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Three common mistakes to avoid when specifying IoT modules

Getting IoT module selection wrong at the development and design stage has huge impacts on factors such as power consumption, connectivity throughput, operational cost and device performance. This can truly make or break an IoT service either because it doesn’t provide the expected level of service to customers or because it costs so much to operate that it is not profitable. As IoT in general has matured, the decision-making process has become highly rigorous but common mistakes still occur, as Michal Gadaj, EMEA FAE Section Manager at Quectel Wireless Solution explains.

The communication module plays arguably the most important and central role in an IoT project because, without the ability to send data to the cloud, there can be no success. Without the connection, the data cannot be utilized and an action that achieves an outcome cannot be requested or initiated. Connectivity is fundamental to IoT, so getting connectivity choices wrong has one of the greatest impacts on IoT success or failure.

The complexity and number of parts that have influence on each other makes communications module selection one of the most important aspects of device development and can have significant impact on the go-to-market plans of IoT organizations. Priority should be given and appropriate resources should be allocated to the specification process to ensure that the following common mistakes are avoided:

1.Don’t choose sub-optimal technology for your project or product

This may sound obvious but there is a lot that people can get wrong here. Make sure you fully understand the needs of your product so you can select the most appropriate connectivity technology. Today, there are many different options on the market so take the time to find the right one for your situation. The option that offers the fastest connectivity might not be the best for your deployment. Equally, the most cost-effective solution might not be able to support the service your customers expect so take care to assess what you really need and don’t forget to think ahead to the next phase of development.

If your devices will be deployed for ten or more years, like smart meters for example, think about what upgrades will be required during that period and identify if over-the-air upgrade of the module is possible. Only by taking this longer term view can you future-proof your deployment.

This activity alone could substantially reduce operational cost and extend the lifetime of the device. In addition, some technologies, notably 2G cellular, are already being retired in some markets so ensure the technology you select will still be available in the future. We therefore advocate careful technology selection based on performance, longevity and operational cost.

2.If you need a global solution, don’t ignore regional differences

For global or even regional deployments there are technological and regulatory differences that must be considered. Different regions and nations adopt technologies at different paces and some skip generations or choose not to deploy specific technologies. In addition, countries and regions often allocate different spectrum bands to cellular networks and this requires different modules to ensure connectivity in each GSM band. Therefore assess which markets a device is likely to be utilised in, not just for today but in the future as well.

Quectel has a lot of experience in global deployments so we can help customers with this knowledge so they can design their devices for the global market. We keep things simple by designing modules for different GSM bands that have the same characteristics such as form factor and power consumption so developers can standardise devices as much as possible while still retaining adaptability for global markets.

3.Ensure the module and end device passes final certification

Certification can be a real show-stopper so don’t neglect it. Often we see certification put to one side and only considered as the service nears launch. Carriers have lengthy certification processes and these cannot be accelerated so make certification a priority. Understand what markets you need to access their networks in and get the process underway early.

Different mobile networks across the world have different certification requirements for devices to be used on their networks and customers need to ensure they use certified modules. If not, they could experience delay while the device is certified for use on a network. Certification can be mandated by a regulator such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US or by an operator such as AT&T or Verizon. Going through the certification process is unavoidable for new device types and this is a complex and demanding situation that can be very time-consuming and take customers into unfamiliar areas. For example, some customers have no experience of designing antennas and the radio frequency (RF) aspects of device design.

Quectel has immense certification experience and our engineers are ready to help customers get their devices through certification. Without it, they can’t provide their service or apps. It really is that important.

Key considerations

These three recommendations address common device selection challenges but this a complex landscape and each situation has individual and unique requirements and dependencies. This is why it’s also important to select the right supplier. Many technology companies offer communication modules with varying levels of support and expertise but, by choosing a module specialist which is an expert in cellular modules you can be assured of high quality and productivity modules. Quectel, for example, ensures that all of our modules will work and provide connectivity in every part of the globe.

We are far more than a module vendor. We provide a comprehensive portfolio of additional services including our antennas design services to ensure all antenna aspects are optimized. We also offer review schematics so customers can fully understand the performance of their device. In addition we offer test services to measure factors such as audio quality, radio frequency performance and reliability.  

In order to help customers learn the fundamentals of the wireless technologies, our technical support team shares its knowledge and experience with our customers through our meticulously tailored training courses. Depending on the type of deployment, we run courses to ensure customer teams have the knowledge they need to design effectively and move their projects forward effectively. Knowledge really is the most important tool for maximizing the potential of your IoT deployments.