IoT success depends on connectivity

Gateway 2In the IoT age, M2M applications will increasingly use the internet for communication, where wireless connectivity is becoming a prerequisite, as Gateway Electronic Components explains.

The internet has changed the way we live, and having been around for over 30 years, has naturally evolved from its initial concept of linking remote computer networks. Today, it is increasingly a mechanism for sending packets of instructions from machine-to-machine to perform a function; it is evolving into the internet-of-things.

This phenomenon has been facilitated by advances in hardware such as low power devices, greater miniaturisation, battery technology, sensor functionality and telecommunication standards. Moreover, the adoption of the internet of things has wide reaching benefits. It can help companies, small and large, drive for efficiencies; warn society of impending perils; and indeed, help to make our lives more comfortable and efficient through home automation, amongst many varied applications.

IoT saves lives
One example of the potential of embedded IoT technology is a solution implemented in East Africa in a region where communities depend on hand operated water pumps for their domestic and agricultural needs. In a joint initiative between Oxford University and IoT/M2M equipment manufacturer, Siretta, rugged low cost sensors and data transmitters have been installed within pump handles to notify service engineers by SMS text when there is evidence that a pump is out of commission. Thanks to these installations, often hundreds of miles apart, pump downtime across the region has been reduced considerably, enabling communities to harness the full potential of their valuable natural resource.

Connectivity is key
Fundamental to achieving any benefit created by internet enablement is the connectivity gateway where, in many applications, wireless connectivity is the key. Without ignoring the infrastructure basics of speed, bandwidth, security, stability and costs, M2M designers must find the most effective way of getting equipment to either interact with the machine at the other end, or to record the data created by their device, locally, or on the cloud.

In selecting networking devices, and indeed an appropriate device supplier, the user needs to consider which set of connectivity gateways it may want to engage with. A supplier that can offer networking devices with Wifi, GPS, GPRS, 2G, 3G and 4G connectivity will potentially provide a more versatile solution, perhaps enabling the designer to future proof their application.

Commission with confidence
Bear in mind also that although many networking devices offer a user interface enabling them to be commissioned with just a couple of clicks, others with more specialised applications and interfaces may require on-board intelligence, thus avoiding the need for external microprocessors. Find a supplier that can help you choose which is the most appropriate for your application and if necessary offer a software solution to meet your needs.

Similarly, any antenna solution will need to be compatible with the users’ working environment and frequency or network requirements. Antenna mounting options cater for all kinds of environment, from adhesive or magnetic mounting to screw-fix, through-hole and wall or mast-mount options. They should also consider any requirements to meet IP standards for water ingress protection. A supplier that can offer a broad range of connector, adapter and cable accessory solutions should also score well in any selection criteria.

Location is vital
Finally, and in certain circumstances, most important of all is where to site equipment. Depending on the network, choices may be limited and while it may be possible to assess this by trial and error, the most effective mechanism is to use signal analysers. Ideal for site surveyors and installers, these tools can analyse for any available 2G, 3G and 4G networks, allowing users to survey and record all cellular networks and masts in the area and assess absolute and relative signal strength. Some analysers can even locate exact positioning of transmitting base stations for optimum antenna placement.

Whatever your connectivity needs, a specialist provider should be able to offer advice, application support, technical documentation, site visits and software/programming skills.