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What IoT devices can my business use?

IoT Devices: These are the type of devices available and this is how they function (securely)


The Internet of Things enables devices or objects of any type to be networked over long distances. The goal of this technological revolution is, among other things, to make the flow of goods visible (sensors), to prevent failures of critical systems (sensors/actuators) and to improve people's lives (keyword: smart objects and smart homes). Here you will learn about the technology behind the new, connected world and which IoT hardware is suitable for which purpose.

It has been predicted that more than 55 billion IoT devices will be connected worldwide by 2025. It all started in 1982 with an “intelligent” cola machine that automatically reported both its inventory and the beverage temperature to a central point. A lot has happened since then. Nowadays, IoT devices enable modern machine communication and intelligent goods tracking. But is it free of risk? What mechanisms can be used to protect IoT devices against unauthorised reading or use?

Which IoT devices are available?

The Internet of Things is not a long way off; it is already in use in many industries. In mid-2020, Vodafone alone reported more than 100 million IoT connections in use. 

In essence, all devices and components connected to the internet, either wired or wirelessly, are IoT devices. They record, process and transmit data obtained from their environment. Such an IoT device typically has a globally unique IP address from the IPv6 environment, sometimes (in sophisticated devices) even from the Ipv4 environment.

What types of IoT components are there anyway? And which chip is suitable for which purpose? Not every conceivable sensor needs to be connected to the Internet - the processing devices usually do so when data is to be stored and analysed in the cloud. Apart from that, not every conceivable IoT-capable device needs to actively influence connected hardware. This decision should be governed by intelligent control in the background and possibly even manual control.

The intelligent combination of inexpensive passive components and reusable active hardware is the basis for many successful IoT applications, some of which have been implemented with great success:

The beginning of IoT in the simplest form: The passive RFID-Chip

Passive RFID-Chips in their simplest form have been in use for quite some time now. For example, in department stores as a security device and as package stickers. They consist of a "sticker" that conceals an antenna and coding. If an RFID reader sends out a corresponding radio signal, the RFID chip “responds” with its ID code within a limited radius.

When in doubt, you always know whether your goods or an (previously unpaid) item of clothing are kept where they are expected to be.

RFID-Chips with memory function and range

More sophisticated RFID chips not only transmit their own (fixed) ID, but also data, if desired. For example, temperature, pressure or humidity data in the current environment.

These chips are naturally more expensive and more complex than simple adhesive labels but can also be used several times if in doubt.

IoT boards with USB or WLAN modules

What’s more exciting: IoT applications capable of saving more than just sensor data in the device on location and transmitting this data over long distances.

Needless to say, an RFID-Chip can, in principle, be connected to the internet — however, to do this, sophisticated IoT boards or microcomputers such as Raspberry Pi (more about that later) are used. These can still have a built-in RFID chip but have more memory and built-in "system logic".

IoT boards with mobile communications network

An IoT board with a stationary Internet connection (even a WLAN connection is locally limited) can be the method of choice in many cases. The bridge between more intelligent logistic processes and autonomous mobility is still the mobile network. Thanks to a mobile connection, the connected products can move freely and can transmit data at any conceivable location, subject to connection to your network. With narrowband technology based on the LPWA standard this even works in particularly remote places, which is also subject to connection to your network.


The NB-IoT Development Kit

Are you planning an IoT application in a challenging environment? This could be, for example, a basement installation for your customer or a sensor installation in the "countryside".

To find out whether the network connection is sufficient for your purposes and to implement your IoT project step by step, there is NB-IoT Development Kit. It was specially developed to design complex IoT projects in remote locations and to set up a network of sensors.

With the NB-IoT Development Kit from Vodafone, you can integrate existing sensors in a few simple steps and test a planned site network in advance.

What are IoT devices used for?

There are innumerable applications for the Internet of Things. It is obvious that fixed and permanently installed IoT chips may not only cost a little more, but in many cases also have to be much more robust than "disposable chips", such as those from the invisible anti-theft device.

Different IoT sensors and devices are installed, sometimes in combination and, depending on the application, with sophisticated logic and sensors. Here are some examples of such applications:

  • Door key with built-in RFID chip and the appropriate readers
  • Packaged goods tracking via the Internet
  • IC chips in consumables such as printer cartridges (fill level control)
  • Automatic order buttons on devices and intelligent refrigerators
  • Applications for environmental monitoring (e.g. air quality)
  • Smart City applications of any type (e.g. electric filling stations)
  • Monitoring of complex mechanical devices and their optimisation
  • Medical technology(e.g. Wearables or portable blood pressure monitoring devices)
  • Access control systems of any kind
  • HVAC systems (Heating-Ventilation-Air Conditioning) in homes and offices
  • Network cameras (IP cameras) for property monitoring
  • SPS/PLC systems in the industry (programmable logic controllers)
  • Out-of-Band-Controllers, for example, to monitor servers
  • Even Smart Factory components, but not only in the production area

How risky or secure are IoT devices?

Like any other device (e.g. a computer) on the Internet, IoT devices are exposed to potential attacks. This not only includes data theft, but also the deliberate manipulation of sensors and actuators. There could be several reasons for this: Sometimes it's about mere spying on the flow of goods, sometimes about industrial espionage and in other cases, systematically impairing companies in their day-to-day business.

Transfer as little data as required and encrypt if possible

First of all, IoT devices are just as secure or unsecure as any other device on the Internet. Nevertheless, the following applies: transfer as little data as possible in daily IoT operations and do this as seldom as possible. The less data you send across the Internet, the less susceptible your device is to eavesdropping and less conspicuous as a potential target. In principle, sensitive data should be transmitted in encrypted form in all IoT considerations, especially with wireless connections. The encryption strength, i.e. the length of the key for sender and recipient, should be at least 128 bits. This makes it almost impossible for third parties to eavesdrop on your data.

Block unnecessary ports for more sophisticated applications

Furthermore, especially with more complex IoT devices such as the Raspberry Pi or others with their own operating system, you should block all ports that are not required. There have been cases in which certain ports (i.e. interfaces for communication with the outside world) were open for incoming requests, although this was not necessary. The same principle applies here as with normal computers: Allow only those services and only open those ports that are actually required.

Secure sensitive equipment separately

IoT devices are often used in access control systems. Many electronic door locks that have not been configured correctly can become a gateway for hackers - and unintentionally open the area behind them. This may not be that bad for HVAC devices (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), but a failed cooling system can quickly spoil sensitive goods in summer - with the corresponding consequences.

All IP cameras (webcams) whose images could be tapped and manipulated, for example to spy on systems or to commit theft, are also sensitive. Here, too, the following is applicable: Protect all data with effective mechanisms such as encryption, authentication procedures and shutdown and alarm in the event of possible manipulation.

Somewhat less well known, but all the more critical for industry, are the SPS/PLC systems (programmable logic controllers), as used in large-scale systems. Appropriate protection against DDoS attacks ("Distributed Denial of Service", targeted overloading of the system due to too many simultaneous requests) should definitely be performed in this case.

All in all, the recommended effort for securing an IoT device increases with the degree of its sensitivity.


Mobile connection at hardware level: SIM cards and SIM chips for your IoT applications

SIM cards or related components are also used in the IoT domain or mobile data transmission, provided that WLAN or a connection via Ethernet is not used. Here, too, the type depends on the planned application:

The standard SIM protocol (Mini-SIM, Micro-SIM or Nano-SIM)

Here you can simply equip your existing hardware or an existing Smartphone with a SIM card. Depending on the selected or existing card slot, you can choose between Mini -SIM (2FF)-, Micro -SIM (3FF)- or Nano-SIM (4FF)-cards.

The Industrial SIM Chip (DFN-8)

Are you planning an application with special environmental and operational conditions? Then you must consider a SIM chip for industrial applications. It can be permanently installed, works in extreme temperature ranges from minus 40 to plus 105 degrees Celsius, can withstand a large number of write and erase cycles and reliably stores data for up to ten years even at an ambient temperature of 85 degrees.


Which network for which IoT application? The difference between 2G, 4G and NB-IoT

You have various options for connecting your IoT application(s) to the (private or public) Internet. Use either the 2G/narrowband IoT network or the 2G and 4G radio network - depending on the environment and application.


IoT EasyConnect NB: In 2G/NB-IoT-network transmission

This connection type uses existing, high-speed 2G network along with the Narrowband-IoT-Technology based on the LPWA-Standard. It reliably transmits even in difficult-to-reach areas such as basements. 

Ideal for: Smart City, Smart Metering, Smart Farming or Tracking applications.

IoT EasyConnect 4G: Uses the 2G/4G network

Wherever larger amounts of data have to be transmitted and the position of the monitored asset can change, our solution based on the 2G and 4G network is ideal. The 4G network in particular enables a high bandwidth for data transmission, while NB-IoT’s strength lies in transmitting small amounts of data over long distances.

Ideal for: Mobiles tracking, Transport and logistics, as well as Fleet management.


These operating systems for IoT devices exist

Last but not least, you must consider a suitable operating system for your application(s). If this is not already specified in the hardware requirements, as is the case with programmable logic blocks and you are planning applications based on the Raspberry Pi, for example, you have the choice:

Windows 10 IoT

With Windows 10 IoT, Microsoft has developed an interesting, particularly slim and powerful version of its popular operating system. Not only can it be easily installed on a Raspberry Pi, but also on other systems such as POS solutions.

Android Things

Android Things is an exciting platform for IoT applications developed by Google. However, it has since been announced that Android Things will be reserved primarily for OEM partners in the future. The Android Things SDK will probably still be available as an open platform.

If you are a Google OEM partner or wish to become one or, above all, want to experiment with IoT, it is still worth taking a look at Android Things. The devices supported of now are the NXP Pico i.MX7D and the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B.


How to turn an ordinary device into an IoT device

In principle, bringing a company and its application into the IoT world, is not difficult. All you need are suitable sensors (if required, actuators), suitably configured hardware (Boards), a clever idea and a connection to the high-performance Vodafone network. Add to this a suitable security by means of encryption and other mechanisms described above.

In the current IoT Spotlight Report you will learn more about how to optimise your digital strategy with the Internet of Things, accelerate IoT projects and minimise implementation risks. With this introduction you will get all the information you need to venture into the IoT world yourself. The first step to a successful future is by clicking on the download button.

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