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Operation IoT interoperability: Testing device compatibility

Organizations can't just connect IoT devices to their network and assume everything will work. They must test and confirm that each part can connect and cooperate.

In any heist movie, the only way to pull off the crime is to ensure each person does an assigned task and trusts each other enough to work together. IoT interoperability requires a similar setup that must be put to the test to ensure everything will operate smoothly in production.

Developers must confirm that multiple IoT devices, software applications and networks continue to perform their tasks and run together seamlessly, or even work at all. With more than 21 billion IoT devices online by 2025, according to Norton, the importance of IoT interoperability testing will continue to escalate.

Interoperability tests can determine more than if devices can work together; they can test for performance and security vulnerabilities. Security will remain a growing concern for IoT devices. Of 325 IoT decision-makers surveyed, 72% experienced an increase in IoT device security incidents in 2020, according to a Cybersecurity Insiders report.

Why IoT interoperability testing can be tricky

Many IoT devices use proprietary protocols rather than standard Windows, Apple or Google OSes and this market fragmentation can inhibit interoperability. The lack of industry standards can partly be attributed to the wide variety of gadgets that constitute IoT devices, including smart energy meters, industrial appliances and medical emergency alert buttons. IoT products also do not have set regulations that focus solely on interoperability. Many organizations within the IoT industry push for the development of standards, but none are in place yet.

IoT device interoperability can also be stymied by:

  • Different manufacturers' devices that can't be integrated
  • Lack of programmability
  • Little or no security protection
  • Devices purchased at different times that may not work together
  • Different connectors and frameworks
  • Different standards for communications protocols

IoT devices with low memory requirements don't have sophisticated OSes or offer multilayered security systems. Over the lifespan of devices, IoT manufacturers must also account for and plan to test the interoperability of updates, upgrades and security patches.

Interoperability tests can determine more than if devices can work together; they can test for performance and security vulnerabilities.

How to approach IoT interoperability testing

Developers must take three overarching steps before and during the launch of an IoT project to verify interoperability.

Plan. Before starting a testing procedure, developers must have a plan to execute the process. With IoT, the test conditions can't be limited to individual devices or applications. The procedure should check the flow of data through the entire system, from software applications to the end device. Developers must evaluate the existing process to pinpoint causes of failure and identify issues of quality, performance or reliability.

Test. A blend of components make up IoT deployments, such as applications, sensors, gateways, networks and data centers. Typical test types include security, performance and compatibility assessments. Developers often use manual testing early in the process; however, they can undertake a mix of both automated and manual testing, as well as use negative tests to complement positive evaluations. Developers can run tests multiple times to correct bugs that remain in the system.

Automated testing focuses on developing simulated systems that model the layout of thousands of wireless nodes and devices over a virtual space. Simulation can test a specific IoT app or product. Running tests on simulated servers increases visibility into the weak spots of a given API and measures security and reliability at scale. Tests on simulated servers can also consider other data loads, traffic and devices without the risk of actual operational data loss.

Check. Testers must verify the results, identify any issues that occurred during testing and confirm problems have been resolved before an organization puts the system into widespread use.

Organizations might not have IT specialists to perform extensive IoT testing, particularly with a massive number of IoT devices and applications in use. As an alternative, organizations can enlist IoT testing providers to perform a comprehensive analysis of device and system readiness before an IoT application or project goes live. Vendors that handle IoT interoperability testing include AT&T IoT Deployment Services, Intertek and QATestLab.

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