Mobile network challenges for IoT devices

Since the first mobile networks, mobile phones were the networks heavy users. That's why today's networks optimise for smartphones.

It's only a matter of time before there are more 'things' connected than phones. That's why mobile network operators are developing new technologies.

Let's explain the challenges with mobile networks using an example , the smart meter.

Reaching the smart meter

You have deployed a smart meter that reports yesterday's energy usage to your server. You want to trigger the meter read-out, or push firmware updates over the air. An mobile network operator has a firewall between your server and your smart meter. This firewall protects your meter from Internet users trying to connect to it. The downside is that only the smart meter can setup a connection to your server, not the other way around. But there are workarounds to solve this.

1. SMS trigger

One way of solving this is programming a SMS trigger in your smart meter. If SMS from 1234, then connect to server. The firewall won't block the SMS. This way the meter initiates the connection, it will allow for bi-directional traffic. Now your server can reach the device. The downside of this is an SMS can be quite expensive, compared to data usage. Also other people will also be able to send an SMS to your smart meter and trigger the connection.

2. Scheduled read-outs

You can program your meter, to setup a connection every day at given times. This is how apps on your smartphone work. They setup a connection to the Internet server and the server sends content back. The downside is that you rely on the meter to start the connection. If the mobile network has a service interruption, you might miss todays read-out. That's why having coverage of more networks, like with an Olivia SIM, can solve this problem.

3. Virtual Private Network

Why not remove the firewall? That would solve the problem and create another one. Now you need to protect your smart meter against other Internet users. You can do this by creating a Virtual Private Network between the mobile network and your server. This private tunnel shields off other users. This is a popular solution but it's more complex to set up. The VPN also creates a lock-in, since you can't migrate it to another service provider.

Bottom line

With the right setup you can always come up with a right solution for your case. There are many ways to do so. It is useful to think ahead any take various factors into account. The goal is to keep it simple, secure and cost effective. And if you can't figure it out, get help from experts.

Roel van der Meer