Here’s a question for you: How do you define mission-critical in the Internet of Things (IoT)? Some might say that a mission-critical IoT device or application is one with the potential to impact life or death. A power plant, water infrastructure, refinery, or medical devices might fall into this category. If a city’s smart water system shuts down, the health of its citizens is impacted. If a medical monitoring device fails to deliver a critical alert to a healthcare professional, a patient may die. You get the idea.
I personally think that the mission-critical IoT is much broader than this definition. In fact, I would argue that many IoT devices and applications once thought of as luxuries have today become “mission critical.” They are an integral part of our everyday life and we depend on them to work right, every time—even if their failure to do so doesn’t necessarily have a dire consequence.
GPS is a prime example. It’s a technology virtually everyone is familiar with these days. But that wasn’t always the case. When GPS first entered the marketplace, it was in the form of large bulky devices that could be carried with you as you walked, or attached to your car window to guide you to your destination. The devices were expensive and required constant software updates. They were a luxury item.
Over time, those devices got smaller and more accurate. More importantly, GPS made its way into two very popular IoT devices: smart phones and smart watches. Today, that combination enables some very mission-critical applications.
When driving, GPS-based mapping applications in smart phones guide us safely to our destinations. If the wireless connectivity in the smart phone cuts out or the application fails to work as expected, accidentally sending you in the wrong direction or into an unsafe area, you could easily find yourself driving into a ditch or potentially, the victim of a crime.
In smart watches, GPS helps to keep children safe via a geofence that establishes a virtual perimeter or barrier around a physical geographical area. When a child wearing a smart watch goes beyond that perimeter, a notification is sent to their parent or guardian.
These examples underscore the ongoing transition of more luxury, or consumer-based IoT devices into the mission-critical arena. It's a trend that will only increase as the IoT proliferates. It's happening today. In the process, it is opening many new opportunities for designers and IoT device manufacturers traditionally developing products for the consumer market, and for network operators and service providers as well. By taking a broader view of the needs of individuals and society around them, they can begin to identify innovative ways to tweak their products for use in the mission-critical IoT. A prime example might be a wearable device adapted to alert patients and healthcare professionals to health irregularities and to predict potentially significant incidents before they have the chance occur.
For IoT device designers, manufacturers, network operators, and service providers looking to expand into the mission critical IoT, there will undoubtedly be challenges ahead. Requirements will need to be understood and best design practices adopted. The right design, test and monitoring solutions will also need to be selected.
Two other important factors that will need to be taken into consideration are reliability and security. IoT devices that people count on to work right, simply can’t fail. That means IoT devices, wireless communications and networks have to be ultra-reliable. And because those devices capture immense amounts of data, all of which is vulnerable to attack, security is imperative, especially in the medical arena.
Security involves not just the IoT endpoint device, but the networks on which the data is transmitted. Any potential vulnerability in the chain could be catastrophic. A hacker gaining access to a smart infusion pump, for example, might change the timing or amount of medication dispensed to a patient, causing a life-threatening emergency. Think it can’t happen? In 2015, the FDA issued an alert, warning of just that possibility with the Symbiq Infusion pump.
Appropriate visibility and test solutions designed to validate the security posture of networks can go a long way in ensuring any potential vulnerabilities are identified and dealt with quickly. Likewise, solutions that allow the performance of IoT devices to be evaluated under real-world conditions can be quite valuable for identifying reliability issues before they can result in costly product redesigns or even a recall.
While many unknowns lie ahead for designers, manufacturers, network operators, and service providers on the road to the mission-critical IoT, it’s clear that the size of the opportunity in this rapidly evolving space will only continue to grow. For many, that makes it a journey well worth undertaking. If you’re interested in finding out more about the evolving mission-critical IoT and what you can due to leverage its growing opportunities, check out the white paper Key Technologies Needed to Advance Mission-Critical IoT at the Keysight Mission-Critical IoT webpage.