By 2028, virtually all major sensing and feedback systems benefiting from continuous monitoring will connect to devices currently known as the Internet of Things (IoT). As that connectedness becomes a given, the need to label anything as IoT will become unnecessary, in much the same way that referring to a smartphone today as an Internet-connected device seems redundant. As the pervasiveness of the IoT spreads, it will change completely how the world interacts with information. And, it will have a dramatic impact on mission-critical IoT devices and the applications they enable.
Forget Industry 4.0 and think more in terms of Mission-Critical IoT 2.0. Rather than just devices optimized for performance, ultra-high reliability, and security, it will be an entire mission-critical ecosystem designed and hardened to withstand the rigors of the real world. That ecosystem will enable functionality and deliver efficiencies that just a few years ago might have seemed impossible.
The Time for Change is Now
There are literally billions of IoT devices around the world today, and hundreds more are coming online each second. Cisco predicts that by 2020, there will be 50 billion connected devices. The tremendous growth potential for IoT in the coming years is simply undeniable. A big part of that growth will come from mission-critical IoT devices.
The IoT is no longer just about consumer-based smart appliances for the home or wearable fitness watches for personal use. More and more, it is weaving its way into industries and applications that were never connected. It will be used to automate energy distribution in smart grids, to enable remote machinery and remote surgery, and in autonomous vehicles for things like automatic emergency detection and autonomous vehicle accident prevention. It is happening already.
There are many factors today driving this proliferation, not the least of which is automation. As the cost of automation has declined, its use throughout the mission-critical IoT has gone up dramatically. Nowhere is this change more visible than on the factory floor. In a true smart factory, this automated system will be able to harness all the information at its disposal to learn and adapt to new demands.
Significant technological advances of the past 10 years are also driving the progression of the mission-critical IoT. Many IoT devices now carry the processing power of early supercomputers and are sometimes powered by coin cells expected to last more than ten years. IoT devices and gateways now contain high-performance radios that use cutting-edge protocols, all competing for bandwidth. Modern networks often have thousands of connection points and must maintain constant uptime, ensure adequate data rates, and protect the security of data and devices. These advances — coupled with breakthroughs in the cost of sensors, the rise in cloud computing, and continued progress in connectivity technologies — are not only proliferating the mission-critical IoT around the world, but forcing it to evolve into a new, more robust, feature-rich generation: the mission-critical IoT 2.0.
Mission-Critical IoT Requirements
Mission-critical IoT is not the same as IoT. They both share common technologies like sensors, cloud platforms, connectivity, and analytics; however, the similarities end there. Likewise, mission-critical IoT will not be the same as mission-critical IoT 2.0. As the ecosystem evolves, so too will its requirements.
Yet many of the existing specialized requirements will remain intact. Today's mission-critical IoT requires rock-solid security, unfailing reliability — even in harsh environments — and the ability to operate with little or no human intervention. These requirements are dictated by the industry in which the mission-critical IoT device will operate and any applicable industry or government regulations — they are non-negotiable.
In the consumer-based IoT world, a failed weather sensor or a dropped audio stream is an inconvenience. Likewise, a smart coffeemaker that malfunctions might make the consumer unhappy, require an expensive service call, or even result in a costly product recall, but it is not life-threatening.
In the mission-critical IoT world, the consequences of an unreliable device or device failure can be catastrophic. A failed pacemaker could result in a patient's death. A lost boiler sensor connection might cause the boiler's tubes to overheat and fail, resulting in an explosion. A down network in a hospital could interrupt a remote surgery in process or fail to deliver an alert to a healthcare professional about a patient's health crisis. Such extreme outcomes are a key reason why strict adherence to requirements like reliability are so essential in the mission-critical IoT. It is also part of why designing for the mission-critical IoT is so challenging.
Advancing Mission-Critical IoT
Success in the mission-critical IoT requires innovation. To advance it to the next level, that innovation will need to take place across the three layers of the IoT ecosystem. And, it will require designers, manufacturing engineers, network operators, and service providers to address several key challenges.
Device Layer: A basic IoT module consists of a battery, power management circuit, microcontroller, RF module, and other key components. Within each component, there are design and test challenges that confront the designer.
Challenge 1. The module's battery and power management circuit must be optimized to ensure a long-lasting battery life. Many mission-critical IoT devices are not connected to power and often operate using a single battery for several years without maintenance or battery replacement.
Challenge 2. The RF module must conform to the appropriate wireless standard and meet the data transmission throughput and range. Such conformance can be challenging for mission-critical IoT applications where an ever-increasing number of wireless standards (Bluetooth®, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, NFC, and LPWA technologies such as NB-IoT, Cat-M1) have emerged to support IoT applications. To ensure interoperability within the ecosystem, all devices need to pass wireless certification test before gaining market entry.
Challenge 3. Interference and crosstalk between each of the module's blocks must be identified and eliminated. In IoT devices, the demand for more functionality in a small form factor is forcing circuit design to become more compact and driving traces closer together. Thus, mutual inductance has become more prevalent. At the same time, the drive toward lower-power electronics has caused DC supply voltages and tolerances to be reduced. Ripple, noise, and transients riding on these low-voltage rails can adversely affect clocks and digital data.
Challenge 4. Electromagnetic interference (EMI) issues must be identified and dealt with early in the design process to ensure electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) compliance. EMI can be especially problematic in scenarios where large numbers of IoT devices operate simultaneously near one other. Avoiding EMI requires designers to not create unwanted emissions in their designs, and to ensure those designs remain robust against unwanted emissions.
Wireless Communications Layer: In the IoT, the wireless communications layer is essential to enabling the flow of information to and from the device and the network. For some designers, that communication presents a new challenge, especially in mission-critical IoT, where highly complex and dense device deployment environments are commonplace.
Challenge 1. Wireless equipment must be able to perform in the presence of multiple users, with different wireless technologies, in the same spectrum. In mission-critical environments like a large hospital, the density of connected devices can easily reach 50,000+, without even factoring in the devices on the patients themselves or their visitors. With all of these devices operating in the same environment, wireless technologies that share similar frequency bands can cause co-channel and adjacent channel interference with one another. This is especially true in the unlicensed 2.4-GHz Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) frequency band, commonly used by cordless phones, wireless video cameras, microwave ovens, and an increasing number of wearables like medical monitoring devices and smart meters. As the 2.4-GHz ISM band gets even more overcrowded, the ability for these devices to co-exist peacefully and continue operating as usual will become severely challenged.
Challenge 2. Any issues that can impede the network's readiness or cause a disruption in its quality or performance must be identified and eliminated. Because IoT devices support a broad range of wireless communications technologies, networks must also support these technologies. And, they must be able to provide that support in a range of different environments and locations where RF conditions may differ dramatically.
Network and System Layer: In the mission-critical IoT, network infrastructure is a critical ecosystem component. To survive and thrive in the real world, it must be accurate, robust, secure, and stable.
Challenge 1. A network must be able to handle erratic devices and the potential security concerns they may enable. Roughly 50% of all IoT devices come from companies less than three years old. While many have been thoroughly tested, some are not. These devices may behave erratically and even allow malicious agents to bring a network down. In the mission-critical IoT, such a scenario is unacceptable.
Challenge 2. Service quality and performance must not be disrupted by network changes. Continuous updates and upgrades to network equipment keep networks in constant flux. Whether existing network devices can support a new service is a question often left to chance. Verifying that the deployed network is reliable and can provide the best possible quality of experience (QoE) is essential.