OPINION Neil Hamilton, VP of Business Development at Thingstream, explains why businesses in emerging markets should choose GSM-based LPWAN connectivity to realise the full potential of IIoT projects.

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The rapid adoption of consumer and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications in developed markets, powered by the cloud, has already changed the way in which services are consumed, and their potential is vast. However, the potential for the IIoT in developing markets is also enormous; IDC predicts that projects in Africa and the Middle East alone will grow to a market valuation of $7 billion in 2018.

However, fragmented connectivity and infrastructures in these regions are still significant barriers to deploying effective, widespread IIoT systems.

The challenge in emerging markets

Current low-power wide-area networks (LPWANs) struggle to provide full coverage outside of major cities and towns even in developed nations, so overcoming fragmented rural connectivity in emerging markets is far from easy.

While cellular data connectivity in most developing markets remains limited, it is still more prevalent than other LPWANs offered by unlicensed providers; these still need to connect to a cellular network to communicate with the IoT ecosystem.

This is why businesses need a cost-effective, reliable, secure, and low-power option that provides ubiquitous connectivity, using the existing infrastructure.

There are many industries in these markets in which cellular or unlicensed technologies severely restrict the deployment of IIoT applications, largely due to a lack of roaming coverage.

For example, an organisation that wishes to track its assets across borders in rural areas will be unable to have full visibility of goods whenever connections are lost. Similarly, for fixed-location services where there is a lack of coverage, regularly sending data to the cloud isn’t always possible. And when a network is available, cellular roaming charges can be prohibitively expensive.

GSM-based low-power connectivity

The most ubiquitous network is the established GSM voice network, which is now available in more than 190 countries and is increasingly reliable, especially when compared with cellular data.

IoT devices can automatically connect wherever GSM connectivity is present, using the strongest network available. This avoids disruption when moving between carriers on a cellular signal, ensuring worldwide connectivity. So it makes sense to leverage this network, as other internet-based options are unable to compete in terms of cost, reliability, and coverage.

One solution is low-bandwidth messaging, achieved through a Message Queue Telemetry Transport for Sensor Networks (MQTT-SN) system. Communicating across a USSD messaging protocol that’s available on the GSM voice network, this lightweight publish/subscribe protocol can send tiny packets of data –160 bytes or less – providing true ubiquitous IoT connectivity.

This is boosted by the inclusion of integrated Quality of Service (QoS), allowing an MQTT-SN protocol to handle the transmission and re-transmission of messages, guaranteeing delivery to the corresponding ‘thing’ or application. The level of QoS is fully customisable for IoT adopters, depending on network security and application logic.

Furthermore, IoT sensors can be programmed to communicate almost any type of information that can be carried across a low-bandwidth signal, avoiding the need to have multiple devices that further clog the network.

The power issue is also circumnavigated, thanks to the way in which the devices can work. By sending data only when needed, a device’s on/off setup enables battery longevity to be maximised, not only for months, but for years, creating a true LPWAN.

This is also advantageous in emerging markets with unreliable power grids, where outages are more commonplace. Instead of sending data at regular intervals, data can be delivered when parameters have changed. For example, this would allow for remote condition monitoring of equipment, allowing for maintenance to be better planned for and more predictable.

Furthermore, data is not communicated using the internet, greatly improving cyber security by having no need to use IP addresses between devices and the connectivity platform, helping to keep connectivity levels high and costs low.

For devices that are remotely connected via the internet, the issue of securely bridging the ‘air gap’ between operational technology and IT systems continues to prove a major challenge for the safe transfer of data, which again favours GSM connectivity.

Choosing the right connectivity for emerging markets

The emergence of LPWANs, such as a GSM voice-based network, has forced businesses in emerging markets to change how they approach IoT deployments. This is because they need to think about what data is actually required from devices and how often that data is needed.

If this can be included in 160 bytes or less, why pay for an energy-sapping internet connection that is costly to implement and run, while also being visible to potential hackers?

An alternative, GSM voice-based network is the strongest and most reliable option that offers true global connectivity for IoT devices to communicate in emerging markets. Using a network with an already-established infrastructure offers huge advantages in scalability, connectivity, security, and cost.

Choosing such a network can enhance efficiencies in a variety of sectors, such as agriculture, logistics, and utilities, all of which are economically crucial in emerging markets. This type of connectivity will enable IIoT projects to be quickly accelerated in developing countries, helping to create a truly global supply chain.

Internet of Business says: This opinion piece has been provided by Thingstream, and not by our independent editorial team.