The weakest link? How to ensure antennas aren't the single point of failure in challenging IoT deployments...

Author : Andy Bird | Managing Director | GTT Wireless

02 July 2019

GTT Wireless IoT antennas oil & gas
GTT Wireless IoT antennas oil & gas

The cost of IoT sensors continues to fall annually, allowing more & more organisations in industries that operate across large areas, such as agriculture & utilities, to roll out remote wireless IoT & M2M deployments.

This article was originally featured in the July 2019 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

To ensure these projects deliver strong ROI, hardware has to ‘tough it out’ in harsh conditions with minimal maintenance. Andy Bird, Managing Director at IP67 carrier grade IoT enclosure & antenna solutions provider, GTT Wireless, discusses the requirements for antennas selected for rugged wireless deployments – and how careful consideration of design type, connectors and interoperability can help avoid antennas becoming the weakest link.

Today, we are seeing the boundaries of IoT applications expanding and a rich variety of industrial deployments driving major ROI for organisations. Shell is a prime example. The global oil & gas company has used IoT technology to monitor the condition of remote oilfields across Nigeria, achieving $1M in savings through a reduced requirement for regular physical site inspections.

Now, we’re looking beyond the Shells of this world and seeing IoT projects no longer limited to the largest of businesses. Consider an agricultural firm that has deployed GPS trackers to monitor the location of vehicles and machinery spread across an extensive region. By tapping into real-time positioning data, agricultural managers can monitor driver technique, identify areas for optimising tractor coverage, and ensure vehicles are nearby for scheduled maintenance.

Vulnerable antennas – beware rising damp!

But feedback tells us, with these deployments come regular hardware and geographical challenges. For organisations with assets operating across a vast area, constant connectivity and high levels of reliability are vital. Hardware that is proven to resist challenging conditions such as heat, dust and repeated vibration – without sacrificing on performance or functionality – is essential to cut the need for continuous maintenance or replacement.

GTT Wireless IoT antennas remote extreme weather
GTT Wireless IoT antennas remote extreme weather

It’s important for organisations to specify hardware components for M2M applications that are proven to endure challenging conditions in outdoor environments. Antennas are no exception.

We see many antennas sporting SMA connectors. These may be cheap and readily available, but they are by no means suitable  for mission-critical operations – with water representing a major threat. These antennas might deliver suitable connectivity once installed, but incremental stresses such as the slow accumulation of moisture can have a catastrophic effect on housed PCBs.

Prevent threats from all angles

To meet the industry need for rugged IoT-capable antennas, antenna manufacturers have begun to develop extensive, enterprise-grade antenna ranges specifically tailored to resist challenging and remote conditions. Antennas that incorporate N-type connectors are ideal, since they are highly resilient to shock, vibration and other physical disturbances, as well as IK09-rated against external impact.

Mushroom-style antennas in particular are designed to enable IoT applications, supporting key communications standards such as WiFi, LoRa and LTE for greater data speeds, low power consumption and long-range transmission. These low-profile designs reduce the threat of vandalism or strike damage, and are typically IP67-rated for protection against dust and moisture.

No ‘one size fits all’ approach

Flexibility is a key consideration when implementing IoT projects. Each deployment is unique in its hardware requirements, and indoor or sheltered IoT deployments may not require rugged hardware. For this reason, it is important for designers to identify an antenna range that offers multiple connectivity options for greater customisation, whether this is N-type plugs, jacks or SMA pigtail cables. If the scope of a wireless project changes for example, from 3G connectivity to GPS, designers must take care to ensure suitable antennas are available from the same range to ensure project continuity, interoperability and comparable protection levels.

GTT Wireless IoT antennas
GTT Wireless IoT antennas

Make sure you don’t deploy the weakest link – test first!

At GTT Wireless, we operate a dedicated component IP67 testing facility to verify the durability of our N-type antennas and provide end-users with peace of mind that antennas will not be the weak link in ambitious wireless projects.

Beyond this, we strongly encourage designers to test interoperability by using a visual design tool to demonstrate how compatible antennas can be integrated into a full enclosure solution. This is particularly important when selecting the accompanying variable-sized rugged enclosures to ensure seamless integration of all components. Each component should be colour-coded for instant identification to support easy installation – ideal for large-scale deployments with hundreds of units.

Time to connect the dots

Deploying IoT for real-time, remote applications – such as co-ordinating precise vehicle movements and operations across a large area – represents a major competitive differentiator, which shouldn’t hinge on the reliability of poorly protected, off-the-shelf components.

Although SMA connectors certainly have a role to play in many wireless projects, there is little doubt that N-type connectors are now a necessity for ensuring the success of outdoor or remote wireless deployments. And as IoT technology continues to mature and the use-cases expand, we strongly recommend businesses start to plan out their journey to resilient outdoor connectivity today.

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