Among the major pain points faced by the industry sector, especially in manufacturing, are incidences of accidents and injuries. Treatment and rehabilitation of injured staff can require huge chunks of company money and result in unplanned downtimes and inefficiency. Fortunately, with the advent of industry 4.0 technology, such instances can be drastically minimized to improve both the well-being of workers and the overall business health of industries.
As such, the industry 4.0 revolution (4IR), at a relatively fast pace across the globe, is delivering on its promise of enhancing productivity and efficiency, cost optimization, new opportunities, customer satisfaction and safety. The Global System for Mobile Communication Association (GSMA) predicts that, by 2025, there will be more than 25 billion Internet of Things (IoT) connections globally. The industrial IoT (IIoT) enables machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, making manufacturing facilities smart and digitalized. For instance, by using sensors to monitor factory floor data, manufacturers can gain insights into their facility to optimize processes, improve machine performance, reduce waste and energy consumption, etc. Moreover, 86% of surveyed IT decision-makers in the UAE regarded accelerating the pace of innovation, digitizing their business and moving IT infrastructure to the digital edge as among the highest priorities in their organization’s technology strategy.
To bring all this together, cellular or mobile networks are the fundamental component of the 4IR ecosystem. The need and demand for cellular networks to connect physical devices such as vehicles, electronic devices and other “things”, allowing access to systems and machines from remote locations via applications and mobile devices is gaining momentum. Small wonder that cellular IoT technology is projected to be a market worth $5.31 billion by the year 2023.
LTE-M and NB-IoT are networks designed specifically for IoT connections that will be further propelled into 5G. LTE- M offers a lower price point as well as voice and SMS support while NB-IoT offers low power and low data usage for long-range and reliability.
As Mobile IoT networks use dedicated spectrum bands under the terms of the licenses issued by regulators, interference from other radio technologies is kept to a minimum. Moreover, all mobile operators employ Subscriber Identity Modules (SIMs), which contain highly secure integrated circuits to authenticate the devices accessing their networks and services. Although SIMs are recognized by end-users and provide a secure means for authenticating devices onto networks, eSIMs, or embedded SIMs, is a digital alternative to physical SIMs, connecting devices to a network over the air. Initially adopted for wearable devices and connected cars, eSIMs are also now a key component of the IIoT.
Mobile operators can supplement the inherent security capabilities in their networks by pursuing four main aspects of security features as proposed by GSMA that can add significant value for their customers.
Secure communication channels:
Mobile operators must ensure that customer/user data is encrypted while traveling across their infrastructure. In cases of this data entering less secure environments (e.g. the Internet), mobile operators can provide and manage secure connections using virtual private networks (VPNs) and encrypted Internet connections. Operators can also enable individual customers to use dedicated communication channels to ensure that no data enters a public network, such as the Internet. These methods can be used in conjunction with secure, private access point names (APNs) dedicated to a specific customer in order to keep their data communications isolated from other traffic.
For IoT applications, devices typically only need to communicate with a specific set of servers. It is, therefore, good security practice to restrict the communication from this device to these specific servers, meaning a compromised device cannot communicate with any other destination, thus limiting any potential threat. Such restrictions could be implemented, for example, using a whitelist of IP addresses, IP address ranges or URLs. Moreover, unessential connectivity capabilities can be disabled in the devices’ HLR/HSS (home location register/home subscriber server), to prevent misuse. For example, if the devices in question only use SMS and voice, the data connectivity should be disabled.
Data over NAS (DoNAS):
Data over NAS (DoNAS) allows the network to transport user data within signaling messages. This feature transports data via the MME (mobility management entity) by encapsulating it in NAS (non-access stratum) signaling. DoNAS can be used to transport both IP and non-IP traffic. The customer/user data is encrypted and integrity protected using the same mechanism reserved for network signaling, thus ensuring similar levels of protection. This feature works well for short data transactions, for example with UDP (user datagram protocol) traffic, where a few packets are sent per connection.
Non-IP Data Delivery (NIDD):
NIDD is used in conjunction with DoNAS to allow a device to send data to the network without an IP stack, without an IP address and without an IP header or transport header. NIDD can transport data using a Point-to-Point (PtP) Serving Gateway interface (SGi) tunnel to the application server or by using the service capability exposure function (SCEF). The SCEF provides a means to securely expose service and network capabilities through network application programming interfaces (APIs).
Globally and regionally, the digital transformation of industries is being seen as the most important driver of economic development. Huge investments have already been made to that end. The industry sector is well-placed to benefit from the technologies that drive 4IR – namely artificial intelligence, IIoT, big data analytics and cloud computing. Network service providers need to ensure that the connectivity process is streamlined and immutable to breaches for continued success.