5 Challenges of Internet of Things Connectivity

4 min readJun 17, 2014

At last week’s MIT Technology Review Digital Summit, I took to the stage to discuss the need for a new type of network for connecting Internet of Things embedded devices. In doing so, I also presented the five challenges of Internet of Things connectivity.

When developing IoT devices in the lab, network connectivity is fairly easy. With a couple of devices and a server running on the back end, connectivity is seamless and low latent. However, deploying that IoT app on a global scale, to thousands or even millions of users simultaneously, is a whole other ball game.

Unfortunately the Internet isn’t just one network, and considerations include heterogenous networks, including cell towers, slow connectivity, fast connectivity, proxy servers, and firewalls; all things that can disrupt connectivity.

Check out video of my talk below, or keep scrolling to see the 5 challenges of IoT connectivity:

At PubNub, we think a lot about IoT connectivity. So to make PubNub the best network for connecting and signaling between Internet of Things devices, we first had to understand the challenges of doing so. Presenting the 5 challenges of IoT connectivity:

1. Signaling

With connected IoT devices, reliable bidirectional signaling is essential for collecting and routing data between devices. That’s where IoT data streams comes into play. Devices may be talking to a server to collect data, or the server may be talking to the devices, or maybe those devices are talking to one another. No matter what the use case, data needs to get from point A to point B quickly and reliably. You need to be 100% sure that that stream of data is going to arrive at its destination every time.

2. Security

Security is a huge umbrella, but it’s paramount in Internet of Things connectivity. For example, what good is a smart home if anyone can unlock your doors? Here are three specifics:

  • Authorization: When sending or receiving a stream of data, it’s essential to make sure that the IoT device or server has proper authorization to send or receive that stream of data.
  • Open ports: An IoT device is dangerously vulnerable when it’s sitting and listening to an open port out to the Internet. You need birectional communication, but you don’t want to have open ports out to the Internet.
  • Encryption: You need end to end encryption between devices and servers.

3. Presence Detection

It’s important to immediately know when an IoT device drops off the network and goes offline. And when that device comes back online, you need to know that as well. Presence detection of IoT devices gives an exact, up to the second state of all devices on a network. This gives you the ability to monitor your IoT devices and fix any problems that may arise with your network.

4. Power consumption

Thousands of IoT devices signaling and sending data between one another takes a toll on power and CPU consumption. With all this communication, you need minimal battery drain and low power consumption. You can’t afford to use up 100% of an IoT devices’s small and expensive embedded CPU power.

5. Bandwidth

In addition to power and CPU, bandwidth consumption is another challenge for IoT connectivity. Bandwidth on a cellular network is expensive, especially with hundreds of thousands of IoT devices on a network sending request/response signals to your server.

That’s a huge server issue and a requires a large scale server farm handling all this data. You need a lightweight network that can seamlessly transfer data between devices and servers.

Connecting IoT Devices with PubNub

IoT connectivity should be a forethought before deployment, not an after thought. Having scalable IoT network to connect devices and servers is critical for a large scale IoT app. It’s essential to consider these five IoT connectivity issues.

These are the types of Internet of Things challenges we’ve solved at PubNub. With over two hundred million connected devices connected to our global real-time data stream network in fourteen data centers, we average 50 to 60 thousand transactions per second, peaking at over 3 million. PubNub is used to stream data and signal for hundreds of different IoT uses cases including:

  • Automotive: Connected cars need a real-time communication layer to stream data and signal between their fleet, dispatch, and the consumer on the app. Examples: Sidecar, Lyft, Easy Taxi, Gett, Zoomy
  • Home Automation: A real-time data stream network can be used to signal and trigger actions for smart devices and home automation solutions. Examples: Revolv, Vivint
  • Wearables: IoT wearables require a low latent, lightweight network to stream data between the device and a server. Battery, CPU, and bandwidth consumption are all important considerations that must be taken into account. Examples: 3rd Eye, AllJoyn

By 2020, it’s estimated that there will be between 20 and 30 billion connected devices on the Earth. As a result, how we connect those devices should take precedence as the IoT field grows exponentially.

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