The best option for IoT connectivity and security depends on the use case
In the early 1980s, a group of students at Carnegie Mellon University created the world’s first IoT device. Their invention was a Coke machine that could report its inventory levels using the local Ethernet, ultimately saving students and staff a trip downstairs only to find an empty vending machine. While the experiment was not widely celebrated, this early exploration into how to connect IoT was a glimmer of what was to come for the billions of connected devices we have today — and the use cases just keep growing.
Examining IoT use cases
Today, Coke and IoT go hand-in-hand as the company uses connected devices throughout its ecosystem to collect vending machine data, automate production and warehousing, and more. But the soda giant isn’t the only one using IoT connectivity to streamline operations. Here are a few examples of how businesses across the globe are exploring IoT integration, and what challenges they may face while doing so.
5G and LTE are ideal for connecting intelligent self-service systems such as vending machines, wayfinding screens, pay stations, and self-service ordering. These kiosks are often equipped with IoT solutions that include speech or object detection, gesture recognition, and payment handling — all of which require secure, scalable connectivity.
Without a single management platform, deployment, policy setting, configuration, and scale can be difficult for IT teams to juggle, particularly when hundreds or even thousands of remote sites are involved. Providing secure access for third-party vendors who service key components of each kiosk can also be challenging.
Digital signs are everywhere. From banks to schools to gas stations to interstates, these IoT solutions provide valuable information to patrons and travelers. When managing widespread deployments and multiple service providers, companies like YESCO, the pioneers of connected digital signs, find value in the ability to activate, configure, deploy, and manage sign connectivity from a central location.
Frost and Sullivan estimates there are over 41.76 billion IoT devices in 2023 and that 51% of these devices represent building automation equipment. This includes badge readers, temperature sensors, automatic doors, power and plumbing monitors, HVAC systems, smart lighting — the list goes on. More frequently, buildings and campuses are also including video surveillance in their building automation systems from companies such as LiveView Technologies to discourage theft and other dangerous activities.
With such a wide variety of IoT devices found throughout enterprise buildings, it’s difficult for an IT team to specialize in installing and servicing them all. That’s why it’s vital that third-party vendors have access to those devices as needed, but their security policies should specify who has access, what functions can be performed, and where they can have access to prevent them from moving laterally throughout the network.
Connected devices are ideal for any “thing” in a city that could benefit from more visibility, data, and automation. Smart city applications such as smart parking meters and garages, stoplights, cameras, and utility sensors can blanket a city, but to an IT team, the wide variety of installation locations can mean high costs, slow deployments, and additional complexities associated with managing multiple service providers and sites. Often, smart city deployments rely on fiber, but when wired lines aren’t available — or where devices might be moved around a lot — cellular is the best connectivity option.
Cities such as Peachtree Corners have set the standard for how a smart city ecosystem can support an ever-growing list of public innovations and infrastructure with a lean IT staff using 5G and centralized, secure, cloud-managed solutions. As a result of investing in 5G and IoT technologies, traffic and public safety have improved and parking has become more efficient, all while saving time and resources.
Best practices for connecting IoT
Harnessing the true power of IoT and ensuring its effectiveness and security call for a deep understanding of IoT devices and network best practices. Here are three key considerations when determining how to connect IoT.
#1: Make IoT security a top priority
IoT devices are tangible targets for bad actors who see them as a means to penetrate a vulnerable device or process, install malware to take over critical operations, and later move laterally throughout the network to discover sensitive information and data. With IoT device deployments spreading quickly, more devices means more targets.
Across the board, IoT devices are notoriously difficult to secure. Unlike end users who can think through tasks and update software, IoT devices are often simple and agentless. On top of that, most IoT devices come with a default password that is rarely changed. While many security vendors are able to address the needs of users, very few can address the needs of IoT. That’s because many IoT security solutions are relegated to perimeter security, such as traditional IoT VPN solutions, instead of offering zero trust IoT.
A zero trust solution coupled with a cellular IoT router can replace outdated VPNs and safeguard IoT devices by only allowing authenticated devices access to the network. IoT remote access can then be extended to third parties for remote monitoring and maintenance using zero trust network access (ZTNA).
In large spaces such as campuses or warehouses, private cellular networks also offer a way to improve network security and the security of the devices on that network using SIM-based authentication, which provides additional layers of security that aren’t possible with Wi-Fi.
#2: Determine data and performance needs
Bandwidth and latency requirements will vary depending on the IoT device and use case. An HD video camera will require higher performance thresholds than a temperature sensor, for example. Bidirectional devices — meaning those that both broadcast and control activity — will also impact bandwidth needs. It’s important to note, however, that a bidirectional IoT device is inherently less secure than a unidirectional device, as it has multiple lanes of traffic, which means more opportunity for a data breach.
A clearly established use case will also help determine if an edge computing solution is needed to provide resiliency using containers for applications such as digital signage where local copies of displays are stored on the network edge. The right API can also provide access to alerts, logs, health, data usage, cellular strength and quality data, as well as location and GPS. SDKs allow custom-built vertical applications to run securely at the edge, protected on the device, and deployed through the cloud. Integrations such as Microsoft Azure IoT Central and AWS IoT Greengrass enable enterprise businesses to leverage pre-built cloud-to-cloud connections to partner applications.
#3: Consider the device location
Perhaps one of the trickiest things to navigate when deciding how to connect IoT solutions is the location of the device itself. IoT sensors, trackers, and physical security solutions are often found outdoors or in hard-to-wire locations. Additionally, based on the use case, devices may work best using specific types of 5G. For example, the city of Peachtree Corners benefits from its access to peak-performing high-band (mmWave) 5G, which enables the use of LIDAR (laser, imaging, detection, and ranging) cameras.
Because network and connectivity options will vary based on location, IT teams need an enterprise-class IoT solution that can be deployed and scaled regardless of physical variables. Cloud-based management systems with intricate data can assist with these deployments by highlighting network health concerns and providing visibility to SIM cards and data plans all from a single pane of glass.
Regardless of location, IoT has risen to the forefront as a game-changer for businesses. With detailed planning, an eye on security, and an all-in-one solution that makes management simple even for lean IT teams, enterprises can continue to expand their potential through a world of connected devices.