The Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT, along with 5G, are “the next big thing” in the Tech World. Many industries are excited about the opportunities it presents, worried about the changes and perplexed by the challenges.
If you ask 10 people what The Internet of Things means you are likely to get 10 different answers ranging from Big Data to the connected car and autonomous driving. Still, one common denominator remains: The Internet of Things relies on products that are physically connected to the outside world.
Be it wired or wireless, without this connection the Internet of Things will not exist.
Designing your “Thing” and keeping it connected
The number of applications for Things is enormous and has implications in almost all aspects of daily life. The possibilities are endless but the basic anatomy of the typical Thing is essentially the same.
- Sensing electronics
- Power supply
- Control processor
- Positioning and tracking systems
- Short range wireless connections
- Long range wireless connections
- Wired connections
All of these components need to be working in sync and depending on the application for your Thing the testing requirements vary. A connected coffee cup using Bluetooth Low energy to transmit the temperature of your beverage will have a very low reliability requirement. A connected car using multiple types of sensors and high data rate, real time connections to enable autonomous driving will require extreme reliability and extensive testing and quality assurance in the manufacturing phase.
The Possibilities are Endless
Even if the realm of possibility for the IoT seems infinite it will be enabled by a finite number of Technologies.
The wireless technologies enabling the Internet of Things can be roughly divided into 3 groups though with some overlap:
- Cellular, meaning technologies evolved from mobile telephony
- Non-cellular, meaning technologies derived from standards such as Bluetooth or WLAN
- IoT specific, meaning technologies developed specifically with IoT in mind
The optimal choice of technology or combination of technologies depends on the use case of the end product. Most IoT solutions are projected to be relatively close range connected, typically tens of meters at most. These products will not benefit from a long range Wide Area Network connection and will likely use non-cellular technologies such as Bluetooth Low Energy or Zigbee or z-wave encapsuled within a capillary network of ecosystems like Apple Home Kit, Amazon Alexa, Google Home or possibly the point-to-point connections envisioned in the future for 5G. Longer range connections can be provided by cellular or low power WAN technologies such as LoRa, NB-IOT (a 4G LTE derivative) or 6LoWPAN.
The Price of IoT
It’s often mentioned that IoT devices need to be very modestly priced. This is especially apparent when discussing IoT device manufacturing. The drive for low cost contains the risk of cutting costs in quality control and testing as well. However, not testing your device or just doing a connection check can lead to quality issues that ultimately increase the lifetime running cost of your IoT product or service.
Current estimates say that around 70% of IoT applications are aimed at the enterprise world and that over 90% of the money being invested into IoT are in the enterprise application area.
For an enterprise application it is extremely important to ship very reliable, high quality devices from the manufacturing line. This is simply because of the cost transparency in the enterprise environment. Whereas a consumer will likely only be looking at the device cost when selecting the suitable product, in the enterprise world there are also other costs to consider.
- Cost of the device
- Cost of installation and commissioning
- Cost of maintenance and device replacement
- Cost of the connections
When concentrating on device cost it’s easy to overlook the costs related to the manual labour of installation and maintenance. However, if an IoT device costs 10 €, for example, the installation and commissioning is likely to cost 100 €. The same goes for maintenance and device replacement in the case of a faulty device. One maintenance and replacement call will very likely cost even more.
IoT devices are projected to last even 10 years on one battery. In shooting for low cost in IoT one should always concentrate on the projected lifetime cost of the device. An investment into quality control and process development through test and measurement will be returned in higher reliability and higher yield.
Putting your Thing into Production
The use cases for IoT reach from the bottom of the sea into space. As the scope of solutions is so broad it is inevitable that many different types of products are required to enable each idea to reach its full potential.
In a traditional manufacturing setting a particular type of product or product family will have a production line all its own, including any test instrumentation. Each product would also have a custom designed proprietary test solution optimized for that production line alone. Customizing the test solution per product can have economic benefits in the short term but may lead to asset management
The test solution normally includes test instruments, software, test fixtures, cables and other hardware. The hardware and software content of the solution traditionally depends on the testing requirement of the end product.
In this case scaling up production means investing into a new test setup once the throughput limit of the current ones is reached. In the case of scaling down production - since a test setup is developed for a particular product – it is difficult to transfer the invested assets to produce and test another product. Once a project ramps down the assets often become obsolete and cannot be transferred.
Also: If the testing solution needs to be developed and built from scratch for each and every customer this makes for a longer time to market as well as sets an economic barrier for smaller projects which might eventually become huge.
- Is there a way to make more efficient use of the assets used in testing?
- What could be done to enable more efficient ramp-up and ramp-down of production volume?
- Is there something that could be done to reduce the time and cost of test development?
Flexible Solution for Manufacturing the IoT
The testing of IoT devices does not have to be all that complex or expensive. Wireless IoT technologies are many but the production testing for all of them is handled in a very similar manner. This means that a huge portion of the production test needs of the wireless IoT device world can be handled with one single solution: The Anritsu Universal Wireless Test Set MT8870A.
The Anritsu MT8870A contains the technology needed to test almost any IoT device. The MT8870A is a modular, customizable testing platform that has ready-made software to support the most common IoT technologies today. With its modular hardware and software configuration the MT8870A can support your testing needs when and where you need them.