Picture this. An Alzheimer patient slips quietly unnoticed out of a healthcare facility. Or a young child playing in his yard unattended walks off and in an instant goes missing. It is an all too scary scenario that occurs every day around the world. In Korea alone, 10,000 Alzheimer’s patients go missing each year.
However, it does not need to be that way. A startup manufacturer of GPS trackers recently embedded LoRa wireless technology into a low-cost IoT bracelet specifically designed for Alzheimer sufferers. When one leaves a designated zone, a caregiver is alerted. Within the first three months of its use, 26 patients were saved. It is a new type of mission-critical IoT product — and is just the tip of the iceberg.
By 2028, virtually everything everywhere will be connected. Consumers will expect it. And, they will expect those connected “things” to be mission-critical, that is, to work as anticipated, without fail, every time.
IoT products once thought of as luxury items for the consumer market will evolve with longer battery life and more robust functionality and performance to become part of the new mission-critical IoT. Likewise, mission-critical IoT, once defined as critical applications in the healthcare, industrial and power/energy industries, will expand to embrace a broader range of applications in wearables, smart homes and smart cities, among others. It’s happening already.
This evolution is creating new opportunities for product makers around the world. In the global industrial IoT market alone, projected growth is expected to top $1 trillion by 2022, up from roughly $407 billion in 2016. As mission-critical IoT expands into new markets, so too will the size of the opportunity.
The challenge for businesses not currently developing mission-critical IoT products is how to make that transition. It is not as simple as waking up one day and deciding to market an existing product for a mission-critical application. Fortunately, there are three things any business can do starting today to improve their chance of success.
Know your requirements
Mission-critical IoT products and networks have specialized requirements dictated by the industry in which they will operate. Often these requirements center around robust performance, reliability and security — and with good reason. A failure in a pacemaker or disruption in a network connection that’s sending a critical alert from a medical wearable to a healthcare professional could result in a patient’s death.
Other less life-critical requirements may stem from an IoT product having to operate in a remote or hard-to-reach location, or for long periods of time unattended. Here, a long battery life (10+ years) might be essential. But the longer the battery life required, the more time and effort needed to optimize the product’s power consumption. Signal coverage also needs to be addressed, since if the coverage is too low, the battery will drain much more quickly.
Fully understanding these requirements and how they impact a product’s design is the quickest and easiest way to avoid costly missteps. It also helps ensure that the IoT product and network perform as expected, regardless of the location or deployment environment.
Pay attention to design considerations
Designing any product is hard. It is even harder when it’s destined for mission-critical IoT. Here’s why:
- Electromagnetic interference can be problematic in scenarios like hospitals or manufacturing facilities where large numbers of IoT products operate simultaneously near one other. To avoid any problems, interference issues must be dealt with early in the design process when they are easier and cheaper to fix.
- Often, mission-critical IoT products must perform in the presence of multiple users, with different wireless technologies, in the same spectrum. Verifying that a product can handle the load is critical to ensuring robust wireless connectivity.
- With lots of mission-critical IoT products entering the market, peaceful coexistence between them can be complicated. It’s especially problematic in hospitals where IoT monitoring devices share the 2.4 GHz ISM band with the likes of cordless phones, wireless video cameras and microwave ovens. Making sure products can work as anticipated in this type of environment is crucial.
- Mission-critical IoT products support a broad range of wireless technologies. Networks must support them as well, and in a range of different environments and locations with differing RF conditions. To prevent network disruptions in quality or performance, any issues impeding network readiness must be identified and eliminated.
- Roughly 50% of all IoT products come from companies less than three years old. Some products have been thoroughly tested, but not all. Those products may behave erratically and even allow malicious agents to bring a network down. Ensuring the network can handle erratic products and the security concerns they enable needs to be a top priority.
- Continuous updates/upgrades to network equipment keep networks in flux. Whether existing network devices can even support new services is a question often left to chance, and that makes verifying that deployed networks are reliable and offer a high quality of experience essential.
Build a strong test foundation
While a business may have an idea for the most innovative IoT product ever, ensuring it meets the requirements of mission-critical IoT and will operate as expected in the real world can only be accomplished through appropriate test and measurement. With no-one-size-fits-all test option in view, product makers, network operators and service providers must choose their solutions wisely. Here’s some tips:
- Test equipment with exceptional accuracy will enable greater product and network optimization.
- Technologies with a fast setup and test speed can shorten time to market and dramatically increase manufacturing throughput, while driving down the cost of test.
- Systems with wider bandwidths, a large coverage range and support for all major wireless standards can help future-proof investments and deliver greater flexibility as test needs change.
Riding the wave of opportunity
With mission-critical IoT evolving to encompass applications in diverse markets, opportunities abound for businesses with the innovation and desire to compete. Ensuring IoT products meet all applicable requirements and have been designed with full consideration of the issues common to all mission-critical products and use the right test technologies is the best way to start down the path to success.
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