IoT is transforming the world and creating a connected society

Connectivity and IoT

Written by Prof. Adam Beaumont, CEO of aql

Lets look at IoT in the beginning. When modems were modems and GSM was the standard, 9600 baud, with provenance back to Emile Baudot, the inventor of one of the early telegraphic codes, creating a yardstick for data communication. One baud (Bd) is one bit per second (b/s).   Early IoT was a mixture of data-over-GSM. (Remember AT commands? Another thank-you and acknowledgement to Dennis Hayes – names which are part of the near forgotten start of the internet.)

The point is – there wasn’t much of a data rate, so, the idea of sending data was tricky.  Remote devices tended to be “things” such as water level meters, alarms, power billing, asset tracking.  Because it was hard to establish a data session, a lot of data used to be transmitted by SMS – a quirk of mobile communications.  SMS was an almost accidental byproduct of designing a GSM service. It was a way of sending 160 characters to-and-fro over the mobile network via a protocol which is unknown to many – “SS7” or Signalling System No.7.

SS7 is still in use across the globe and a lot of the messaging which isn’t Whatsapp or iMessage is SS7.  It’s simple, robust and just works. However, with a small payload of 160 characters (or multiple lumps of 160 characters), it’s really only useful for a remote sensor to say “I’m too hot”, “I’ve used this much power”, “I’m here/there”, or “I’m broken – please fix me”.  This was the earliest IoT – mostly around monitoring of remote devices.

However – as we progressed from GSM, to GPRS (General Packet Radio Services), we now had the luxury of many tens of kilobits per second (!). But most importantly this was a continuous data stream, and so it was possible to have two way data dialogues – and to manage the overhead of encryption within that dialogue.  Now we had devices saying “I’m too warm, please tell me what I should do?” i.e to move from monitoring, to monitoring and control. Now we have open loop systems, where the smart decisions are not being made on the device, but by a centralised system. This has revolutionised IoT from an intelligence perspective, because centralised decisions can be made which allow the control of a myriad of devices in the field. For example – the device may say “the water level is too high in the reservoir” – the answer from the central system “please open the sluice gates and discharge water downstream”.  

This is a revolution, but if the wrong reservoir was emptied (or multiple reservoirs) at the wrong time, towns could submerge or worse.  As this technology was embraced, what was a commodity industry of “mobile connectivity” became more important. As our own group of telecoms operators have evolved over the last two decades, we’ve strived to create secure-by-design services, which provide an extra layer of control and assurance.  As long ago as 2008, we created a remote connectivity service, which could allow, via an API , for our partners to configure end devices to only communicate back to their control platform. This layer of extra security helps to provide part of the defence-in-depth approach to securing the devices which control our cars, wind turbines, traffic signals and health monitoring.

At the same time as we’ve built this security into our systems, we’ve also realised it’s had some great peripheral benefits. For example, we can provide SIMs for innovation – secure data SIM cards which can only talk to the control platform for the device, building in an extra layer of security to the innovator.  We’re now starting to see the industry not just want low-cost connectivity to remote devices, but the recognition of the importance of secure connectivity.

Talking of innovation, we’ve been working alongside the Leeds City Region where we are based. Over the last 5-10 years, we’ve seen a growth in the ecosystem, including the Open Data Institute Leeds node. It’s this journey that is creating a connected society, changing the world with tech advances that are truly transforming the world we live in.


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