Connectivity Challenges When Using Off-the-Shelf IoT Hardware

Internet of things (IoT) is the next big thing after AI and Big Data. Many startups and even multi-billion-dollar companies are designing or creating new applications for connected devices under the category of IoT. The applications for IoT devices include smart city, smart home, connected cars, connected vehicles, smart agriculture, smart entertainment and much more. There is no doubt that this list will grow even further in the near future.

Some significant challenges exist when designing of IoT devices. Connectivity Challenges, Privacy, Compatibility, Longevity, and Security. In this article, we will focus on connectivity challenges.

Many startup companies prefer to develop new IoT software applications for single board computer off-the-shelf hardware such as Raspberry Pi, for example. They often undermine the importance of designing good hardware products for two reasons. These are, that hardware is commoditized and a software startup has more value than the hardware startup. Due to these reasons, off-the-shelf hardware or microcontroller is purchased and used together with USB dongle wireless radios (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Cellular).

What are the implications of this? Is this good or bad? We can certainly tell you that there is no advantage in using off-the-shelf hardware. The disadvantages however are:

Table 1: Single board computer off-the-shelf hardware available in the market
(click to view full-sized table)

  1. Table 1 shows a single board computer off-the-shelf hardware list available in the market for quick and easy product development. Many of them incorporate multiple wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, Cellular (LTE, 2G, 3G), Bluetooth and GPS. They have UFL or SMA connectors on board so all we need are antennas to make the boards functional for our products. However, take note that these boards are not certified nor designed for certification. Due to this, if you trying to package these hardware with your software as a product to sell, I’m certain that it will fail the product certification. To know about product certification, please read my blog post titled “How to Get Your IoT Product Certified at Minimum Cost”. Moreover, the product certification will cost a bomb. In many cases which i have personally experienced, it will be almost impossible to certify the product, simply because those single board computers were never meant to be certified.
  2. If you choose a single board computer which has only one wireless radio, you can use the module FCC or CE id for your product and you need not recertify your product. However, if you use a single-board computer with two or more wireless technology co-located, the module certification will void and you need to certify your product. Due to this, most companies will be choosing a single board computer with one wireless radio in the product to avoid product certification. Therefore, you will be forced to focus on a niche market whereas IoT devices have a huge market which is expected to achieve exponential growth in the coming years.
  3. Product designed using a single board computer will not provide good performance because it is not designed for co-location and co-existence of multiple wireless technologies. Noise and spurs due to interference from crystal oscillators, RF components and lines in the board will result in poor/unacceptable product performance. Due to poor quality and significant number of field and performance issues, your sales and revenue will face a substantial drop.
  4. If you using single board computer as your product, you will not be able to optimize your product power consumption, battery life, size, shape, cost, efficiency and other heardware features. What you get is what you have to work with.