Through today’s technological age, the Internet of Things (IoT) stands as a symbol of innovation, promising a connected future where devices communicate seamlessly. However, within this landscape of endless possibilities lie both challenges and Solutions that significantly influence the course of IoT’s development.
What are the recent IoT challenges and how do we solve them?
1. Security Risks
From the beginning, IoT devices have faced susceptibility to cyber attacks, experiencing instances where they were integrated into botnets like the infamous Mirai botnet, a malware that infects smart devices that run on ARC processors, turning them into a network of remotely controlled bots; exploited to infiltrate various segments of a network. Regrettably, this challenge persists due to inherent issues within the architecture of IoT devices.
As IoT devices commonly operate with limited power and are designed to endure for years on a single charge, a delicate balance is required. The challenge arises in reconciling the need for energy-efficient data transmission with the integration of crucial security measures such as encryption and authentication. Many IoT devices skip these security capabilities due to the substantial increase in power consumption associated with these protocols.
Additionally, the inevitability of discovering new vulnerabilities in device firmware over time poses a considerable challenge. As emerging technologies and techniques exploit these vulnerabilities, the lack of updates for distributed IoT devices allows these weaknesses to accumulate. On-site updates by manufacturers are often impractical, and remote firmware updates, if feasible, may incur significant power consumption, especially when data throughput is insufficient.
Adding to these complexities is the dependency of IoT devices on end-users’ network infrastructure, such as WiFi. This reliance creates a vulnerable scenario where cyber-attacks can compromise the device, providing unauthorized access to other devices and applications on the network.
Notably, IoT security has become an alarming issue for businesses in 2023, as indicated by the following statistics:
- The IoT security market reached 3.35 billion in 2022, projected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 26.36%, with expectations of reaching 13.36 billion by 2028 (according to Market Watch).
- Malware attacks on IoT devices saw a 77% increase in the first half of 2022.
- Gartner reports that more than 25% of all cyberattacks against businesses will involve IoT.
- Endpoint security is anticipated to surpass $29 billion by 2027, according to Statista.
Fortunately, ongoing developments in low-power connectivity solutions, particularly within cellular IoT, are integrating new security technologies. Cellular networks, leveraging authentication through SIM cards and features like IMEI locks, provide a valuable means to ensure that only authorized devices can utilize specific SIM cards. Additionally, cellular networks facilitate remote firmware updates with minimal power consumption. Service providers like emnify further contribute to closing security gaps by offering virtual private network (VPN) capabilities and enhanced control over device communications.
2. Interoperability Struggles
The versatility of IoT lies in its ability to configure a tech stack to cater to unique circumstances. However, this flexibility also presents a challenge! Not all IoT devices and solutions seamlessly align with one another or with existing business applications. Introducing new hardware or software may necessitate a series of changes to maintain required functionality while accommodating the new technology.
Another challenge arises from interoperability issues among IoT manufacturers. Some foundational technologies in IoT solutions may be open source, which, while not inherently problematic, becomes challenging when lacking a regulating body to establish a clear universal standard. Consequently, different businesses or countries may adopt varying versions of the open source tech, hindering the seamless addition of technology from different vendors or the deployment of IoT solutions in new regions. While not universally applicable to every IoT application, certain industries must speed the adoption of universal standards to enhance interoperability.
Fortunately, the majority of components within an IoT stack are interchangeable with other technologies, fostering adaptability. The prevailing trend in the industry is to enhance the versatility of IoT solutions by simplifying the integration process. Addressing the challenge of standardized protocols is crucial for achieving smooth communication and integration across a diverse array of IoT devices and platforms.
For the transmission and reception of data, IoT devices depend on a network connection. The loss of this connection results in the loss of the device’s functionalities. Although there are various IoT connectivity solutions, each is most suitable for specific coverage scenarios. The choice of a solution can significantly restrict deployment possibilities, making coverage an enduring challenge in the realm of IoT.
Take, for instance, WiFi, a frequently chosen IoT connectivity option. However, devices can only function within a limited range of a router, and deployment is constrained to locations with existing WiFi infrastructure. In situations where the necessary infrastructure is unavailable, the options are either investing in building it or equipping devices with an alternative solution that already provides coverage.
Several technologies offer extensive coverage, allowing IoT devices to operate within a few miles of the network infrastructure. While cellular connectivity stands out as the most widely adopted option, there are also Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) such as Sigfox and LoRaWAN. Looking ahead, the prevalence of satellite connectivity is likely to increase as well.
4. Battery Life Constraints
Adding to the previous IoT challenge, a prevalent issue is the limited battery life of many IoT devices, particularly those deployed in third-party sites or remote locations where recharging power sources is challenging. This limitation poses a significant challenge in maintaining the devices’ live and operational status.
The challenge intensifies when devices are required to transmit substantial data over cellular connections or undergo frequent software updates. The use of larger batteries as a solution introduces its own set of challenges, restricting the installation locations and portability of the device. This limitation narrows the range of use cases and diminishes the potential for successful scalability.
For instance, deploying a larger battery in a predictive maintenance use case might hinder implementation in vehicles or industrial plants, making the device more susceptible to risks like high temperatures or impact. Wearable devices used in telecare or lone worker applications may also become cost-prohibitive and impractical.
Another crucial consideration is that a significant portion of IoT devices spends most of their lifecycle in remote locations without access to alternative power sources. Choosing an inappropriate network could result in additional IoT connectivity challenges, further reducing the device’s lifespan.
While the optimal connectivity solution and configuration depend on the device’s nature and use case, emerging technologies such as LTE-M and NB-IoT offer power-saving mode features. These technologies enable certain sensors and devices to extend their battery life beyond five years. Typically applied in low-data scenarios, these technologies find use in basic metering, weather or environmental monitoring, and vehicle telematic systems in the case of LTE-M.
By operating at minimal power, devices in remote locations with tight power budgets or no recharging source can benefit from extended operational periods on low-power connections.
5. Bandwidth Availability
The Radio Frequency (RF) bandwidth, a finite global resource shared by the entire world, is more than sufficient to accommodate billions of connected devices. However, challenges arise when multiple devices in close proximity utilize the same frequency bands, leading to signal interference.
A common scenario illustrating this issue is the use of WiFi in apartment buildings. Each resident’s WiFi router establishes a separate network using common frequencies like 5GHz or 2.4GHz. Due to the close proximity of these networks, signals can easily interfere with each other, especially when multiple users attempt to access these frequencies simultaneously.
In the realm of IoT, where thousands of connected devices often coexist in relatively confined spaces, the RF spectrum is becoming increasingly crowded with the addition of billions of new devices. Manufacturers must be mindful of signal interference and bandwidth availability. Fortunately, the industry is actively addressing these challenges.
- Licensed Spectrum
Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) worldwide invest in licenses that privatize segments of the RF spectrum, functioning like lanes on a highway. Each MNO operates in its licensed bands, reducing the likelihood of interference. This approach ensures that only the customers of a specific MNO can access the designated bandwidth.
- Unlicensed Bands
Some IoT solutions, such as LoRaWAN, leverage unlicensed bands accessible to the public. While these bands may be prone to interference in high-traffic areas, their flexibility allows businesses to avoid concentrating devices on already crowded bands.
- Efficient Bandwidth Usage
Emerging IoT technologies, like Narrowband IoT, employ cellular network technology with narrower bands, including “guard bands” that typically serve as unused gaps between networks. Although 5G is not yet widely adopted for IoT, its imminent use promises to provide businesses with access to a broader RF spectrum, enabling the distribution of IoT devices across more frequencies.
While the Internet of Things brings unprecedented connectivity and efficiency, it also presents a number of challenges that demand thoughtful solutions. By addressing issues like security,interoperability, scalability,Connectivity, Battery Life Constraints, and Bandwidth Availability, the IoT ecosystem can continue to evolve and realize its full potential. As technology advances and collaborative efforts drive innovation, the future of IoT holds the promise of a more connected, secure, and efficient world.