Analysts all agree that the coming decade will see billions of connected objects unleashed on the world. These will join all the communicating machines (M2M) which already exist, such as new generation electricity meters, surveillance systems and industrial tools connected to the network. What all these objects have in common is that they produce very small amounts of data.
Mobile networks, especially 2G, are currently used to handle these types of communications. However industrial companies – aware that these networks do not provide the most effective answer – are in the process of adopting a new solution: LPWANs (Low-Power Wide Area Networks), recently renamed LTNs (Low Throughput Networks) by the ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute). This is a long-distance wireless internet technology using available frequencies with specific characteristics distinguishing them from existing radio networks. LTN networks allow data to be transmitted up to 40km outdoors. A minimum of antennae are therefore required to cover a large surface area. They also have the capacity to communicate with underground equipment – all with minimum energy consumption and protection against interference. These specific characteristics make LTN networks perfect for connected objects and M2M devices which only produce very small quantities of data, e.g. around a few bytes.
An already competitive market
In addition to the generic names LTN and LPWAN, there are already several players on the market, including LoRa, Sigfox, Covisio, EC GSM, Huawei Narrow Band IoT, On-Ramp RPMA, etc. The two main attractions of these networks for industrial companies are, firstly, their low energy consumption and, secondly, their affordability compared with other existing solutions. Since the idea behind the Internet of Things (IoT) is to connect billions of products, it is vital to identify a low-cost solution. Those mentioned above are sufficiently affordable to be deployed by companies on an ad-hoc basis. However these LTNs are not the only candidates for connection to the Internet of Things. Mobile operators around the world are also standing by with their own offerings. Current solutions – particularly those involving 2G and 3G – are not the most effective, although this may change with the arrival of 5G. The specifications for this next generation network incorporate connected objects, since it covers superfast broadband, narrowband and emergency service networks. This is an important characteristic for operators historically very active in M2M, which need to reduce their costs to compete with the new LTN operators.
Imperative need for security
The two major issues faced by companies and service providers rolling out connected objects are, firstly, the security of the objects themselves and, secondly, management of the certificates allowing the authentication of objects connecting to the network. From a consumer perspective, it is fairly unimportant what technology is used – data authenticity and integrity will remain the most important issues.
Cédric Collomb, Chief Marketing Officer at OT explains: “Data is valuable. If a lot of data is corrupted, there is a problem of reliability since this data may trigger critical actions, potentially based on false information if the data is corrupt or hacked. For example, if a large number of detectors indicate there is a fire.”
To address this risk, OT is developing solutions for managing certificates and their life cycle within objects, as well as securing them in a low-power secure element embedded in objects.
The advent of LTN networks now appears inescapable, since they respond perfectly to the particular requirements of the Internet of Things, both in terms of energy consumption and roll-out costs. But don’t forget about data security!