Cloud Connectivity Planning Considerations for IoT Edge Devices

Wednesday 6/22/22 08:21am
Posted By Winnie Ma
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Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by
Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

Today’s intelligent IoT edge devices can utilize cellular and Wi-Fi to connect with the cloud for reliable high-bandwidth and low-latency connectivity. But incorporating wireless connectivity into your IoT device is more involved than simply integrating a radio module. In addition to functional and technical considerations, other requirements include the level of wireless technology adoption in your target region or deployment area, as well as region-specific regulatory requirements and network operator capabilities. Let’s take a closer look.

Functional Requirements
The type of data your device will send and receive has a big impact on its design. For example, streaming video in real-time requires high bandwidth, low latency, and reliable power. On the other hand, sending a periodic temperature sensor reading will likely use simpler, lower-power, and more cost-effective silicon.

On the compute side, you’ll have to identify how much processing can be done at the edge versus the cloud. You can then determine if you need an SoC with built-in wireless connectivity or a standalone radio module to integrate with your existing circuitry. Similarly, it’s important to identify the interactivity of your device with other devices. For example, many of our SoC’s support both hardwired I/O ports like SPI, I2C, etc. and wireless connectivity like Bluetooth, ZigBee, etc. that you can use to connect to other devices such as sensors.

Power sources are another important consideration. Will your device require domestic power, or can it operate using a battery? Battery power is often important for deployments in remote or difficult locations, but careful calculations should be made to determine battery capacity and lifespan parameters.

Finally, you’ll identify elements that might constrain the allowable physical size of your circuitry and antenna. Asset trackers, scanners, and IoT wearables can be size-constrained, while larger form factor enclosures (e.g., kiosks) may not impose size limits.

Most of our IoT solutions won’t add much to the footprint of your IoT device’s circuitry. For example, our Qualcomm MDM9206 LTE modem which supports LTE Cat-M1 (DL and UL), and LTE Cat-NB1 (UL) measures 6.9 × 7.8 × 0.82 mm, and our Qualcomm QCS2290 application processor, which supports 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, measures 12.0 × 12.4 × 0.91 mm.

Functionality requirements define the possible capabilities of your device, but the planning doesn’t end there. Several region-specific factors need to be explored because they may further constrain your device's radio communication technologies in your target regions or deployment areas.

Wireless Adoption in Target Regions
Each geographic region may implement different wireless technologies and standards. For example, while much of the world is transitioning to 5G, older 4G, 2G or 3G technologies may still be prevalent in certain areas. So, it is important to know the sunsetting schedule. Similarly, frequency licensing and allocation can vary widely by region. This list of 5G NR networks shows the current state of 5G frequency band usage in various countries worldwide, while this page lists WLAN channels for Wi-Fi.

Also, look at what radio technology is available in your target region or deployment area. For example, a remote deployment location may have cellular connectivity but not Wi-Fi. And depending on the jurisdiction, only specific cellular technologies (e.g., 4G) may be available.

You should test your device’s performance given these potential constraints as well as those outside your target region or deployment areas. While you might target a specific area, your device could still end up in another region down the road.

Regulatory Requirements
Each region has its tests and certifications for wireless products overseen by region-specific regulatory bodies. These are typically government-backed organizations whose aim is protecting against radio interference and ensuring safe usage (e.g., minimal radiation levels). They may also have other requirements, such as compliance with national security interests.

In the US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provides this oversight and allows Telecommunications Certification Bodies (TCBs) to certify products. In Canada, similar oversight is provided by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), while certification is conducted by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. For a complete list of regulators around the world, see this page.

Be sure to allocate time in your project for region-specific regulatory testing and certification. You’ll likely also need to list these certifications in your device’s technical documentation.

Network Operator Capabilities
When incorporating cellular connectivity, identify the capabilities of the network operators where you plan to sell or deploy your devices. For example, larger network operators in a given country may support a large set of cellular technologies (e.g., 5G, UMTS, HSPA, HSPA+, etc.) and frequency bands. In contrast, smaller ones may only support a subset. Network operator capabilities dictate how service is delivered, required SIM card types (e.g., eSIMS), quality of service, and ultimately, operational costs.

Here are some lists of several mobile network operators for key regions that can be helpful during planning:

Optimize for Carrier Plans
Keep in mind that IoT communication requirements may not always align with carriers’ standard data billing plans. The number of messages sent back and forth, the amount of data sent per message, etc., can lead to large cellular bills. However, many carriers today recognize the growth and value of IoT and may provide details about IoT-specific plans and solutions on their websites.

Also, consider exploring IoT frameworks with IoT-friendly billing such as Twilio’s Cellular Connectivity service, Blues wireless’ Notehub, or Sierra Wireless’ Octave with message-based, region-specific pricing. These solutions can provide you with simplified billing plans tailored to your IoT device’s communications needs.

Most importantly, optimize your device’s communications and messaging. Try compressing data, combining data, and taking advantage of edge compute to reduce the amount of data leaving the device. For example, our Qualcomm QCM64901 with built-in cellular connectivity and Wi-Fi 6E, and Qualcomm QCS64902 with Wi-Fi 6E, both can provide edge compute that you can use to optimize your communications and messaging.

For additional examples, see Choosing an IoT Application Processor. For a complete list, see our product catalog.

Here are some other blog posts and an e-Book to check out which may be helpful for your project planning:

[1] The “M” designates the device has a modem for connectivity.

[2] The “S” designates the device is an application processor that requires an external modem.

Qualcomm MDM9206 LTE modem, Qualcomm QCM2290, Qualcomm QCM6490 and Qualcomm QCS6490 are products of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.