The perfect partnership: SMS and IoT
by Glen Kunene
For all the excitement around the internet of things, there’s a fairly ordinary communication technology at the heart of IoT devices connected: text messaging.
Even as other technologies promise lower power requirements or offer greater bandwidth, SMS has something no other tech can offer: near ubiquity.
IoT and data-transfer
Let’s look in more detail at how SMS and IoT fit together.
That one term, “the internet of things”, actually covers a huge array of different technologies. In fact, industrial IoT looks set to become so huge a sector that, according to one report, it could add up to $14.2 trillion to the global economy by 2030.With that specialisation comes differing technological needs. It’s no surprise that a heart monitoring implant, for example, has hugely different requirements from a remotely operated camera used to monitor wild animal herds.
What might seem surprising is that not all IoT devices connect directly to the internet. What’s really important in IoT is not an internet connection but the efficient communication of data.
So, how do you choose?
Selecting the best way to transport data is matter of weighing-up four factors:
● distance between devices
● availability of power
● volume of data transfer
● security requirements.
Despite newer comms technologies, such as zigbee, SMS can still deliver the best trade-off between each of these. The international rollout of smart meters illustrates just why.
Case study: smart meters
On first glance, the utility meter may appear to be a rather mundane technology.
Barely changed since its invention in 1888, the humble meter is now changing beyond recognition as part of one of the world’s largest IoT deployments. And the programme is pushing current IoT tech to its limits.
While many large IoT projects exist within a single company or group, the smart meter rollout will involve billions of individual customers and thousands of suppliers.
In the UK alone, there will be 50 million smart metres deployed by 60 energy retailers supplying 29 million domestic properties via 14 electricity distributors and eight gas distribution networks.
Even before it can be thought of as an IoT project, this is a major logistics and communications project. For smart metering to succeed, it needs reliable two-way communication right across a nation of greatly varying landscapes and uneven access to broadband.
The UK does have, though, near universal SMS coverage and, in the southern part of the UK, Telefonica is putting their O2 cellular network at the heart of the smart metering communications network. Where there is strong mobile coverage, meters connect to the central network via 3G or GPRS. For all those places where mobile data is unreliable –– or entirely unavailable –– SMS provides a reliable fallback.
App fatigue? SMS can help
It barely seems credible, but is it possible that we've been so overwhelmed by apps (2.2million in the Apple App Store and 2.7 million in Google Play) that we're starting to suffering from app fatigue?
And as IoT helps offer smart locks and motion sensors for the home and hue light bulbs for the office, do people have enough mindspace to deal with yet more apps? Not forgetting that each new IoT app carries with it a potential risk to security.
It's in the face on this tsunami of technology that SMS offers a smaller, quieter and, perhaps, calmer alternative.
Hive smart thermostats are a great example. As well as an app, they offer an SMS interface. Setting your home’s temperature to 20 degrees becomes a simple matter of texting, “HEAT ON 20” to the right number.
Old friend, new benefit
Like most old friends, SMS is pretty much always there when we need it. While it’s great for wishing our friends “happy new year”, in the context of IoT it is helping businesses to deploy smart devices to places where other, flashier, comms methods just can’t reach.
With cloud communications platforms, SMS is today available to anyone who can make a few API calls. Suddenly, building a network of IoT devices with rock-solid communication is easier than ever.
It’s true that other communications methods will probably be more suitable where high bandwidth or speed are important, but the cost and coverage of SMS are hard to beat.
Check the Nexmo APIs!