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Wireless Gotchas! Number One: Application Development

  
  
  

By Bill Zujewski

This is the fifth and final post in a multi-part series, which specifically explores the challenges of dealing with wireless technology as part of an M2M (Machine-To-Machine) initiative. Today’s post will focus on data storage and application development.

In our first four posts, we’ve covered the key steps for establishing, managing, maintaining, and  securing wireless M2M connectivity. But all of this leads up to the one essential question:

How will you use all that data?

And for a dose of truth: lots of data is pretty meaningless if you don't have a plan for it.

The ability to turn wireless machine data into consumable and useful information is critical to making an M2M initiative successful and impacting your organization's bottom line. But there isn't always a clear path, and it can be awfully challenging to see the promise land when you're buried in facts and figures.

  big data
  Perhaps the biggest challenge of making M2M data
usable is that it involves a lot of low-level designing
and application logic which can be time-consuming
and tedious.

In its raw form, machine data is arcane, proprietary, and not very usable for most organizations. Businesses need tools and strategies to make raw data easy to consume, and need to come up with a data model and programmatic interfaces that make it easy for programmers to develop applications and integrate machine data into other systems.

Here are four key steps that businesses should take to make machine data consumption and integration easier:

  • Understand the originating data formats. With no real standard for M2M communications, M2M data is highly fragmented and often varies from device to device. There’s a difficult learning curve involved, but understanding the data formats you’ll be using with different devices will help you prepare to translate it into formats you can more easily deal with.
  • Normalize the data. Store machine data in a normalized format regardless of the device sending the data.  For example, trip records from vehicle devices are very different depending on the device supplier, but for most of them you can extract common information: the start time, end time, and points hit along the way.  Regardless of the device used, store the information the same way.  Consider using a relational database or data repository that you are familiar with.  This will enable you to manage the historical data more effectively and efficiently.
  • Expose the data using  modern APIs (like REST or SOAP) to turn raw data access into familiar API access. This will improve developer productivity.
  • Make it scalable. Rest assured – your M2M initiative will grow, whether by bringing new machines onto the network, or retrofitting older ones for connectivity. Ensuring that your data storage and access architecture is built to handle the influx of data is key.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of making M2M data usable is that it involves a lot of low-level designing and application logic which can be time-consuming and tedious. Leveraging M2M/IoT platforms that are device-agnostic, can handle massive amounts of data, and include elegant APIs out of the box will dramatically reduce the time needed to translate and manage machine data, and accelerate your time to market for new applications and integrations.

Wireless Gotchas! Number Two: Global Connectivity

  
  
  

By Bill Zujewski

This is the fourth post in a multi-part series, which specifically explores the challenges of dealing with wireless technology as part of an M2M (Machine-To-Machine) initiative. The series will offer insights to help designers and developers prepare for and overcome the unique challenges involved with implementation. Today’s post will focus on global connectivity.

The Internet of Things is a global phenomenon that's not slowing down - it's really just picking up speed, with impact just starting to materialize. Many of the leading connected productmanufacturers build, deploy, and support connected assets all around the world, and combined with wireless, M2M technology goes a long way in helping organizations expand their M2M initiatives across international borders.

Global Connectivity
International connectivity isn't necessarily
difficult to establish, as most carriers offer
a version of Global SIM.

International wireless connectivity isn’t necessarily difficult to establish, as most carriers offer a version of a global SIM. The challenge is that global M2M connectivity adds layers of complexity and significant additional considerations that connected businesses need to juggle – or they risk setbacks and disruptions in service.

Some of these challenges include:

  • Ensuring compatibility with various networks or carriers: An asset in Germany will rely on a different network than one in India. Manufacturers need to ensure their machines can connect to different networks in different regions – something that becomes even more difficult for mobile assets (e.g. shipping containers) that need to connect to various networks as they move throughout different regions. Otherwise, businesses risk losing sight of and access to their machines.
  • Managing economics: Rates from carrier to carrier vary greatly, so businesses need to do their due diligence to ensure their connectivity will be affordable, especially for mobile assets that rely on more than one network. Without proper research and planning, connectivity costs could unexpectedly skyrocket.
     
  • Ensuring reliability: Don’t assume you’ll have connectivity in all parts of the world. In many areas, even wired connectivity is not guaranteed. Manufacturers need to understand where their connectivity may be at risk, and which wireless methods are the best options. Downtime doesn't just halt productivity -- it can literally cripple profitability.


For an effective international M2M initiative that doesn’t break the budget or risk service, flexibility is key. Manufacturers should design an architecture that is carrier, device, and SIM management agnostic – so that machines can smoothly rely on different networks and communication devices anywhere in the world.

Top Wireless Gotchas! Number Three: Mitigating Security Risks

  
  
  

By Bill Zujewski

This is the third post in a multi-part series, which specifically explores the challenges of dealing with wireless technology as part of an M2M (Machine-To-Machine) initiative. The series will offer insights to help designers and developers prepare for and overcome the unique challenges involved with implementation. Today’s post will focus on security risks.

M2M wireless
Demonstrating that connected products are
secure and data is handled responsibly
is essential for the industry.

Security and privacy concerns are front-of-mind for everyone – regardless of industry. But they’re even more prominent for the M2M community, and breeding skepticism around the future growth of the ‘Internet of Things.’ And there's reason: Cybercrime and government spying is headline news every day. There's no doubt the state of privacy and terrorism in a hyperconnected world . will be front and center for 'Internet of Things' as it continues to move mainstream.

In reality, the biggest security risk of the ‘Internet of Things’ is someone accessing a machine and making it malfunction – machines are almost never used as a Trojan Horse to access the network it’s on.  However, ensuring the security of machines, networks, and data is trickier in a wireless environment – but it needs to be a top priority for every business involved in M2M.

Here are five security strategies that every wireless M2M initiative should include:

  • Encrypt utilizing the machine when possible. Many new devices have encryption chips that will allow for easy encryption of traffic without relying on the wireless network. Older devices may not have this option and will likely want to utilize carrier wireless traffic encryption.
     
  • Encrypt from the data center to ensure that any traffic between the wireless carrier and the your business applications travel over an encrypted pipe. This may require setting up a VPN and APN with your carrier. Axeda and AT&T deliver this service as part of our joint core offering.
     
  • Configure your assets so that machines can only receive instructions from your M2M cloud platform.  Axeda customers’ assets are configured such that they can only respond to instructions from Axeda’s Machine Cloud. 
     
  • Turn off unnecessary services. Ensure that ports or services on your device are disabled or turned off. That debug interface that is so useful in testing can be a backdoor for malicious attackers.
     
  • Whitelist web sites and services such that the machine cannot access web services that are explicitly approved. Axeda and AT&T’s offering can help to enhance the security of your wireless solution with this service.

The good news is that, so far, there have been few recorded incidents of a connected product leading to a data breach or cyber-attack. Demonstrating that connected products are secure and data is handled responsibly is essential for the future of the industry.

Top Wireless Gotchas! Number 4: Carrier Integration

  
  
  

By Bill Zujewski

This is the second post in a multi-part series, which specifically explores the challenges of dealing with wireless technology as part of an M2M (Machine-To-Machine) initiative. The series will offer insights to help designers and developers prepare for and overcome the unique challenges involved with implementation. Today’s post will focus on carrier integration.

Declining costs around cellular components have had a huge impact on how quickly the 'Internet of Things' has grown – its significance cannot be understated. Cheap components have enabled the industry to expand into countless new verticals -- it's also why providers like AT&T have turned their full attention to the M2M industry in a big way.

However, cellular connectivity brings M2M architecture and management considerations.

For one, manufacturers need to  effectively and efficiently ensure that existing connected machine solutions can integrate with cellular infrastructure and mobile carrier business systems.

Here are three other things to consider:

  • On A Data Budget: Manufacturers need real-time visibility into how their communications are performing against their cellular data plan, and need to be able to adjust data plans and data flow when necessary. Otherwise, they risk going over budget.
  • Connectivity Management: Similarly, manufacturers need to be able to understand the status of their connectivity, and the performance and health of their assets at all times. 
  • Asset Management: Finding connected assets in a carrier’s system can be difficult, as the carrier’s system only identifies assets by their SIM ID. This means manufacturers often have to manually associate the asset’s SIM ID with its VIN or serial number – a long and pain-staking process.

The best solution is to leverage M2M platforms that have already achieved integration with carrier systems. This will drastically cut your time-to-market and start-up costs.

Top Wireless Gotchas! Number 5: Reliable Connectivity

  
  
  

By: Bill ZujewskiInternet of Things

This is the first post in a multi-part series, which specifically explores the challenges of dealing with wireless technology as part of an M2M (Machine-To-Machine) initiative.   The series will offer insights to help designers and developers prepare for and overcome the unique challenges involved with implementation.  Today’s first post will focus on “reliability”.

For obvious reasons, wireless technology will play a key role in the future of M2M. And right now, the stage is being set. Technological advances in edge devices and cellular networks have made it easier and less expensive for mobile assets to be connected, removing two significant barriers to adoption. Fact is, machines communicating via cellular, satellite, or wireless connections will be just as big of a part, if not bigger, of the Internet of Things as machines with wired connections.

But it's not all sunshine and rainbows: the unfortunate reality is that wireless communications aren’t always as dependable as wired internet connections.

That said, there are a number of steps connected product manufacturers can take early in the M2M development and implementation processes that will help ensure the level of connectivity M2M initiatives require.

1. Design an architecture that assumes and accounts for intermittent connectivity by building in intelligence that queues up data when offline to be sent out once connectivity returns.

2. Build in connectivity redundancies, so that if one kind of connectivity fails, another will take over.  For example – if a moving asset loses its cellular signal, the machine can automatically switch to satellite communications. This strategy is essential for mobile assets that require continual connectivity.

3. Test your assets’ connectivity. Connect the asset, take it to a specific location, and see what the connection quality is. In the end, nothing beats real-world testing.

Even though nothing is more dependable than a wired connection, wireless M2M is opening new doors for the industry – from the shipping and fleet industries to a wide range of consumer products. Wireless connectivity is a critical part of the industry’s future – it just takes a bit more thinking and planning to make it work right.

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2 Billion New Voices!

  
  
  

Live from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona …

2  Billion New Voices!

I was blown away by a comment that Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, made in his keynote yesterday at Mobile World Congress.   Eric said “Over two billion new people will join the Internet in the next two years” … He went on to add (this one I’m paraphrasing) “think about the possibilities - two billion new voices that have never been part of the conversation:  What will they say?   What will they contribute?   How will the planet change through their participation?”

I found this thought amazingly exciting.  Think about it … through the mobile Internet, people living in areas without modern facilities, sewers, roads, and even schools will have the opportunity to access a world of information.   They will have an opportunity to have their voices heard.   They will be hard to ignore!  Will people rise up and change their condition …  think Egypt …  

I was traveling in India a couple of years ago and I remember seeing a young child standing in an alley - just watching the traffic go by.   The child was school age, but was not attending school.   The look on his face – hopeless…   kid

I’m excited to think that Eric’s comment could help bring a world of information to that young child.   What will that child have to say?   Could he be the next Gandhi?   The next Einstein?   A diamond in the rough just needing an opportunity to shine?

Improving the human condition - this is the real value and purpose of the Internet.   I for one – want to hear what that child has to say!

 

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