When we speak about cellular Internet of Things, we are referring to all devices which are connected to the internet via a cellular connectivity to deliver or perform a specific action.
This is how Wikipedia explains cellular networks:
A cellular network or mobile network is a communication network where the last link is wireless. The network is distributed over land areas called "cells", each served by at least one fixed-location transceiver, but more normally, three cell sites or base transceiver stations.
There are lots of different options to choose from such as 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G, NBIoT, Cat-M1. Some of those are sunsetting and new ones will appear much faster than they did in the past. So, there are exciting times ahead where we will see a cocktail of mixed communication possibilities intertwined between each other. There are no winners or losers in this game, it simply comes down to what your product needs.
So, what does every cellular IoT product need in essence?
1. A reliable power source ✅
That an electronic device needs power should not be a surprise to anyone. However, what makes things tricky is to make the power source reliable and long-lasting. This is complicated to achieve but highly important for the overall quality and durability of your products.
The trend shows that IoT is more becoming something that lives in another product. Think e.g. of industrial applications, connected cars or connected home appliances.
While some of those get an external power source that continuously powers them, others live from battery consumption. If the battery consumption is inefficient, the product will be out of service earlier than it would make a user or customer happy.
2. Stable state machine with self recovery ✅
IoT devices in the field are exposed to a large number of events, ranging from application requirements to network changes and other things impacting device operations. To safe-guard against faults, device operations must be well-defined in all known and unknown circumstances such that the units remain operational. This is best achieved with a state machine method, which clearly defines states such as connecting to network, connection loss, sending data and low power sleep amongst various others. Upon any set of disturbances, the device should always end up in a state which ensure it remains connected to the network and running as expected.
3. Reliably working connectivity ✅
This is a no-brainer. Connectivity is an important part of a cIoT product and essentially what sets it apart from a regular electronics product. The challenge however is, that this is partially out of the control of a product developer because the network is owned and maintained by a third party. Reliable connectivity has a major influence on the product quality and customer satisfaction. A survey we conducted with 25 B2B clients using cIoT products has shown that almost all customers where angry about the product company, not the connectivity provider when connectivity was sold as part of the product and didn't work either in the deployment or later during product usage.
So, let’s briefly talk about the influence of connectivity on a cellular IoT product.
No or badly handled connectivity leads to a missing or no data which leads to poor results, which leads to an unsolved customer's problem, which leads to unhappy customers. That ultimately will end up in a product that will likely not exist for a long time in the market.
A "semi-working" connectivity lets your product communicate, it delivers the data when everything fits together but you will not know how it will behave when there are any issues.
With a good cellular IoT product the manufacturer will exactly know what the product can do, how much power it requires for every operation (this is especially important when the product is running on battery or similar power sources) and how it will handle any given situation which can be expected or unexpected from outside influence (like mobile network reconfiguration, signal strength decline or mobile network cutoffs)
These are plain technical basics. And of course, the product needs to meet its primary goal: to solve a client’s problem!
To give a quick perspective: well-configured NB-IoT networks and proper usage of the NB-IoT modem in the cIoT product can make the product last on a single 3.6v battery for 8 years, or it can drop down to less than 2 years.
From our experience building many IoT devices ourselves, we see a lot of products which are semi-finished. The reason for that is a growing tendency in the last decade increase product development times and continuously launch new versions of the same product with a purpose to drive the sales up and to constantly be ‘on-the-edge’ on ‘making-the-next-best-thing’.
But is this sustainable for a long-lasting cIoT device? No.
Is the client interested in replacing a product every few months? Most often not.
Is it environmentally friendly to replace products or batteries often? Definitely not.
So, what is a better way? By focussing on developing long-lasting and sustainable products.
Mobile networks focused on cIoT devices (NBIoT and Cat-M1) are currently in the deployment stage. Network operators are figuring out the network parameters, doing tests and slowly rolling out the coverage from BTS to BTS.
And the modem manufacturers? Well, they constantly have to keep up with the development and are making updated firmware versions and new modules.
What does this mean for the cIoT? It needs that you as a device manufacturer have to cope with any changes that the network expects, it needs to use smart logic to detect issues and find better ways for a successful communication. Cellular IoT products must become smart and fail proof.
We identified real issues and pain points of product manufacturers, product owners and mobile network operators and we addressed them. We want to help each involved party with our experiences and services to make better products, achieve better ROIs and develop sustainable devices which will rather help our planet to become a better home.
What are your experiences about this? We would like to hear about your challenges in developing better IoT products? Get in touch with us through our contact form.