IoT connectivity of the future – how can we get there?

At TM Forum’s Innovation In Focus this week, AT&T’s Emily Soelberg, Assistant Vice President of IoT Programs, will present her top five innovations in the Internet of Everything (IoE). Here, she writes about the challenges and how they’re being overcome.

There are well documented, rapid growth projections for the Internet of Things (IoT). Analyst predictions range, but are in the tens of billions for the amount of connected devices within the next decade. IDC projects that by 2021, IoT spending will be nearly $1.4 trillion. Though still early days, IoT adoption is quickly moving from niche to mainstream. This is especially true for enterprises. If you’re not thinking about IoT, you’re probably behind.

But, there are many connectivity challenges to overcome before IoT can reach its full potential:

  • Cost – Just two years ago, the cost of a long-term evolution (LTE) module (a connectivity chip for embedding into larger devices) was around $30, more than the cost of many of the actual devices. These costs are rapidly dropping though. Currently, LTE-M modules available from AT&T’s supplier are $7.50, and include the SIMs.
  • Battery life  is a limitation. Today’s connected things must either have a power source or cope with  changing or recharged batteries. As such, many long-life devices that need to operate for years without being touched, cannot be connected. In particular, devices using mainstream wide area networks require periodic charging or battery changes every few months. This has limited the use cases that these networks could support.
  • Module size – Historically, module components were designed for larger devices like phones and tablets. This large size has limited the connectivity for a lot, especially wearables.
  • Low latency/high throughput – While many use cases are tolerant of higher latency and lower throughput, some are challenged within today’s technology. Ultra-low latency will enable things like automated vehicles and better management of an electrical grid; combining it with super-high throughput will enable use cases like remote, robotic surgery.
  • Single stock keeping unit (SKU) – Manufacturers want to develop and source a single SKU, but connectivity that works seamlessly around the world can be challenging, multi-national corporations need to stitch it together. Based on their employee location data, 40 percent of enterprises need connectivity in three or more countries.
  • Security – Security remains the #1 barrier to IoT adoption. Over the last three years, AT&T has recorded a 3,198 percent increase in IoT vulnerability scans. Without innovations and assurances around security, enterprises will be slow to embrace IoT.
  • Manual pairing – Short-range networks like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth require manual pairing and often don’t work out of the box. The notion of having something that ‘just works’ is powerful, whether you’re a consumer wanting to turn on a connected device in your home without having to download an app and pair it to your phone, or, you’re an enterprise looking to ship equipment to field offices without worrying if it will work on arrival.
  • Interference – Interference is a problem on unlicensed bands, especially as more and more devices are getting smart. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth share the 2.4 GHz band which sees occasional interference from things like microwaves and cordless phones. The industrial, scientific, and medical radio (ISM) band is less prone to such interference, so is increasingly being used for IoT devices.

In some cases, one or more of these constraints limits the types of connectivity available to certain devices. Customers are forced to make trade-offs; for example, you could have battery life or throughput. Not all connectivity comes with built-in security, so picking one for other reasons sometimes means future security risks.

The good news: there’s a wave of innovation addressing and even eliminating some of these barriers. New low-power wide-area networks (LP-WAN), like LTE-M, come with the ability to run for years on a single battery, with a form factor as small as a penny, at less than 25 percent of the cost they were 24 months ago.

Capabilities limited to short range networks can now combine with the benefits enjoyed by cellular, like embedded security and automation. New innovations from global operators, such as IoT-driven roaming enhancements and remote over-the-air SIMs (managing the SIM without a physical connection to it), make it easier to ship a single SKU that works around the world. And, 5G will herald improved throughput and ultra-low latency.


    About The Author

    Assistant Vice President, IoT Programs - AT&T

    With a focus on the Internet of Things (IoT), Emily has worked across a variety of AT&T business units including Mobility, IoT Solutions, Digital Life and U-verse. In prior AT&T roles, Emily has launched and managed a variety of mobile products including AT&T’s personal cloud photo and address book services, branded applications like AT&T Navigator and AT&T Family Map and a mobile game and app store that preceded the iPhone. She developed the initial business case to justify a mobile broadband network deployment starting with 3G (now evolved to 4G LTE), securing billions of dollars in network investment that has enabled many innovations including mobile streaming video. She also has over a dozen patents with several more pending. Prior to joining AT&T, Emily worked for several startups in Silicon Valley, most recently at Good Technology which built wireless email products and was subsequently acquired by Motorola.

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