4 critical steps to building an IoT network

As published in BetaNews

By Bruce Chatterley, CEO at Senet

The biggest mistake often made in building an IoT network for the first time is in underestimating the complexity of IoT network design, operation and management — and believing that legacy network technologies and engagement models will support the requirements of large-scale IoT deployments.

Building an IoT network is not as easy as it sounds and the process of building your own tends to break down when confronted with massive scale. What may seem to be an easy task of deploying gateways and managing device provisioning and connectivity quickly becomes challenging with respect to scaled site and network operations. Some may also find challenges with sourcing and qualifying end devices for their applications, device configuration and management, implementing encryption and security services, and ultimately generating contextualized data for their use cases. Taking the following four steps to develop your IoT network buildout is essential.

Take a Requirements Inventory 

It is important to take a complete requirements inventory before building an IoT application and the supporting network. In doing so, you should consider questions such as:

  • Will my devices be battery powered or not?
  • Where will I place the devices, are the hard to reach with RF?
  • What are my end-to-end security requirements?
  • Will the device firmware need to be updated over time?
  • Can I connect to an existing wired network for backhaul, do I need to use wireless, or hybrid?
  • Are my devices required to communicate in motion?
  • How much data and how often do I require my devices to communicate?

Answering these questions will help to guide selection of the correct technology, devices, and deployment model to best meet the overall needs of the application.

Understand the Knowledge and Skills Required

Developing, deploying and operating a secure and scalable IoT network requires significant skill and knowledge across multiple disciplines. In addition to skilled software engineers, application developers and programmers to develop a functional network, network engineers are needed to connect everything together and make sure it keeps working. Key Site Operation skills include network design and RF planning (gateway placement and performance planning), deployment (Radio Access Network site acquisition), and maintenance (escalations and managing service inventory) while Network Operations requires skill sets for monitoring and alerting, application performance monitoring, troubleshooting and customer support are equally important.

Align with a Proven IoT Partner

The Internet of Things requires new models for network connectivity and business engagement across an entire ecosystem of participants, including Communication Service Providers, enterprise organizations and solution providers. Regardless of your position in the ecosystem, to confidently address the critical elements of network security, scalability and flexibility, the best approach to creating an IoT network is to align with a proven IoT connectivity partner capable of offering managed network connectivity, connectivity enabling technology, application enablement and flexible business models that support scaled growth.

Partnering with an IoT connectivity provider to deploy and operate a network results in reduced risk, faster time to market and a direct link to driving IoT connectivity revenues with value-add applications.

Further, networks can connect over a wide variety of communication protocols, and standardization is going to be crucial if IoT is to survive and thrive. Be sure to select an open standards-based protocol for your IoT network.

Work with a Systems Integrator or Vendor

Working with a system integrator or network vendor depends on the complexity of the network and applications being served. That said, if security, scalability and flexibility are requirements for your network (and they should be), you should be partnering for your connectivity service needs.

Large scale production IoT networks require a highly sophisticated management stack and building operational and business systems from the ground up is highly complex and costly. Many service providers have struggled to handle the complexities of building and managing an IoT network and have gained a significant competitive advantage by aligning with IoT ecosystem partners, including those offering proven connectivity platforms, existing networks, and targeted business solutions.

Similarly, many forward-thinking system integrators have partnered with IoT network providers and leverage their expertise for end device qualification, connectivity services, device management and even contextualized data delivery. This allows SIs to focus on what they do best — application development and integration, field deployment and ongoing project management. Working with a trusted set of ecosystem partners with expertise in these areas can significantly reduce risk.

There are many challenges in deploying an IoT network that scales. Understanding and managing the complexity, sourcing the right technologies and devices, and knowing the proper configurations, security and contextualized data needed can be overwhelming, but taking the time to move through the four steps laid out above will give you the foundation for success.