The keys to analysis for navigating the world of IoT technology

Using the Internet of Things (IoT) requires as many different types of technology as there are different uses for the connected things. Experts are coming together to share the keys to understanding this technology in order to find their way through complex technical ramifications.

“In terms of the IoT, every context and every use case is unique and involves making particular choices about the connectivity, protocols and security mechanisms employed”

Estimates of the number of connected things in the world vary but agree that the figure will exceed the number of people in the world. The growth of the IoT sphere has an obvious consequence: the enablers (tools) that support it are expanding, developing and shaping a complex technological landscape.

Behind the acronym, there is a forest of technology

“The IoT has become a forest where many different technologies coexist and interact at different levels,” explain Geert Vander Veken, an IoT integrator and technical expert, and Dominique Barthel, an IoT network research engineer at Orange. “We wanted to address the ecosystem in general, and our supplier and integrator partners in particular, so we have come up with some recommendations to help these players make the best decisions when facing this technological diversity.” The technical document that compiles these recommendations is based on state of the art of technology and was developed by a community of internal research experts from the different countries where the Orange Group operates. The recommendations are based on measurement campaigns and studies carried out on different technologies, both in the laboratory and in the field.

Three technical building blocks under the microscope

A single solution or model cannot apply to all IoT scenarios. Making choices about technology inevitably varies depending on the operational requirements or needs associated with the connected thing — payload, latency, interoperability, battery life etc. Each context and each use case is specific and requires specific decisions to be made. Three areas are more sensitive because they relate to transferring data: radio connectivity, transmission protocol and security mechanisms. Each has implications for determining others. The technical document focuses on how connectivity and protocol configuration affect device performance and compatibility. Radio conditions also play a role in how technology performs.

Protocol effectiveness

“On a broadband network, the effectiveness of the protocol used will not be very important. But the more networks and things are restricted, the more care must be taken when choosing the protocol, while the restriction will be on battery life and communication throughput. In LTE-M cellular technology, up to 2048 repetitions can be made to pass on a message, thereby increasing transmission time and ultimately battery consumption. It is also important to pay attention to transmission rights: on LoRaWAN® bandwidths, for example, sharing rules must be respected that state that we have X% of the transmission time for our share.” Hence the need to monitor how much the protocol is costing or saving, despite the presence of deep penetration technologies (a combination of slow transmission modes and message repetition, which is useful for improving indoor coverage in places such as car parks, warehouses and underground facilities where loss of signal and layers at several levels have traditionally caused problems).

Security is always critical

The Technical Paper also examines the impact of protocol and security mechanism choices on transport efficiency (including battery consumption) and on the dialogue between the sender and the receiver. A study conducted in Spain in 2020 on 2G/General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) networks reveals that the implementation of Constrained Application Protocols (CoAP) on NB-IoT or GPRS leads to a consumption equivalent to that based on a LoRaWAN® SF12 network. It also showed that NB-IoT connectivity only provides a small benefit compared to 2G/GPRS in terms of battery life.

Besides this interrelationship, security is more broadly the “last thing considered when it comes to the IoT and it is often seen as a burden. This tendency to side-line security is a serious issue for society and has major potential risks. Particularly for small devices that people may forget about: without an update system, we no longer have the knowledge and can no longer find a fix for an issue that has appeared since the device was designed.”

A fast-changing landscape

The technical document “Connectivities, protocols and security” provides information and insights on all of these topics. But Geert Vander Veken and Dominique Barthel point out that this amount of information is a snapshot of the IoT technological environment at one point in time. “Things are progressing quickly. The recommendations outlined in the text will remain valid in the future but new or advanced radio technologies, protocols and security mechanisms may yet emerge. Moreover, there is no single winning combination with such an abundance of technology: each use case will have its own specific solution. We simply want to guide players to help them make the right technical choices.”

Consult the technical document “Connectivities, protocols and security” here.

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