The number and range of connected devices is steadily increasing —  from household appliances and wearables, to utility meters and car telematics — to create the Internet of Things (IoT). And as these numbers continue to grow, the technologies conceived in the mobile industry are driving a convergence of several other industries — from machine-to-machine (M2M) to automotive and government. Although mobile is a relatively young industry, the lessons it provides will ultimately be the guiding factor to how software is managed in these devices.

Firmware Over-the-air (FOTA) updates are common in the mobile industry.  People are used to getting notices for application and OS updates.  This is currently not the case in your car, television, smart meter and other appliances.  Updating solutions using the OTA process is common in mobile technology and now, thanks to IoT, is moving into cars and other devices.  Managing software over the air is now more reliable and less expensive than having to use a certified technician.

So what is a FOTA system, and why do you need one?

 

One of three main elements of a FOTA system is the Update Generator, which identifies the essential changes between the existing firmware version and the new, updated version, and creates an extremely compact update file, called a Delta package, of these changes. The Update Generator creates Delta packages of a device image and its file system, which typically stores images, sounds, configuration data, settings, design themes, icons, menus, system status and other information that affects device appearance, configuration and branding.

Once the Delta package is created, the file is sent to the device using a communications protocol. A back-end Software Management Center uses this communications protocol to enable service providers (operators or OEMs) to centrally manage firmware, applications and mobile devices over the air. The OMA DM (Open Mobile Alliance Device Management) standard is the common protocol used to communicate between the Software Management Center and an OMA DM client on the device. This protocol, which is optimized for mobile communication, provides as part of the standard, all the management aspects of the software update process, including key security functionality and the ability to perform device provisioning (bootstrap).

After the Delta package is successfully received by the device, it is installed using a FOTA Update Installer. This software resides on the mobile device itself and performs the update installation. Optimized for the limited memory available within a mobile device, it applies the updates in-place on the device’s firmware accurately and reliably. It performs this update on connected devices with monolithic firmware images and RTOS and on smartphones with Read Only File Systems and HLOS.

The security of IoT is going to be a main concern within government entities.  These organizations will need reliable, secure software management solutions.  It may be that government entities want to own their own software management solution, or use a third party solution as a Platform as a Service (PaaS).  This is a scenario that may play out in government, with each agency having its own domain and software management and FOTA updates being handled internally.  The connection between the device and the back-end is secured with TLS or SSL 3.0 protocols, thus ensuring safe, secure updates. Additionally, FOTA solutions can be integrated with 3rd party encryption products.

Connecting anything and everything to the internet has obvious benefits from increased productivity to better management. Not only will these devices be more useful to the industries and people they serve but they will also raise service expectation levels. No longer will it be acceptable for a device to be offline for any period of time due to a software glitch, FOTA will be the expected mode of remote software maintenance. The same levels of expectation will come from the service managers that will use FOTA to add rollout new software based services in ever shorter time-frames.

FOTA is the safe and reliable norm in the mobile world and is becoming accepted in the growing world of Internet of Things.

Roger Ordman is the Director of Product Marketing for Red Bend Software. Follow Roger on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.