The Internet: The Information Superhighway
The internet brought information to our fingertips. Sites like Google and Wikipedia gave us the world’s knowledge at the stroke of a few keys. It allowed for instant communication to people around the world via email and then desktop instant messaging. The internet connected friends new and old through Facebook.
The Internet Goes Mobile
For many years, the internet was primarily a home or work-office endeavor. We sat at our desktop computers and did our internet thing.
However, the mobile phone, especially the smart phone, allowed for the extension of the internet out into public spaces. It moved computing from home, school, and business offices to anywhere a person can go.
Smart phones are bundles of sensors with extremely powerful processors and memory. They measure location, can record video and audio, have accelerometers for motion, and compasses for direction. Smart phones have augmented our experiences where we currently are. In a way, with smart phones in our hands, we’re more than human, our senses now include those of our smart phones.
Now the Internet is Getting Feelings (er, well, Sensors)
The Internet of Things builds on this concept in a much larger way. It extends our fingertips to anywhere in the physical world, and then allows them to be anything, not just those things a smart phone can be.
There are a few key differences between the internet experience enabled by smart phones and the Internet of Things experience.
Most devices on the Internet of Things aren’t as computing intensive as smart phones. These devices can have batteries that last years, not hours, and they’re much cheaper than smart phones.
These devices tend to be one or more sensors that measure something in the physical world. They measure things like liquid flow through a pipe (think oil or water) or use infrared beams to detect the presence/absence of something like a car or trash in a trashcan.
These sensors then connect into a business or operational process to serve internal needs, or are utilized in a customer facing product or service. And most importantly, these devices are wireless, allowing thousands of them to be spread over wide areas without worrying about power cords.
LPWA is Even More ‘Wireless’
The instant gratification of smart phones and cell phones have taught us that out-of-the-box wireless connectivity is incredibly convenient. And for achieving positive ROI it’s essential.
We buy a phone and our phone can be up and running in minutes. After entering in a few credentials all of our preferences are downloaded from the cloud and our phone is ready to go. It’s so simple we don’t even think about it anymore.
This is the ultimate out-of-the-box wireless experience. We don’t have to worry about managing the cellular towers, paying tower rentals, responding to emergencies when something in the network goes wrong. All we do is get our phone and enjoy.
Professionally managed wireless connectivity allows businesses to focus on their value proposition and not wireless infrastructure management. In addition, the out-of-the-box, low-power, wide area connectivity that public IoT networks offer, gives companies the first opportunity to distribute thousands or millions of devices inexpensively and for many years.
And now, low-power, wide-area (LPWA) connectivity provides wide-area connectivity with long (as in years not days or weeks) battery life. The tradeoff is that these devices use much less data than their mobile phone counterparts. If you’d like, you can read a deeper explanation of the pros/cons of LPWA connectivity here.
With LPWA connected devices, individuals or companies can extend their proverbial senses to far beyond their direct environment. This is where the Internet of Things adds such incredible value. It replaces the need for human interaction (think expensive service calls) and allows for the creation and automation of new value streams.
Being wireless, or removing the need for direct physical management and servicing, is what opens up many novel solutions in IoT.
Wireless Means No Infrastructure Management
Now switch to our experience at home or at our business using Wi-Fi (how does WiFi work?). You have to buy the router, sometimes the cable modem that the router connects to. You set up an SSID, you enter that SSID on all of your devices. The router gets wonky and you have to restart it: unplug, wait a minute, plug it back in.
At a business with any size larger than a small home, you would need to configure and manage the entire Wi-Fi network. So now you need to purchase multiple routers (and modems where applicable), configure each one, place them appropriately for good coverage, and then enter the password on each connecting device.
This is anything but out-of-the-box wireless connectivity. This kind of self-managed wireless network may be fine for devices that are local and require regular human interaction anyway, but it’s prohibitive for any devices that are remote or have lower ROI. Removing infrastructure management reduces the cost and thus increases ROI.
Wireless Means Battery Power
One of the benefits of a professionally managed network is that you don’t need to service the network. The full value of the IoT is when you can place solutions in places previously not possible, which includes places where it’s too expensive to run power lines.
In other words, wireless also includes removing the need for wired power sources. Battery-powered devices (that can last for many years) expand the period of time for which a solution provides value, which leads to an increase in its ROI.
Wireless Means Future-Proof Through OTA Firmware Updates
The final criterion for being truly wireless is the ability to upgrade firmware wirelessly, i.e. over the air (OTA). OTA updates enable devices and the entire solution they enable to be completely independent of physical interaction. OTA updates provide increased value by allowing for security updates.
Without OTA security updates the devices would have to be replaced or physically updated, an extremely expensive prospect. OTA updates also allow for optimization of the device and improving the solution, increasing sales, customer satisfaction and retention. These all directly improve ROI.
ROI is Proportionate to ‘Wireless-ness’
As discussed, the more wireless your IoT solution the better your ROI will be. Utilizing professionally managed public wireless connectivity disconnects you from the hassle of network management and allows you to focus on what you know: your business.
Choosing wireless connectivity that allows for years of battery life enables you to be disconnected from ROI-draining service calls and expensive line power.
Finally, over-the-air firmware updates make you completely untethered; now firmware upgrades that include feature enhancements & refinements and security updates allow your device to change as your business needs do.