Choosing the right IoT platform is a complex endeavor. Whether you’re an IoT hobbyist, experienced developer, or senior executive, the landscape is massive and confusing. This article aims to clear up some of the complexity and offer a quick and scannable guide of the IoT platform landscape. It also provides criteria for how you should evaluate IoT platforms based on your needs.
“We’re a cross-functional, fully-integrated, full-stack, serverless, hardware agnostic, AI, IoT platform that offers you infinite infrastructure . . .” said every confusing IoT platform website ever.
What Is an IoT Platform?
In the simplest terms, an IoT platform is an integrated service that offers you the things you need to bring physical objects online. It needs to be capable of supporting millions of simultaneous device connections and easily allow you to configure your devices for machine-to-machine communication.
“Here’s the dirty little secret of IoT: it’s really, really hard to build a well-functioning IoT product.” — Zach Supalla
IoT Platform Types
End-to-end IoT Platforms
Fundamentally, end-to-end IoT platforms provide the hardware, software, connectivity, security, and device management tools to handle millions of concurrent device connections. It also provides all the managed integrations you need — OTA firmware updates, device management, cloud connection, cellular modem, etc — to connect and monitor a fleet of devices online.
Connectivity Management Platforms
These platforms offer low power and low-cost connectivity management solutions through Wi-Fi and cellular technologies. This can range from connectivity hardware, cellular networks, and data routing features.
IoT Cloud Platforms
Cloud platforms aim to get rid of the complexity of building your own complex network stack and offer the backend services (plus other services) to monitor and track millions of simultaneous device connections.
Of course, every type of IoT platform deals with data in some way. But these IoT data platforms combine many of the tools you need to route device data and manage/visualize data analytics.
IoT Platform Verticals
Of course, categorizing these IoT platforms under a single category is probably presenting it to simply. All these platforms tend to offer more solutions and that can’t be broken down into a single category. So you need to examine what they are offering, and who they are offering it to.
- Prototyping Solutions
- Development Kits
- DIY solutions
- Home automation
- Anything with Alexa-involved
Industrial IoT (IIoT) Solutions
- Smart factory warehousing applications
- Predictive and remote maintenance.
- Industrial security systems
- Asset tracking and smart logistics
- Energy optimization
- Transportation monitoring
- Connected logistics
- Smart Cities
What You Should Look for When Examining Platforms
When examining these platforms, these are the types of things you should be examining or looking for based on your solution:
How well does the vendor’s network coverage fit your business’s current and future initiatives?
2. Method of connectivity
What type of connectivity do you need? Do you need a Wi-Fi or cellular solution for your IoT product? You need to assess these needs and see how the vendor can address them.
3. Market Longevity
How long has the IoT platform been in business? The IoT space is relatively new, but quickly building. Finding an IoT platform that has been offering services for 4+ years is usually ideal.
4. Type of service
How does the IoT platform describe and sell themselves? Some services are purely connectivity platforms, while others are end-to-end solutions that offer the hardware, software, and connectivity. You need to assess what your business needs. How will your needs change over time?
5. Geographic Coverage
Do they provide embedded sim with global support? Does the IoT platform cover the regions your business needs?
6. Data Plan
Does the vendor offer a fair data plan? You’ll want the ability to pause or suspend your data services at any time and the ability to control how much data that is used.
Examine how they’ve deal with security and privacy issues in the past and review their security content. You need to assess how their platform combats security issues and how it abstracts the complexity away from you.
8. Managed Integrations/API Access
How does the vendor integrate all the complex stuff that you need for IoT — like cellular modems, carrier/SIM cards, device diagnostics, firmware updates, cloud connections, security, application layer, RTOS — into a simple package that your engineering team won’t have to worry about?
9. Data Access
How will you integrate the data acquired through the IoT platform with your enterprise backends and current cloud service? What do you plan to do with this data? Does the service match those needs?
10. Domain Experts/Engineering Services/Partner Collaboration
IoT deployments are complex and you need a partner who can help you through the product development process. Does the IoT platform help you service those needs?
11. IoT Ecosystem
Take the time to learn and understand the relationships between the services the IoT platform offers. This will help you learn how their services can help you build your product. If you don’t understand, talk to a sales representative.
12. IoT Roadmap
IoT platforms are only expanding from here on out. Does the IoT platform’s roadmap match your organization’s needs? Do they plan to expand into connectivity, data, hardware? How does that help you?
Does the vendor offer any off-the-shelf applications, developer kits, or starter packages for the specific use case you are targeting? You will likely have to do some customization, but not having to start from scratch can save significant time and effort.
14. Hardware Agnosticism
Hardware Agnosticism is code for “we handle the software only, meaning you’re totally on your own to build all the hard stuff.” Which means, don’t fall for it.
15. Device Management
How does the vendor allow your to monitor, segment, and manage IoT devices that are out in the field?
16. OTA Firmware Updates
How does the vendor allow you to send updates and fix bugs on your devices remotely? It is a simple or complex process? (hint: you want the simple solution).
The IoT Platform Short List
Now that you’ve learned the types of IoT platforms, the verticals, and the things you should be looking for, it’s time to start looking. Here is a short list to help you start finding the right IoT platform for your solution. Good luck!