The art of device optimisation for M2M IoT deployments

For businesses planning IoT deployments with cellular capabilities, there are a wide range of hardware, software, connectivity and consultancy options available.

However, before making any decisions it’s important to understand how the device management solutions on offer effect the build, and how making the right procurement choices are fundamental to the project’s long-term success.

As leaders in the IoT space, Eseye specifically provides expertise and services for global cellular connectivity and device optimisation – and are the only AWS IoT Strategic Partner for connectivity. To ensure businesses are not negatively impacted by a lack of device optimisation forethought, Eseye has shared some of its thinking, experiences and expertise for delivering a successful cellular IoT deployment.

1.     How do I maintain cellular network access to ensure data is successfully sent every time?

The most important value added by an IoT solution is the data, therefore the reliability and frequency of its delivery are crucial considerations for design specifications. Real-time analysis might be essential, or if it is too costly to resend data several times, there will be many factors to consider for your particular use-case. Your planning should aim to ensure data is delivered as efficiently as possible – as and when it is required, whether you are using a cloud service, or storing data on your own servers. However, this highlights one of cellular IoT’s key challenges; because no IoT device can remain connected at all times what can you do to build in as much connectivity resilience as you need. Remember you cannot move a remote fixed device to get a better signal in the same way you can a personal mobile/cell phone.

We estimate single mobile network providers maintain between 70-80% uptime and a multi network solution will provide more coverage than a single operator, Eseye targets over 99% connectivity time, and you will need to prepare the device carefully. Your SIM must have built-in network access management that is capable of Over-The-Air (OTA) functionality, and it is essential that your network operator is able to support OTA SIM updates. This will increase device reliability and remove costly site visits because any problems can be resolved remotely.

One of the first optimisation tasks is to assess the device’s behaviour when OTA SIM changes are delivered. This is to ensure you understand how, during the initial onboarding process, the solution will deliver efficient and effective remote SIM management. It also means you can test how your cellular supplier uses this enhanced functionality to maximise device uptime. Finally, check references for you preferred cellular supplier’s IoT customer support service. Ask companies with deployments that are similar in scale and geographical reach as you are planning and find out as much as you can about their performance.

2.     How am I going to make sure my device and its data are truly secure?

You must ensure absolute security of your device and data throughout the lifecycle of the deployment. Failure to do so puts your customers, your brand and your ROI at risk. The challenge is how to maintain a high level of security when the security landscape is constantly in flux. Ideally, your IoT solution will allow you to manage device-level security remotely throughout the product lifecycle and you could use fixed pre-programmed certificates to secure the connection, manual key upload, or a management protocol.  Our advice is that each device should have its own unique encryption key that can be easily rotated or revoked while in the field, without anyone else touching the device. The Eseye AnyNet Secure SIM optimises how a device retrieves and uses security features, which simplifies management and potentially reduces the memory footprint of the device.

3.     What happens when things don’t go to plan?

For larger businesses, it’s not uncommon to have thousands of devices installed across many geographical locations, often in remote and difficult to access places. However, what do you do if a problem is identified in the device’s installed software? To send out engineers to manually fix the problem impacts negatively both on costs and time resources, which is why the ability to fix problems and make changes OTA is crucial for the business viability of an IoT project. Simply having OTA functionality can increase your speed to market because you can resolve issues remotely, quickly and at low cost after deployment. Many of Eseye’s customers use this feature for preventative maintenance and firmware updates, solving problems before they occur.

4.     How energy efficient is my proposed design and is it fit-for-purpose?

To extend the battery life of your devices, you’ll want to make them as efficient as possible – but there is a trade-off. Radio transmission technologies create peak current loads when they try to transmit data, so limiting current to boost battery life can be counterproductive because it may negatively affect data outputs. To optimise the energy expended per byte of data delivered it’s important to understand how networks allow devices to connect and subscribe to their services. If you don’t understand how this works, you might cancel a network connection and retry, or worse, never manage to connect, which will ultimately result in wasted power consumption and loss of data.

As new low power WAN technologies roll out, the benefits of optimised energy use will become more important to delivering years of efficient battery service. To summarise, it is better to seek expert help early on, before you commit.

5.     Where and when can I look to reduce costs?

There will always be a drive to reduce product cost.  As a rule, one of the best ways to reduce costs is to make more units and increase the reach of your IoT deployment. However, when you are just starting out, you will be looking for inherent savings in the device design itself. Our advice is to proceed with caution. It’s all too easy to reduce reliability by changing even the simplest part for a lower cost alternative. With over 30 years of design in communications products, Eseye has a deep and extensive understanding of how IoT components work and interact with communication networks. We understand where cost savings can be made, and where ‘cutting corners’ can cause trouble in the long-term.

For us, success looks like IoT devices that can be optimised both for long field life, and for total cost of ownership. Whether you have an in-house design team that needs some guidance or want help delivering your complete IoT solution, it’s important to ask the right questions up front to ensure your device is designed for success.

About the Author

Jon Darle is Technical Director at Eseye. Eseye is a leading global provider of M2M cellular connectivity for the Internet of Things (IoT). We specialise in simplifying complex global device deployments for enterprises seeking to realise the cost-saving, efficiency-driving, data-enhancing and product-innovating opportunities of over-the-air IoT