One of the challenges with emerging technology is the dependence on additional complementary technology to improve the base. It is no different with the Internet of Reliability. Network-connected assets and operations need network connectivity. This can be achieved through multiple pathways, including cellular, Wi-Fi, and the ongoing development of low-power wide-area (LPWA) and narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) type networks.
Welcome back to Noria’s new web series called “The Internet of Reliability.” I’m your host, Jeremy Drury of IoT Diagnostics. We’re working to help you migrate into Industry 4.0 and get your reliability operations connected to the internet, so you can get more data, more information and better outcomes for you and your business.
We’ve talked about a lot of things so far, and we’re in the home stretch. So, thank you for joining us. We’re now going to get practical. We’ve covered macro-level information on the internet of things (IoT) and Industry 4.0. We’ve talked about IoT platforms and devices, and how to get them hooked up. Now, we’re going to start talking about the digital connected environment.
Run through this scenario with me. Say you have an asset or process with an IoT device bolted onto it. How do you get the data out? Where is it going? How is that path of data exchange mapped out for your operations? You will need to know this, so I want you to pay special attention today. I have a lot of alphabet soup coming your way, lots of acronyms. I’ll go through them slowly, going from the least complex to the most complex when it comes to the networking behind your connected devices.
Companies traditionally start with Wi-Fi, and it’s an easy place to begin. I’m not going to talk about traditional line-to-line communication inside the shop or Bluetooth. I’m talking about macro data setups. Wi-Fi will be the most cost effective for you largely because everyone already has a Wi-Fi network in their facility. It’s not really going to cost you, or it shouldn’t cost you any new money to have your devices connected to a Wi-Fi network. It’s good for having communication pull it out of your device and sent to where it needs to go, whether that’s via the cloud or wherever.
There are a couple of caveats and challenges with Wi-Fi, though. One is you’re going to have to talk with your information technology (IT) department, because if you have just a single network in your facility, likely inside that network there are things like your company's engineering drawings, accounting systems and administrative type of stuff. Your IT department will need to know quite a bit about that device and that IoT platform provider to give you Wi-Fi access to that larger Wi-Fi network.
Don’t do guest networks. The reason being is most traditional guest networks boot people or devices off that network after a certain time interval. What will happen is that device must constantly try and re-find a new network, and you will have gaps, if you are even able to get consistent data flow. So, don't fall into the trap of trying to put your devices on a guest network.
Lastly, there are two different bands of Wi-Fi you should be familiar with. One is a 2.4-gigahertz channel, and the other is a 5-gigahertz channel. The traditional 2.4 will give you a fairly large area of communication, but consider the distance from your access point, wherever the closest access point is in your facility. The data transfer will be a bit slower versus a newer 5-gigahertz channel, which will shrink that space a little. The 5-gigahertz channel will also allow you to churn data faster.
So, think about your IoT devices and what rate they need to be producing data for what makes the most sense for you. Also, understand that this bandwidth continues to get compromised the more things are added to your network. If you think about your house when you have five computers, Netflix, PlayStation, Xboxes, cellphones, iPads, etc., your network starts to get slower and slower. It’s no different on your shop floor. Work with your IT department to figure out how to maximize which bandwidth network you should be on.
When it comes to doing pilot projects, cellular is the easiest way to go. You can walk in and already be on the local cellular network, so you can get up and running in no time at all. Typically, you may not even need the IT department to get those projects up and going. The trick with cellular is that it’s fairly dense and complex when you start to get into the weeds. It is also one of the more expensive methods.
Now, I don’t want anyone to start thinking too much about 5G. It’s still going to take a while for that to come. Frankly, for the majority of IoT type of devices, 5G is more for video streaming and those kinds of things. We need to focus more on older networks or narrowband types of networks, such as 2G, 3G or even narrowband IoT (NB-IoT). These are specifically set for IoT projects where they can allow for a longer time to pass between each kind of data pool.
Supposedly, a device on an NB-IoT network with a single AA battery could potentially last for 10 years before you would need to do any updates. Again, I’m talking about devices that may only need to ping the network once a day or once every couple of days in very remote locations. Therefore, it’s critical to understand exactly what your devices are doing so you will know whether you should be on the 4G/5G LTE side or the NB-IoT/Cat-M lower-power networks.
On the low-power side, one option you may see is the low-power wide-area network (LPWAN). This is for very remote applications. If you are in the middle of nowhere and don’t have the best cellular coverage, and Wi-Fi is not an option, you may need to look for an LPWAN type of network. Companies like LoRa, SigFox and Ingenu specialize in this territory. Again, you cannot use LPWAN if you have high pulsing or large packets of data going back and forth. That’s not what LPWAN is for. It’s more for the tank level or level sensing, which is just pinging the network once every day or once every couple of days.
So, there are a lot of different ways to connect your devices. Again, putting Bluetooth and localized options aside, you have Wi-Fi, which is easy but requires you to consult your IT department; cellular, which is easy, likely doesn’t involve the IT department but could be expensive; LPWAN, which is for low pulses in a large space where you may not have access to other technology; and satellite, which is for niche, remote applications.
“You do not want to go down to the local electronics store and pick up a baby cam or a nanny cam monitor and put it on some critical asset outside of your firewall because it’s going to be vulnerable. Things like the Mirai bots and other malware attacks that have gotten a lot of publicity are in those kinds of scenarios.
The last acronym I’m going to give you is API, which stands for application programming interface. APIs are how different devices package information and communicate with each other. The tough part about the IoT world right now is everyone is doing their own thing, and that becomes quite a headache out in the field. So, you need to continue to encourage and challenge your IoT providers and device providers. Ask them if they can “API” into other types of networks. Basically, all that means is they will be extracting a data set for this asset and application and also pulling data from that asset and application, rolling up into whatever kind of macro data information hub you are using.
We are going to stop there today. We have just a couple more videos to go. Thank you for your time. I hope this was helpful. Again, this is Noria’s new web series called “The Internet of Reliability,” and I’m your host, Jeremy Drury.