Should you Embed a Cellular Module?

To embed or not to embed, that is the question for Cellular IoT applications. The cellular component is typically the highest-priced component of an IoT solution, but these components have become more reasonable in price making them initially an attractive option. Choosing wisely to embed or not to embed a cellular module can make or break a product. Embedding a cellular module is difficult, time-consuming (9-18 months), and littered with unknown costs that quickly balloon the project and make ROI an elusive target.

To embed a cellular module. you have to have realistic expectations and know your capabilities without being SOLD on just doing it.

Initial questions that need to be addressed are the realistic IOT application expectations in terms of end solution cost and application volume, cellular IOT integration support from the supplier, organizational RF and electrical engineering successful experience, and cellular IOT product lifecycle support.

Here are some initial questions to ask regarding an embedded solution:

  • What are the real costs of embedding a module?

There are estimates that range from $400k – $800k intangible costs to embed a wireless module.  The range is so large, due to the fact that much of the cost is variable due to re-designs and re-certifications while including engineering costs of hardware, firmware, software, antenna design, and initial certifications.  Will your application volume support this? When can ROI be achieved? Or, should I go to an embedded modem first to launch the product and do this at 20% of the cost. Can the organization really DO THIS?

An organization has to seriously look their skill set.  Integrating cellular into an IoT solution is hard.  RF experience is a must – software and hardware experience only is not going to cut it to move a project from an idea to commercialization. It is best to evaluate this realistically before entering into a costly project.

  • What technical support offered by a wireless component supplier during engineering and post-deployment?

A module supplier offers some benefits.  Among these include A) complimentary services of schematic reviews, B) layout reviews, C) pre-screening of prototypes in testing labs, and D) debugging of issues. This engineering support will limit issues when designing to pass PTCRB and Carrier certification. But where are these services offered? Overseas? Timing? SLAs offered? Do they have the Tier 1 and Tier 2 technical support issues in the field? There will be issues, they always arise.  Who will be there to help you?

  • Cellular Roadmap to support 3G to 4G to 5G migrations and beyond

For IoT applications, this is a real topic of concern for IoT applications.  Module suppliers show a technology migration path that will limit some of the re-engineering headache and cost. But migration is a bit more complicated than just swapping one module for another as other technology required additional requirements that your application may not support – a higher power, faster speed, additional processing, higher heat, and additional antenna requirements. There will be “gotchas” that are not anticipated during re-engineering as you bear the costs of another design cycle.

Taking into account these criteria an IoT cellular solution implemented to match the application will pay dividends during the life cycle of your wireless connectivity solution.

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