Original article published in Electronik Praxis (original in German) 24/9/2020|
Author: Michael Eckstein
An IoT device without a data connection is like a train without tracks: nothing moves. Therefore, distributor Arrow Electronics and connectivity provider Arkessa want to be a ‘one stop shop’ for developers of IoT products. In an interview with ELEKTRONIKPRAXIS, the companies explain their approach.
The industrial IoT has set out to revolutionize applications such as machine maintenance or goods tracking. If you believe the providers, in many cases a central office will be sufficient in the future to know exactly where a certain asset is being shipped or which ball bearing in which machine may no longer run smoothly. This is made possible by global networking via the Internet of Things.
But is it really that simple? After all, choosing a normal cell phone contract is a Sisyphean task given the myriad possible options. And here are usually only two to three mobile network operators (MNO) on the shortlist.
The situation is different in the IoT: several MNOs already offer IoT connectivity services on a national level. There are also alternative machine networks such as Sigfox or LoRaWAN. Which provider is suitable for your own project? As soon as a product is to be used internationally in neighboring countries or even worldwide, it becomes completely confusing. Which MNO offers which services and where? How reliable are the networks? What functionalities and security standards do the providers promise? And can you adhere to them? How does cross-border roaming work? With all the variables, can stable operation of your own IoT product be ensured at all?
When it comes to connectivity, many developers are overwhelmed
Even established hardware manufacturers are often overwhelmed when it comes to connectivity. And you are quickly faced with the question of whether you can acquire the necessary knowledge as quickly as your product should come onto the market. In addition, it is very likely that some hardware and / or software design points depend on the connectivity services to be evaluated. If things go stupid, their own developers have to unthread and rework finished designed packages – with all the effects on processes, for example in quality assurance and testing.
Alternatively, they can turn to providers who specialize in global connectivity services. Arrow and Arkessa go one step further: The distributor is cooperating with the connectivity specialist to make it as easy as possible for users to develop IIoT products. “Arkessa has been working with mobile network operators, the MNOs, worldwide for well over ten years. We have developed connectivity services that can be tailored precisely to the needs of industrial customers and, if necessary, also support global roaming, ”says Paul Donaldson, International Sales Director at Arkessa.
With division of labor to a complete offer for IIoT
Arrow contributes hardware, software and design expertise. “Due to our history as a distributor, we have access to the latest technologies from the top semiconductor manufacturers,” says Iain Warner, Engineering Manager, IoT, EMEA at Arrow Electronics.
Together, they can put together an overall package, from the selection of components to the design with the help of suitable development kits and the required connectivity services, which simplifies and accelerates the development of their ideas for customers as much as possible, including the finished product, including customized connectivity.
“Ideally, we clarify in advance with the customer what functions the product should have and where it should be used,” says Warner. His experience so far would show that customers are happy to receive more than just a recommendation from Arrow: “We’ll guide them through the entire process together.”
Myriad possibilities drag out the selection process
The Arrow manager warns that developers should not underestimate the effort involved in evaluating the connectivity solution that is best suited for their intended use. He locates his customers in many vertical markets, such as Industry 4.0, retail, smart city, transport, warehousing, infrastructure projects such as smart metering and others. “They all have individual, often very different, data connection requirements,” explains Warner.
Depending on the intended use – regional, national, international or even global – a number of MNOs and their often extensive offers would have to be examined in detail. A task that in itself can take months.
But nobody has that time anymore: The typical time-to-market for electronic products has drastically shortened in recent years – with the same or higher demands on their quality. “The process used to take 9 to 18 months,” says Warner, “today even a new development should be ready for the market after 3 to 6 months”. In order to be able to better support their own customers in the development of IoT products, the existing cooperation with Arkessa has been expanded.
Global roaming platform brings together cellular networks around the world
What is the difference between Arkessa and an MNO like Deutsche Telekom or Vodafone? “We are an independent mobile virtual network operator,” says Donaldson. In other words: Arkessa works worldwide with the MNOs operating in the respective countries and can thus offer consistent connectivity – on a global scale. The company offers, so to speak, a meta cellular service for data communication for IoT applications.
The clear focus is on industrial embedded applications, says Donaldson: “We work with the most important semiconductor, module and embedded SIM manufacturers.” This enables you to offer targeted connectivity solutions – and developers of the tedious MNO -Free evaluation process. Industrial customers have been served for over a decade, “Back then, IoT was still called M2M,” says Donaldson with a smile.
The market has changed during this time, the Arkessa manager sums up: “In the past, the focus was on the hardware product, today it is comprehensive services.” And in order to be able to sell IoT services, you need a reliable hardware as well as the hardware , secure and cost-effective connectivity.
Immediately usable IoT product instead of just functioning hardware
And this is exactly where the cooperation with Arrow comes into play: Together, customers can be given intensive advice right from the start – from component selection to design and engineering to tailor-made connectivity solutions. “Arrows customers get exactly the solution they need: from SIM to the cloud, including the often complex routing of data over cellular networks, and everywhere,” says Donaldson.