Making money in IoT depends on device management

In the headlong rush to deploy devices and deliver on the promise of the Internet of Things (IoT), device management systems, which are a critical component of any IoT system, are often overlooked. As understandable as that may be, that critical component makes up the framework that surrounds and supports the deployment of millions of devices in geographically dispersed regions of the world, and is vital in the reliable acquisition of data and delivery of services. In other words, without a well-designed device management system in place to support edge devices over time, many IoT applications – not to mention the business models behind them – simply fail.

Even beyond deployment, the need for device management spans the entire lifecycle of IoT networks. It may begin with enabling the rapid deployment of devices and growth of networks, but continues through the reliable delivery of services and the successful execution of a profitable business model. In fact, to a large extent, the ability for companies to both compete and profit from IoT networks will depend upon the ability of device management systems to have those networks operate according to the business model that created them.

Deployment

One of the key responsibilities of any device management platform is to provide an environment and process for rapid deployment of networks and end devices (Figure 1). To do so, a good device management platform will provide for automated activation, provisioning, and remote configuration/update; thus eliminating time-consuming and often manual setup and configuration by installation technicians. By automating those steps, installation proceeds at a faster rate, thus reducing the instance deployment cost and increasing the turn up rate. Those are important, as time is a simple barrier to revenue for network operators when deploying networks and devices. The faster one may get those networks and devices up and running, the faster revenue will be coming in.

[Figure 1 | MultiTech’s DeviceHQ provides complete activation, provisioning, configuration, and software update capabilities for LPWAN and cellular end devices.]

Remote configuration

The need for a device management system to provide not only the activation and provisioning, but also the remote configuration and software update of end devices is important. Activation and provisioning are relatively generic procedures to allow an end device to identify itself and connect to a network using a specified channel and usage plans. Basically those procedures set up an authenticated communication channel. Configuration and software update allows the tailoring of the installed end device to the particular environment or role into which it was installed, thus generating the specific data that the end device will provide. By allowing those functions to be handled by the device management system, large numbers of generic devices may be deployed and brought online rapidly, thus spurring the realization of IoT (Figure 1).

Communications

Of course, once the networks are up and running and the end devices deployed, the communications must be managed to keep those end devices reporting and the networks handling the data. Reliable delivery of services by public and private networks is absolutely required for IoT to be successful. Managing an end device’s use of energy and communication bandwidth provides for continued operation, as well as increased co-existence and density of end points within a given region.

Communication channel management is also vital to be able to deploy large numbers of end points. The expectation with non-cellular IoT end devices is that the density of such devices will ultimately outstrip cellular by a factor of 100 to 1000. Many of those non-cellular devices will be in the LPWAN arena, which today utilizes mostly ISM band spectrum. Even assuming that the use of licensed spectrum for LPWAN technology will begin in earnest within a couple of years, the relatively limited ISM spectrum bands available to LPWAN end devices will require careful ongoing device channel management to maximize endpoint density. Device management provides tools to allocate valuable on-air time and frequency spectrum to devices as needed and in response to changing conditions. Use of those tools will maximize network capacity and endpoint density to allow for greater revenue generation.

Power management

Energy management is particularly important for battery powered end devices, as extended lifetimes at the edge of current battery technology are commonly demanded in IoT applications. The ability to make incremental improvements in execution and energy management in end device software over the air (OTA) to further extend usable lifetime or expand data acquisition capability can in and of itself pay for any device management costs.

Realizing the dream

At the end of the day though, the IoT dream of ubiquitous networks transforming our daily lives will not happen if companies deploying and maintaining the end devices and networks cannot make money on them. Device management is one tool to make sure that required business models can be achieved (Figure 2).

[Figure 2 | MultiTech’s DeviceHQ platform enables profitable management of IoT networks by providing remote control over virtually all end device parameters, including communications, security, and power management.]

Through continuous energy and communication channel management, end device and network performance can be kept at optimal levels to match the performance required by the business model. For example, if a business model requires a battery lifetime of 10 years for an end device that only lasts seven years, then that could very well make the difference between a profitable venture and one operated at a loss. Using device management platforms, the periodic reporting of data from an end device may be modified based upon changing energy budgets at the edge to report less often, thus minimizing energy used in transmissions and extending battery life.

It will be an exciting next few years as IoT devices and networks are deployed around the world and the first trickles of the eventual torrent of “thing” data begin to stream to the cloud. In order to fully realize the timeframes, end point number, and density and profitability of these new networks, a sophisticated device management capability will need to be included from the ground up.

David Smith is Senior Vice President of Engineering and Innovation at MultiTech.

MultiTech Systems

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