For every IoT project – whether it’s for your own organization or for your customers – one of the most important decisions you will make is how to enable connectivity between devices at the edge and the applications that will extract value from this data.
Transmitting data using the wrong type of network for a given project can seriously derail the outcome and its overall business value. So, too, can choosing the wrong network provider.
For most organizations, it doesn’t make sense financially or operationally to try to cobble together – and then manage – a multi-vendor IoT network. IoT networks are incredibly complex and require vast resources and deep expertise to ensure optimal performance, uptime, scalability, and security. In addition, suboptimal integration of the components creates security and management risks and slows down the development and deployment of IoT solutions at scale.
For enterprises, selecting the right network provider involves finding a partner that has the technical expertise, experience, and resources to deliver secure, reliable connectivity that can scale and support your continuously expanding requirements.
Key Selection Criteria for LoRaWAN Network Providers
There’s a growing number of LoRaWAN® providers, and even though different network service providers may operate on the same type of network, each one will ultimately offer different capabilities. When you evaluate LoRaWAN network providers, you will want to consider how they compare across several metrics, including:
You may have implemented the most protective security protocols for data while it is in your application, but unsecured networks can leave your data exposed while it is in transit. To address this, LoRaWAN encrypts all broadcasts with industry-standard AES-128 encryption. But a truly enterprise-grade connectivity network goes a step further by ensuring that all payloads are sent from the gateway using transport layer security to a VPN in the cloud – the same industry standard for online banking. This vastly reduces the risk of data hacking.
Organizations with a proven track record of network management and significant capital are more likely to offer reliable service than many newer service providers. You want to look for network providers who can offer a globally redundant infrastructure and high availability, as well as firmware updates over the air (FUOTA) for optimal performance and ongoing security enhancements. Additionally, having gateways that support flexible backhaul options with failover logic and payload caching can prevent data loss in the event of a backhaul outage.
IoT installations are complex and require a lot of effort. For example, sometimes you need an IoT solution to be deployed rapidly, but you lack the in-house resources to scale and meet your deadline. In other cases, there may be safety or access issues that complicate the deployment of sensors and gateways. Or there are skill gaps when it comes to network installation and maintenance as both need to be independent of standard business operations. Regardless, it’s vital to partner with a network provider with a large pool of experienced, technically skilled deployment resources on a national scale that you can call upon as needs arise to deploy the solution accurately and quickly.
Many network providers today don’t offer direct access to technical support resources. For example, they may direct you to a user community where you can ask questions and search for existing content that relates to your issue. But that’s insufficient when your network – or a customer’s network – goes down and data stops flowing. You need a LoRaWAN provider that can provide a single point of contact for technical support, well-documented support content and APIs, and direct access to experienced customer support/technical support representatives for a lower incident response time. Equally important, look for a provider that empowers you to take control of your own network by providing intuitive, self-service network management tools. The ability to manage your own network with a centralized network management application, remote diagnostic capabilities and access to system logs and MAC commands makes for easier troubleshooting.
Look for an infrastructure built to scale with ease – for example, by utilizing a scalable network connectivity platform, you can easily add use cases over time as your business needs evolve. In another respect, look for a provider who offers an extensible infrastructure to dynamically scale deployments and support increasing payload volume. Equally important, identify an LPWAN provider with the ability to offer you flexibility via a robust integration interface that includes a comprehensive suite of APIs to ensure you get your data to the business applications you’re already using. An added bonus – finding a provider who can equip you with the ability to continuously monitor network health at scale so you can address issues quickly and reap the full benefits of IoT applications.
Ease of Use
Ideally, your network provider should make it quick and simple to stand up everything needed to collect sensor data at the edge and securely deliver it to your business applications. For example, gateways that are seamlessly integrated with the platform (pre-loaded firmware and software) are “plug and play” so you can start capturing and sending data to the cloud immediately. To simplify and accelerate your development efforts, your provider should also offer clear, well-documented APIs, prebuilt integrations, decoders, and more.
Service providers with multiple offerings share network development and improvement costs across a multitude of customers and markets. In contrast, a purpose-built AMI network, for example, is requisitely expensive since it typically performs only a few functions and is idle for much of the time. When evaluating costs, don’t just look at the cost of the individual components (hardware, connectivity, etc.). Think more holistically about the total cost of ownership. For example, some providers may allow you to bring your own gateway – allowing you to select the lowest cost option – but you’re then responsible for stitching together all the components, e.g., ensuring compatibility with the network server, loading the packet forwarder, and managing the firmware. The time, cost, and technical resources needed to do this should not be overlooked.
IoT Made Simple With MachineQ
MachineQ, a Comcast Company, makes it simple to build, connect, and deploy LoRaWAN solutions at scale. MachineQ’s IoT network connectivity platform is an all-in-one LoRaWAN connectivity solution for solution builders and enterprises looking to innovate and rapidly deploy highly secure, scalable, and high-performance IoT solutions.
The MachineQ IoT platform is well suited for a wide range of use cases, including temperature monitoring, asset management, workplace safety, food safety compliance, and more. Here’s a look at how MachineQ is powering IoT innovation for enterprises.
In partnership with CoreKinect, MachineQ developed a LoRaWAN asset tracking solution for vehicle inventory management. The solution enabled a customer to streamline inventory management, reduce operational costs, and improve customer experience.
Leveraging a unique, battery-efficient technology, CoreKinect developed a low-power, long-range (LoRa®) geolocation device that transmits location data in near-real-time, while supporting up to seven years of continuous use on a single battery. MachineQ gateways and cloud-based network infrastructure provide the LoRaWAN connectivity that powers the solution. Customers can integrate location data into their own business applications or leverage CoreKinect’s purpose-built application for data visualization.
The deployment of their flagship customer included over 325,000 LoRaWAN devices connecting to just a couple of hundred MachineQ LoRaWAN gateways installed at more than 80 sites across the U.S. and Canada.
In another engagement, MachineQ offered a global pharmaceutical biotech company an end-to-end asset management solution to track high-value R D and lab equipment across a large campus spanning 850,000 square feet in near real-time. The solution provided a single point-of-contact with custom hardware for tracking, software for visualization/integration, and installation services. The solution also met the customer’s essential requirements, including a dedicated, secure infrastructure for IoT innovation completely independent of the corporate internet network, relieving any security concerns.
The asset tags have extremely long battery life (10+ years), allowing the customer to have a lower total cost of ownership (TCO). The engineering architecture supports the ability to track tens of thousands of equipment per location and provides a sub-room level of accuracy, enabling equipment managers to locate equipment efficiently. And it includes a full suite of bi-directional APIs, allowing for easy and seamless integration with their existing ERP system.
The asset tracking solution, which is powered by MachineQ’s core IoT network connectivity platform, not only provides the company with more accurate, real-time location data, but it gives them the foundation of a dedicated LoRaWAN® network that they can use to power additional use cases that drive additional ROI.