What is IoT? The Internet of Things
Things, the Internet and the Cloud
The Internet of Things, or IoT, is an arrangement in which “things” such as sensors and devices are connected to the cloud and servers via the internet and control one another by exchanging information. Within the concept of IoT lies a vast array of possibilities and means to improve and expand business and customer experience.
Things (IoT/M2M Devices)
Smartphones and tablets continue to grow in popularity, and watches, such as the Apple Watch, as well as interesting devices such as drones are making their way into our lives. In addition, the concept of rapid prototyping using palm-sized computers such as the Raspberry Pi and Intel Edison is spreading, and a “Makers’ Movement,” referring to new trends in digital creation, is upon us.
Recently, remarkable advancements have been occurring in cloud platforms such as AWS (Amazon Web Services), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform and others. For example, users who manage their data with Amazon S3, offered by AWS, pay just 0.03 USD per GB per month (as of January 2016). Such a low cost for storage is worlds apart from what was available just 10 years ago, and these days, it is the norm to simply store data in the cloud rather than discarding it. Storing data in a cloud storage service and using processing power only on an as-needed basis from a service such as Amazon EC2, offered by AWS, allows low-cost data analysis and visualization when needed. In addition, technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence are also advancing and beginning to show true potential for utilization, further contributing to the great things that will continue to be expected of IoT.
Why IoT is Attracting Attention Today
Even in the past, sensors and communication devices have been used to collect and utilize data in a variety of fields. IoT is by no means a new concept, but due to its significant requirements in terms of infrastructure investment and technical expertise, it has been chiefly driven by initiatives from large corporations.
Dramatic advancements in cloud computing technology since 2010 have made resources such as servers and data storage available at virtually no minimum cost, in a manner that is economical and scalable to match the growth of user’ needs. Electronic components have also become smaller and cheaper with higher performance and research into data analysis techniques, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, continues to advance, creating an environment where these benefits are openly usable. With the maturation of all these technologies, IoT is now becoming a wide open market, freely available for people’s everyday use.
Currently, IoT implementations are being considered not only by existing IT vendors, but also by a wide variety of businesses. The reasons for this include the need for the automation and optimization of existing processes through IoT, but another important factor is a transformation in business models in the manufacturing and service sectors, which are experiencing increasing global competition. Instead of simply creating and selling products and services, it is now possible to embrace new business models, such as offering applications and cloud services usable with a product or following a service model that adds value to “things” by improving their features and functionality over the internet.
It is for these reasons that discussion is heating up about introducing IoT in all kinds of different industries.
The Advantages of IoT
In 2020, the number of “things” (IoT/M2M devices) connected to the internet will be, according to various projections, 25 billion or 100 billion. Will connecting these devices make our lives better and more convenient?
When combined with houses and building and our everyday environments, using the internet to connect and control appliances, such as electronic locks, security cameras, audio/visual equipment, lighting, curtains, shutters, air conditioning and heating could mean that, when the daily weather and air pollution levels are measured and a potential risk to human health is detected, alerts could be automatically delivered, windows could be opened or closed and ventilation systems adjusted and, indoors, air conditioning could be used to maintain a comfortable temperature. For children at school, a cautionary announcement could be played and students could be advised to stay indoors.
When combined with automobiles and self-driving technology, connecting onboard sensors and devices (IoT/M2M devices) to the internet could enable the collected data to be used to improve personal driving. Putting the information collected into a combined database would allow the offering of a variety of informational services based on weather and traffic data as well as new services bases on analysis of the data in various ways. In addition, machine logs stored in a variety of components could be tracked and analyzed and used to request proactive maintenance before a part breaks down.
When combined with health and medical technology, the use of a variety of internet-connected wearable products on the body could allow the data they collect to be submitted to specialists for analysis and feedback, allowing the measurement of health and exercise levels for entire families and advance discovery and prevention of possible diseases.
Of course, industry will also enjoy the upcoming benefits of IoT. The optimization of a variety of different processes, such as data input, will not only enable companies to offer completely new products and services but will also the reallocation of human resources toward the creation of content requiring more creativity.
Connecting the cloud with “things” (IoT/M2M devices) over the internet is a proposition brimming with possibilities for new ways to develop and use products and new business opportunities.
Challenges in Making Use of IoT
When it comes to actually constructing a typical IoT system that to connect “things” to the internet and perform analysis in the cloud, there are a variety of challenges that must be addressed:
- Internet connectivity
- Power supply
- Device management
In order to achieve an “Internet” of Things, IoT devices must ultimately be connected to the internet. Further, when a “thing” connects to the internet and transmits data, security also becomes an issue. An important concern is safeguarding the security of the data, from the “thing” all the way to the cloud or server.
IoT and Security
“Things” such as sensors and devices are always connected to networks and can participate in data collection and feedback, but in being connected to the internet, they are exposed to risks similar to those faced by existing IT systems.
There are risks of eavesdropping on communication between devices, unauthorized use of credentials to access servers and cloud services and unauthorized remote device access as well as the risk of malware being loaded onto devices. With IoT/M2M devices numbering in the thousands to tens of thousands, security risks assume an additional level of importance.
Generally speaking, IoT devices are limited in the amount of resources such as processing power, memory and electrical power at their disposal, and there are cases where support for secure approaches such as encryption is limited. In addition, the task of implementing robust security standards across a large number of devices is an extremely costly one.
With SORACOM, it is possible to take the processing of encrypted communications that originally needed to be built into devices and offload it onto the cloud. SORACOM cloud services adhere to a wide array of security standards, from international security certifications such as SOC-2 to PCI-DSS (a credit card industry security standard). Low-cost functionality is also available to connect devices to servers through a private network without exposing traffic to the internet.
In addition, simple operations from the user console and usage of APIs from the program enable users to change the communication target for all their IoT devices as once. There is no longer any need to reset a large number of IoT devices one by one as there was in the past.
IoT Connectivity Challenges
When connecting “things” to the internet, a wired LAN is quite sufficient, but in practice, there are limitations on the environment. Wireless LANs are widely used; however, there are security considerations, and they are not simple enough for just anyone to set up. Hiring a specialist means a cost will be incurred for installation.
For internet connectivity, an LTE/3G mobile connection, such as those used by smartphones, is ideal. Such a connection is mobile and can connect immediately, anywhere. However, since mobile connections have been developed thus far as connections geared toward people, prices are relatively high. They are also lacking in areas such as their ability to support connectivity management for large numbers of devices and security considerations.
SORACOM’s Unique Approach to Solving IoT Connectivity Challenges
The SORACOM IoT platform is built on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud platform, connected by dedicated lines through Mobile network base stations. This allows the direct uploading of data to the cloud through a private network that cannot be accessed from the internet.
In the past, mobile data connections provided by MVNOs have been designed as “person-oriented” systems specializing in providing fast connectivity for between one and a few sessions per person, but SORACOM, designed for IoT, is a system optimized for connecting between 100,000 and several billion “things,” each of which transmits a relatively small amount of data but is always connected.
SORACOM is a platform that provides IoT-optimized LTE/3G mobile data connectivity and additional services to deliver data safely and conveniently to customers’ systems. SORACOM Air, the data connectivity SIM cards provided by SORACOM, are available down to units of one card per one day of use by either companies or individuals. Purchasing a SIM card and registering it through the User Console immediately allows the use of the system at IoT rates. In addition, SORACOM has built functionality such as packet switching, bandwidth control, customer management and accounting management in software in the cloud and makes it available for use via the User Console or API. This allows gives users the unique ability to control their mobile connectivity from the via the User Console screen or programmatically. These features are what allow the SORACOM platform to connect massive numbers of "things" and offer the mobile connectivity necessary for IoT.