoT connectivity and computing infrastructure than actually developing. Excited to create applications to collect data designed to ultimately help their business, IoT teams spend a lot of energy and money creating and managing the required infrastructure just to get started. Indeed, building and maintaining a true edge computing environment can easily consume 20-50% of IoT development efforts.
  2. In addition, teams often build prototypes on a DIY development device, like a Raspberry Pi, only to find that their prototype isn’t scalable or secure enough for production. Operations teams, wanting to deploy updates and security patches to devices in the field, incur unexpected costs for the logistical challenge of monitoring and updating applications across hundreds to thousands of locations.

What many commercial IoT teams need is a scalable and secure edge infrastructure on which to build. Thus, allowing them to focus on their value-added applications.

Designing edge systems for commercial IoT

Meet the unique complexity, scalability and cost needs of commercial IoT with three edge infrastructure considerations:

  1. Connectivity: Does the design allow for a range of low-power wireless connectivity options such as Bluetooth 5, Zigbee, Thread, Wi-Fi and LTE? Select the appropriate protocol for your use case as each wireless standard can excel, or disappoint, based on application requirements.Smart teams map their IoT use cases to find the right balance of connectivity cost, range, reliability, speed and features. Also, make sure to consider the total cost of operation for the IoT gateways. The ease with which the gateway can be deployed across many locations is critical.
  2. Computing: Does the design allow for integration with existing DevOps processes? Perhaps more importantly, is the application secure from point of manufacture to encrypted OS and ongoing updates? Look for tools that accommodate easy and remote orchestration, deployment, monitoring and maintenance of IoT applications.Some IoT teams shortcut the build process by using pre-built IoT infrastructure as a service that allows developers to focus on building apps that add business value. At Rigado, we’ve found that teams who do so can save anywhere from four to six months of development time. Consider an edge infrastructure design that uses a fully containerized edge OS, secure boot and an encrypted file system. This will make it easier to connect to IoT sensors and beacons using API calls, eliminating the need for device or protocol expertise.
  3. Cloud integration: Again, there should be no need for IoT teams to struggle with basic functionality like cloud integration with the major cloud providers. Teams should look for a gateway or platform that comes with API-style, preprogrammed cloud integration.

Commercial IoT lies between consumer and industrial on the IoT spectrum and has unique design challenges. When developing IoT edge infrastructure, pay specific attention to commercial IoT needs with respect to complexity, scalability and cost. Doing so up front will help mitigate risks associated with development time, operational costs and security threats. And will allow IoT teams to focus on building value through commercial IoT applications, rather than underlying edge infrastructure, security and maintenance.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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