As Internet of Things (IoT) applications reach wider industrial use, more and more industries are realizing exciting new opportunities for IoT implementation. With all the connected devices flooding the ecosystem, however, developers are faced with unprecedented challenges to creating secure and effective devices.
These challenges can’t be approached in a vacuum. Developers need a deep understanding of design assessment, test considerations, and compromises throughout the device lifecycle. Using a comprehensive approach, developers can address the challenges in IoT device design for successful IoT technologies. Xavier Dupont is the Senior Director Product Line, at Lantronix, and gives his insight into these challenges.
IoT Challenges in Device Design
IoT is one of the fastest growing technologies. The number of IoT devices is expected to reach 28 billion by 2025, and global spending is expected to reach $1.1 trillion by 2023. This includes healthcare, industrial, consumer, automotive, and smart city IoT applications.
IoT deployments are diverse, and as a result, IoT devices must be able to weather the rigors of real-world use. Furthermore, implementing a full ecosystem of IoT devices presents complexities in device design, security, and performance.
For successful devices, developers must address the following challenges:
Wireless connectivity is arguably the most important component of an IoT device. After all, the goal of a connected device is to allow the seamless transfer of information between the device, cloud, infrastructure, and applications. Devices need to be reliable, regardless of external pressures, and adapt to changing industry regulations and standards.
Developers typically face connectivity challenges with unreliable test results, high costs, inability to measure results, and a lack of developer knowledge with the in-house team.
If the in-house team lacks the knowledge or ability to test and measure results, the best option is to outsource the prototyping and testing. This not only prevents the organization from investing in expensive equipment and talent for a short project, but offers the flexibility and speed necessary to fulfill product needs in a rapidly evolving market.
Continuity is an essential component of IoT devices. Consumers and business users expect IoT devices to work for long periods between charges, some as long as a decade. For example, a medical device needs long battery life for the safety of its user. A failing battery can be the difference between life and death.
Extending battery life in development is a challenge for integrated circuit designers and test engineers. Integrated circuit designers must balance the long battery life requirements with sleep modes that reduce consumption. Designers also need to consider how the communication components consume power to optimize and simplify operation.
Designers and developers need to visualize the current consumption across devices to identify design weaknesses. They should also simulate real-world usage and measure consumption to recognize additional battery vulnerabilities. In doing so, designers and developers can determine weaknesses early and work toward maximizing battery life.
Compliance is a big challenge in most technology development. With IoT, compliance is about ensuring that the device matches current radio standards and regulatory requirements for market access. In addition to the device itself, the test equipment suppliers and carriers must also adhere to regulations.
Some of these challenges include time-to-market pressures, high investments, and complexities in changing regulations that impact the testing periods or equipment. Slow upgrades on the part of the supplier or carrier can add time and expense to the testing process.
The best way to address compliance is by conducting pre-compliance testing early in the device development. Organizations can invest in pre-compliance test solutions to conduct tests throughout the design cycle to spot issues early on. Automated testing is another option that can reduce time and complexity during regulatory testing.
With more IoT devices in the ecosystem, developers struggle with wireless congestion. More devices enter the market and existing technologies need to be integrated, creating more traffic that can impact performance.
While some methodologies help with performance, such as cooperative collision avoidance and adaptive frequency hopping, these have limitations in a mixed-signal environment. If certain formats don’t recognize signals, collisions can happen and lead to delays or pauses. With a medical device, network interference can be life-threatening that is why medical device needs long battery life for the safety of its users.
Fortunately, several organizations are working toward best practices for interconnectivity in radio frequency environments. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers offers an evaluation process and test methods published in the American National Standard for Evaluation of Wireless Coexistence. These include:
- Define the target electromagnetic environment.
- Indicate the functional wireless performance of the test equipment.
- Define a test plan that includes the test setup, risk tiers, and pass/fail criteria.
- Execute the test free from interference as a reference, then with interference to the point of failure.
- Write a report that includes the risk and performance in a mixed-signal environment.
Security is one of the biggest challenges in IoT. Devices connect to multiple networks, leaving them vulnerable to security breaches on three levels: device, network, and enterprise. Any connected device can be a gateway to a system that offers more value, such as a city’s water treatment plant or a national defense network.
Because security risks are on multiple levels, solutions must be implemented in layers.
Devices are the most vulnerable entry points in a network. Device designers need to incorporate security into the earliest stages of device development and check security throughout the lifecycle.
Network security framework includes policies and procedures to guide organizations in reducing security risks. These include:
- Identifying the valuable data and performing a risk assessment.
- Protecting data through physical and administrative access control.
- Identifying threats in the network consistently and continuously.
- Addressing security threats with incident response plans.
- Recovering lost assets as needed.
Organizations are at risk from cyberattacks, so data security needs to be part of the company culture. All departments need to understand how to handle sensitive data and how to minimize risk, not just IT. In many cases, security breaches are caused by an employee, but a comprehensive security framework with training and procedures provides top-down protection for the organization’s protected information.
The Future of IoT Technology
IoT is growing exponentially, and with its new opportunities come new and complex challenges for developers. As IoT makes its mark on massive industries like agriculture, healthcare, finance, and manufacturing, the potential to change lives is staggering. But organizations tasked with IoT device design have many challenges to overcome to usher IoT into the future.
About the Author
Xavier Dupont is the Senior Director Product Line, at Lantronix, a global provider of turnkey solutions and engineering services for the internet of things (IoT). Xavier’s and Lantronix’s goal is to enable IoT and their clients digital transformation by providing technology block from sensing, to data collection and visualization.