IoT and the Power of Where
By Brian Salisbury, VP Product Management, Enterprise Technologies, Comtech Telecommunications
There are many IoT platforms in the market for enterprises to choose from, and a broad range of use cases where IoT solutions can be applied to improve efficiency, enhance security, or reduce operating costs. When IT professionals are defining requirements for the platforms that will implement these use cases, it seems natural that the primary platform features they will consider are device management, connectivity, and security.
Certainly, being able to activate, deactivate, configure and update devices remotely is essential, especially for large-scale deployments. Matching the connectivity (cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, Ethernet, etc.) to the areas where the IoT devices will be located is essential to ensure that the devices can remain connected regardless of their fixed or mobile location. And of course, security must be integral to the IoT solution, to prevent breaches involving the operation of the devices or the data that they collect.
One feature that should also be considered as primary, but typically is not, is location. Only when the use case involves IoT devices that move and need to be tracked do we always see this feature being called for. While location is an operational requirement for such a use case, it is also a key element of context that can add value in many use cases.
IoT solutions can be applied to improve efficiency, enhance security, or reduce operating costs
Here are a couple of examples of the importance of location, or "The Power of Where."
Example 1. "Fixed Assets." Many types of enterprise assets stay in one location in normal operation. When those assets are installed, someone typically needs to record where. If the asset is equipped with an IoT device that supports a location feature, the installed location will be recorded automatically. Further, if the asset gets moved, that fact can result in an alert, and the new location can be confirmed easily. Many fixed assets require periodic maintenance or replacement of consumables. If the asset can be located automatically, it enables better planning and performance of that maintenance. When that asset captures data via whatever sensors it includes, every one of those data points can have both a timestamp and a location tag. The combination of when and where provides valuable context for the analysis of the captured data.
Example 2. "Location and Security." There are many situations which can contribute to weakened security, and quite often the fact that something was in the wrong location, or things that belong together were separated, is an early indication of an impending security incident. Having a history of location data can be very helpful in establishing a baseline for "normal" conditions. When unusual location data starts to appear, this can trigger appropriate responses.
Having established that knowing location is useful, and in some cases very important, we then need to think about how to determine location. The method that people most often think of is GPS (or more generally GNSS) but of course the use of GNSS is primarily limited to outdoor locations and adds cost and power consumption to any device that includes it. The reality is that many methods can be used to determine the location of an IoT device and since there are so many kinds of IoT devices this is a good thing! One thing that many IoT devices have in common is that they don’t actually consume location information, they don’t need to know “where they are”. Typically, there is a process or an application running in the cloud or data center that consumes the location information.
When you combine the fact that location solutions on the device add cost and consume power with the reality and that the location data is consumed in a server application, it makes sense for IoT solutions that the location featureshould also run in a server. This is available today, using several kinds of signals, depending on what the IoT device supports, and what precision of location is needed. The most common are cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and IP location. Instead of burdening the IoT device with the task of calculating its position, the device acts more as a sensor, capturing brief samples of the signals around it. Those signals are efficiently passed to the cloud based location server, where the calculations are performed and the location results are secured, managed and distributed as required by the use case.
It is essential to plan the IoT strategy from the beginning to include location and consider it equal in importance to device management, connectivity, and security. By doing so, one will build valuable context into the data created by one's IoT devices.