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Global IoT connectivity - bubbles and business cases

global iot coverage u-blox

Neil Hamilton, u‑blox Head of Service sales explains why bubbles of connectivity such as those provided by Wi-Fi, SigFox, and LoRa aren’t suitable for a large number of IoT use cases and how u‑blox’s unique way of leveraging existing cellular infrastructure holds the key to global IoT connectivity.

Over the past year, I have met with countless companies who have either built a prototype device or are in the throes of designing a device for some kind of IoT-based asset tracking and/or condition monitoring.

Disparity – business need and technology capability

It amazes me when I learn that the radio component of these devices is LoRa, SigFox, or an NB-IoT option. Knowing that the company they are being designed for is an international organization, there is usually a mismatch between the business case and the technology being used at the conceptual stages, which doesn’t bode well for when these projects move into production.

More often than not, I find myself explaining the options for connectivity decisions to prospects and partners in the context of bubbles – which usually helps a decision-maker better understand the choices they have available to them when formulating their IoT strategy and business case.

It goes something like this:

Connectivity bubbles

In our homes, we normally connect all of our devices using a combination of technologies. This often starts with Bluetooth, which is usually tethered to something that in turn uses Wi-Fi to connect to the internet. Domestic Wi-Fi is usually covered by a single wireless access point, effectively creating a bubble of connectivity approximately 50 meters in diameter over the home. In most cases, this setup is perfectly adequate.

IoT connectivity WiFi

Wi-Fi is also suitable for most companies, however, Wi-Fi isn’t going to cut it if the enterprise is looking to connect devices across a wider estate, such as a farm, mine, or port. More importantly, the power requirement for Wi-Fi is far too great for connecting sensor-based devices that are usually battery-powered. These issues then lead the decision-making process in the direction of LPWA (low power wide area) networks such as LoRa, SigFox, and cellular-based LPWANs.

If your business case warrants your sensing devices to be in fixed positions across the estate, then investing in building in a LoRaWAN network (such as MQTT Here) could be an appropriate option. However, if you need some devices to be connected when they leave the estate (such as vehicles or cargo), then LoRaWAN isn’t viable, given things can only connect when inside the LoRa bubble itself.

LoRaWAN IoT connectivity

If the business case dictates that the location or condition of assets could be anywhere across a domestic market, then SigFox is a possibility, likewise for cellular-based technologies.

From a business owner’s perspective, if you are considering SigFox, you have to consider whether you want your devices to operate within SigFox coverage areas only.  If there is a possibility that you need devices communicating information to your business systems from both urban and rural areas, it is critical to clarify where exactly the SigFox coverage is. In the countries where it is available, SigFox networks are often distributed across populated areas but less so in rural areas.

SigFox IoT connectivity

Ubiquitous global IoT connectivity

If it is reliable ubiquitous global IoT connectivity you need, then your only option is cellular-based technology – given that mobile carriers have built near 100% coverage of their networks in most countries around the world.

Cellular coverage is fairly ubiquitous around the globe, however, the current narrowband options for mobile carriers (NB-IoT and LTE-MLTE-Cat1M) are only available (for the most part) in certain areas of specific countries where carriers are trialing these technologies. In the few countries where either of these narrowband options have been rolled out successfully, such as the USA with AT&T, an enterprise should only consider using them if their business requirement is domestic, operating within the provided coverage bubble of the specific carrier. In North America, for example, if a business case is to track assets across the Mexican or Canadian borders, then choosing LTE-MLTE-Cat1M from AT&T may not be prudent, as there is no reciprocal bubble of connectivity available in these two countries, and if there was, roaming agreements for LTE-MLTE Cat1M would not necessarily be in place*.

*This post was originally authored in July 2018. There are now roaming agreements for M1 operators in Canada, the US, and Europe. AT&T has since launched LTE-M in Mexico.

u‑blox – guaranteed ubiquity

u‑blox offers the perfect solution for business cases where guaranteed ubiquity is important. We leverage cellular infrastructure to deliver low-power connectivity for guaranteed coverage applications, domestically and internationally, and enables a business to have peace of mind that their devices will simply just connect wherever GSM cellular coverage is available.

Global reach

As the only provider of truly global, low power IoT connectivity, u‑blox’s IoT Communication-as-a-Service platform enables devices to simply connect to the strongest GSM network available, almost anywhere in the world and communicate using IoT Messaging – a unique combination of MQTT, USSD, and UDP messaging protocols over GSM and LTE Cat M1. u‑blox enables global IoT connectivity – over 190 countries across 600+ networks.

This methodology not only takes the hassle out of connectivity but also brings benefits in terms of cybersecurity. The u‑blox MQTT Anywhere GSM-based service doesn’t use the internet, so no IP = no cyber- risk.

On top of this, the u‑blox Communication-a-a-service platform comes with embedded intelligence. It’s an MQTT-based network, not just a transport channel, thus removing the headache and costs of ‘how’ devices communicate.

IoT Communication-as-a-Service

Global IoT connectivity – in conclusion

Choosing the right connectivity is not simply a case of finding the solution with the right price, but also its suitability based on where devices need to be and whether or not they are static or moving. For business cases where devices in remote locations or tracking across borders are necessary, the u‑blox approach offers a simple answer to the difficult question of global IoT connectivity.

If you need more information, please get in touch.