Why IIoT Connectivity Choices Are Harder Than They Look
When it comes to choosing a connectivity protocol for an industrial IoT implementation, it pays to make a thoughtful decision, even if it takes more time than planned.
The connectivity landscape is broad, the choices are varied and the chances to make a mistake are many. The situation is so complex that the Industrial Internet Consortium put together a 129-page paper, “The Industrial Internet of Things Volume G5: Connectivity Framework,” to address these concerns in 2018.
Rajive Joshi, principal solutions architect with Real-Time Innovations and one of the lead authors of the paper, is quick to stress just how overwhelming the choices are. “People don’t know where to start,” Joshi said. “A lot of these things are fairly obvious to me but when you talk to other people not doing this on a day-to-day basis, it’s extremely confusing. If it’s apples and oranges you can’t have a meaningful conversation and it’s important to understand what the landscape is.”
At a time when interest and enthusiasm for IoT endeavors remains strong — roughly one-third of large companies surveyed by IoT World Today in 2018 had IoT in production, in test or in the research phase — the pressure is on to make sure the connectivity choices are correct, scalable and industry-appropriate. We asked experts for their best advice.
How to Begin
With all of the protocol options available, Priya Thanigai, SimpleLink marketing manager – industrial markets at Texas Instruments recommends companies making IoT decisions start by answering a simple list of eight questions:
- Is this a brand new network installation or a retrofit?
- How many nodes are expected to be part of this network?
- What type of data throughput (speed, bandwidth and amount of data) is expected?
- Is there a need for multiple types of networks — for example, a low-power, long-range motion detector could be commissioned via BLE on a phone and be used to wake-up a camera that can then stream video over Wi-Fi?
- What are the strictest latency requirements?
- How is this network powered?
- What are the top security concerns?
- Is network congestion a potential problem?
The answers to those questions can help frame the next step, which might include talking to an IoT vendor. And that can go a few different ways, some of which won’t be particularly helpful, according to Patrick Fetterman, research analyst and vice president of customer operations with market research firm LNS Global. “Some of the vendors simply assume connectivity is in place while other vendors are very focused on connectivity,” he explained. “And still others think it’s a revolutionary idea to get to data generated from a piece of equipment.”
Industrial facilities are all over the map as well. “I’ve been in dozens and dozens of factories over the last 10 years and I’ve yet to encounter one that wasn’t a mishmash of equipment types,” said Tom Comstock, principal analyst with LNS. “Even within a factory using only a single vendor, you’re going to find multiple generations and multiple versions deployed over a 25-year-old layer of connectivity.”