As the cost of cellular connectivity comes down, the IoT-enabling of devices is becoming more feasible – but ‘cheap’ definitely doesn’t mean ‘easy’. A comprehensive IoT device onboarding plan is vital, to ensure the device is able to connect properly in all circumstances, and wherever it ends up being used.
Ready by Design
Businesses need to take the design of their IoT devices more seriously, whether they’re developing them from the ground up or converting existing products. Connectivity isn’t as simple as integrating or installing a SIM card. While this is usually enough to pass basic tests on a lab bench, there’s a huge difference between getting a single device to connect in a controlled environment and ensuring thousands of such devices connect reliably in the field, around the world.
Once the device is deployed, any issues with the connectivity solution that were missed or overlooked in the development stage will inevitably make themselves known, and it will be too late to do anything about it. This can have a huge impact: a problem affecting just 1% of devices in a global deployment means a lot of complaints and lost revenue.
If all of these small issues and rare events are considered, identified, and planned for at the design stage, however, the devices can be prepared to deal with them.
The Possible Pitfalls
Problems with cellular connectivity can come from the device itself, the connectivity infrastructure, or the networks on which it relies.
80% of IoT projects fail due to an issue at the device level. You need to establish whether the device is behaving correctly before deployment. Are the software and hardware properly configured, and working in tandem with the SIM and modem? This is not just about asking ‘does it work’: is it the best it can be?
Network behaviour can be a major challenge, as networks are hugely complicated and usually beyond your control. When something goes wrong, this typically means the device will lose connectivity briefly, for example when the user moves. However, outages can be serious if not planned for, so devices need to be designed to fail and recover quickly and gracefully – for instance with the capability to spot the network is down and connect to another one.
You also need your own device management infrastructure to deal with unexpected events. For example, if your server is managing data from thousands of IoT devices, and needs to reboot, what will happen? Will the device know how to reconnect when it’s up again? Will the server allow it to? Tests to check that individual devices reconnect are fairly standard, but some overlook what happens when a million devices try to reconnect, and the server thinks it’s being hit by a Denial of Service (DoS) attack. Software needs to be implemented to manage this, such as staggering the reconnections.
The Onboarding Plan
The onboarding process involves thinking through the journey of the device from the lab bench to in the field, then putting it through a series of tests and checks to simulate what might go wrong post-deployment. In other words, you try to break it! From there, you can explore likely sticking points, and design solutions that overcome them – with standard responses to everyday issues, and tools to manage unpredictable ones.
First, road-test the device, modem, module, and SIM in the lab to make sure everything performs as expected. How will it operate in situ? Simulate normal and challenging conditions to investigate how it performs. Record how the device connects, how much data it uses, how often it transmits, and how it recovers and reconnects in the face of problems. Test its interaction with your connectivity management platform.
Start with an individual device, then scale up to see if anything changes when multiple devices are connected. Beyond certain numbers, live testing becomes unrealistic, but think through how issues you identified might manifest when you have a fully deployed fleet of devices.
An onboarding plan is key to overcoming the challenges inherent in IoT projects, and for future-proofing devices and ensuring their longevity. Even for people skilled in hardware and software, however, designing compliant connected devices is a challenge. Each solution will be unique, depending on the device’s intended use and operating environment.
Eseye expertly guides clients through the device design, onboarding, and deployment process to ensure devices connect out of the box and work optimally throughout their lifetime. Leaving connectivity challenges in our hands enables them to focus on getting their IoT products to market.