Cellular IoT adoption is growing at an increasing rate despite (and perhaps because) of the COVID-19 crisis. Experts are expecting that, driven by the necessity for large-scale automation across industries, the number of connected devices will triple compared to what it is today by 2025.
There is another, more behind the scenes, reason for cellular IoT’s proliferation. For cellular IoT adoption to truly take hold it needs an advanced infrastructure capable of new deployment models that deliver high speeds, superior reliability, and nearly 0 latency to pretty much anywhere. Sounds familiar? That’s because we’re describing 5G, but we’ll get to that later in the article.
Of course, as certain challenges are overcome, new ones are created. Potentially, these challenges can impact the value cellular IoT offers. Alternatively, they can present a unique opportunity for service providers.
4 Challenges to Cellular IoT Deployment
(Source: Internet of Things, IoT, M2M (world market))
1. Coverage, latency, and bandwidth
Latency and bandwidth, as well as connection reliability, can be impacted by things like extreme weather conditions or cyber-attacks. These potential threats to cellular IoT device connectivity demand from service providers to consider failover, monitoring, and security solutions suitable for each deployment. However, before you can even consider such variables, you need to ensure that the deployment area is covered by a cellular network capable of meeting your project’s needs.
Businesses and service providers are often limited to the constrictions of the commercial networks available in the areas where they operate. This is especially true for businesses that operate in rural areas where cellular reception and reliability can be notoriously poor. Innovative service providers and manufacturers working in tandem can help in these situations by leveraging NB-IoT technologies to offer a boost in coverage and reduced latency for IoT device deployments.
How is 5G relevant when discussing latency, coverage and bandwidth for large scale IoT deployments? One of the goals of 5G networks is to expand the scope of IoT use cases. That said, 5G is still not everywhere, nor is it the silver bullet solution to cellular IoT challenges
2. Battery life
Long battery life is a critical component of a successful cellular IoT deployment. Given the remote nature of many use cases, charging or replacing the device battery can lead to unwanted expenses such as sending out technicians to various global locations.
NB-IoT is expected to bring a battery life of up to 10 years for some devices. This greatly improves the applicability of cellular IoT in remote settings, like agricultural uses and power generation.
As most cellular users know, bad coverage can harm battery life. Moreover, battery draining is an increasingly popular type of cellular IoT attack that service providers need to pay attention to.
This leads us to the issue of cybersecurity for cellular IoT devices, and the threats they face, which segways us perfectly into our next challenge.
As soon as you connect any device to a network you put that device at risk. It doesn’t matter if it’s a phone, a printer, or a cellular IoT sensor. Hackers can access and attack not only the device itself but use it as a way to access the business network.
What are the cyber risks to cellular IoT?
Identity compromise attacks let attackers exhaust data limits or by-pass firewalls within the system. Attackers could then, for instance, steal and upload sensitive business data using a compromised identity while posing as the victim device
Battery drain attacks exploit the same problem that IoT devices experience in low coverage areas which requires more frequent connection requests to the network. Hackers can, for example, make the device check-in with the server more frequently, draining the battery.
Device manipulation attacks allow hackers to gain control of a device. These attacks often exploit loopholes that are found within the device or network. These loopholes make it possible to shut down critical systems or overload systems, causing failure or even further infecting the network with bots.
Data eavesdropping attacks leave sensitive business data at risk. With these attacks, hackers can “listen” to the data that is being transmitted. If they want, the data can be captured and used in future attacks.
Data tampering attacks allow criminals to alter the data a device communicates . This can affect everything from the safety of IoT connected medical devices to how frequently crops get watered on remotely managed farms. Data tampering attacks can be taken one step further as compromised devices can be used as a gateway to the rest of an organization.
Denial of service attacks – Denial of Service (DoS) attacks are designed to take devices offline or interrupt service. Typically, attackers flood the device with data and trigger a crash. For example, attackers could shut down a specific section of a manufacturing line. Or take down the reporting functionality of a device while the device itself continues to operate normally.
Location attacks exploit flaws in cellular communication protocols to reveal the location data of a device on a cellular network. Location tracking makes it possible to determine the exact location of a device. Location checking attacks let attackers know if a device is present in a specific place. This can allow for malicious tracking of sensitive cargo, and even execution of attacks on autonomous vehicles when they reach the desired location.
4. Management and maintenance of versatile cellular IoT deployments
Deploying, upgrading, and monitoring cellular IoT deployments at scale can be a complex undertaking. When you consider the sheer variety of device types, applications, deployment scenarios and use cases? It’s easy to see that any business would need support and assistance from professional service providers.
With their years of experience and skilled workforce, IoT service providers are commonly hired to overcome the challenges of implementing a large IoT project. In fact, most service providers offer detailed management portals to help businesses stay on top of things like provisioning, connectivity status, activation, and deactivation, as well as monitoring and reporting. Their specialized expertise can help shorten the time it takes to deploy an IoT project, and justify the cost of hiring an external service provider.
Service providers can even offer value beyond initial implementation. For businesses, managing a cellular IoT network can require different resources, methods, and strategies than those already in place. As a result, businesses and organizations often seek end-to-end management of cellular IoT deployments. Service providers can bring a holistic approach to cellular IoT implementation, which isn’t bound by the bureaucratic-like restrictions placed on most large corporations.
Overcoming the challenges of cellular IoT
Widespread adoption of cellular IoT is still in the early stages, so challenges are to be expected. But, as demand for IoT technology grows, issues around hurdles like coverage, battery life, management, and security will be less of a barrier for companies looking to get started with cellular IoT.
One of the ways these challenges will be overcome is through service providers working closely with their clients to fully understand the scope and needs of their deployment. The unique nature of each deployment requires more than a one-size-fits-all approach, so this close collaboration is needed to ensure all the specific challenges for deployment are met.
Moreover, the expertise that is gained by companies around the world that are tackling the challenges of cellular IoT is building a knowledge framework. One that can help us build a connected world that is both manageable and secure together.
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