Niall Strachan, Head of Product Strategy, Pelion explores why everything from packaging labels to robot shop attendants are being connected via cellular networks
When was the last time the connectivity on your phone let you down? And if you remember getting your new phone, how complicated was it to get connected in the first place?
What if I asked the same questions about your Wi-Fi? We’ve all had the same set-up struggles, or having to wait days, maybe even weeks for a connection to be activated if you move house or change provider. Speed problems, patchy signal in different rooms, the list goes on. I would wager if we surveyed the readers of this magazine, most people would have had more issues with their Wi-Fi than they have with the connectivity on their phone.
And yet, your phone goes everywhere with you, whether you’re standing atop a mountain or in your office in the middle of a city. It doesn’t even matter if you’re in your home country or on the other side of the globe. Your phone connects you to the whole world, wherever you are, with ultra-fast and extremely reliable connectivity. Not to mention, have you ever felt that your connection might not be secure, or that there was a risk that your data might be intercepted in transit? I bet you haven’t.
So, why do so many businesses still rely on Wi-Fi or other public network services for the connectivity for their other critical systems? Even worse, what about all those businesses who rely on someone else’s connectivity for the success of their product or service? Not ideal.
But the solution has been staring us in the face for years (if you are reading this on a phone, you are staring at it as you read): The ever-present, always faithful and often-overlooked SIM, acting as the gateway to the secure, reliable and far-reaching cellular networks.
The humble SIM
A simple SIM card unlocks a world of options for connecting your devices and systems and we’re not just talking about phones here, we are talking anything from an ultra-thin packaging label to a robot shop attendant. If you haven’t been keeping up, SIM technology and the cellular infrastructure surrounding it, has come a LONG way in the last few years. You don’t even need a “physical” SIM card anymore to get access to cellular connectivity and with 5G, your connection speed can blow away all but the best wired connections. But, let’s step back a second.
There are now over two billion IoT devices using cellular networks for their connectivity. These devices could be anything from a CCTV camera to a door lock or fire alarm. By installing a SIM, either in removable card format or as a soldered-in chip added at the point of manufacture, these devices can have a choice of multiple secure, reliable cellular networks for their connectivity from the instant they are turned on.
You don’t even need physical access to the devices to get them connected; the activation process can be done completely remotely. Install a device almost anywhere, turn it on and get connected. No messing around with wires, Wi-Fi network access or the usual installation hassles. And this convenience continues for the life of the device. Monitor everything it’s doing, from anywhere in the world, with no need for local network access.
Cellular also provides a huge range of technology options when you need to balance performance, battery life and cost. There is a lot more than just 4G out there. With 5G now available for IoT type applications, both the capacity and the range of capabilities has just exploded. You can benefit from ultra-fast speeds or, with LPWAN technologies, you opt for connectivity that prioritises power consumption and efficiency, helping boost battery life significantly. By matching the right SIM with the right cellular standard, the options really are endless.
Alright, so cellular gets a checkmark for flexibility, but what about cost? Isn’t it expensive? The answer is no, not really. Data prices have dropped significantly over the last 5-10 years, to the point where you can now get your devices connected at an extremely compelling price point.
Providers like Pelion work with mobile network operators all over the world to negotiate the best rates, which we then pass on to our customers. They get great data rates, a choice of operators and one single point of contact for global connectivity, for as many devices as they need. The cost starts to look even more favourable when you factor in all the other benefits cellular provides. Not only is the data cheap, but you also save on maintenance, site visits, installation times…
What about security?
That’s where this whole thing started. It’s pretty easy to make a great case for cellular here as well. Thanks to that humble SIM, there are some significant inherent security benefits that cellular offers.
The SIM stores a unique set of credentials (known as an IMSI) which form the start point and authenticates secure access to your network of choice. Data is then encrypted and sent securely from SIM to the operator’s core network, all of which is authenticated using PKI certificates. Then, by working with a provider like Pelion, this secure connection can be extended, using IPSEC or other VPN technologies, all the way to almost any endpoint, whether that be a cloud system or another location.
It’s possible to transmit data from your device to any endpoint with end-to-end encryption and without it ever being exposed to the public internet. All of this, with almost zero burden on your internal teams to maintain your own network. You can also monitor every connection from anywhere and remotely bar a SIM at the touch of a button, shutting off that device’s ability to access your network instantly.
Real world examples
At Pelion, we work with customers all over the world, across multiple industries to deliver simple, reliable and secure connectivity for their business. Let’s take SAVORTEX, who provide smart, connected hand dryers and hand sanitisers, which not only offer potential new revenue opportunities, but also significant efficiencies and additional intelligence for building owners and organisations.
Each of SAVORTEX’s products has a SIM which means they can deploy units anywhere and they can be connected as soon as they are on the wall, generating revenue and intelligence immediately. Not only is it easier for SAVORTEX, but it’s also easier for their customers. Deploy and go. No messing around.
And cellular doesn’t just work for devices that stay in one spot. Another Pelion customer, Tangerine offers an AI-powered solution for vehicle fleets of all types which help them become more efficient, more productive and much safer. This solution includes a suite of sensors and cameras which monitor the driver, their vehicle and the driving environment. For Tangerine, adding a SIM to these devices meant that they could gather data while devices were on the move; with multiple network options, it doesn’t even matter if those devices traverse borders between countries – with Pelion, they will always be connected, with no interruptions.
As a final example, Pelion works with Oysta, who provide remote telecare solutions to a range of vulnerable people, allowing them to maintain their independence without sacrificing safety. They offer a connected solution, combining wearables and static devices which include fall sensors, reminder alarms and safe zone monitoring. Using a SIM for connectivity means that Oysta can provide reliable connectivity anywhere, in situations where uptime is of the utmost importance. They can constantly monitor those connections remotely, while keeping highly sensitive data secure.
Cellular really does provide a massive opportunity to reinvent, optimise and innovate. At Pelion, we are excited about the capability of this technology to truly change the world. Don’t miss out on the power of the humble SIM.
It’s something you’ve been using for years without even thinking about it and it’s changing the world around you. Despite its humble name, the SIM is unlocking the enormous power of cellular networks. If you are connecting things, whatever they are, you might want to consider cellular as an option (if you haven’t done so already).
To find out more information, visit: https://pelion.com/
This article was originally published in the May edition of Security Journal UK. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.