@Aidan_Zebertavage, excellent point/discussion and, as promised, here are 's 2 cents as this particular subject is very close to our biz.
This is, ultimately, the same question(s) that everyone in the industry will have to answer since the devices, nodes, sensors, motes (however you want to describe them) are the very ‘things’ that make the Internet of Things. Having thousands or even hundreds of thousands of these now available, it is impossible and, quite frankly, unnecessary to go thru all of them in this discussion. However, we must try to ‘categorize’ them as efficient and narrow as possible to at least begin making some sense of the discussion at hand.
At least for us, these start at two main categories: 1) DIY’s, or do-it-yourself (as you mentioned : ‘Developer/Maker’ boards) and 2) Off the Shelf, or OTS already made/manufactured by somebody else for mass/commercial consumption. Why would you choose one over the other, again, is a plethora of different applications, opinions, needs, technologies, etc, and with both there are PROs and CONs, again, depending on all above. We at , taking into consideration we’re a bootstrapped, family-owned, small biz IoT provider where our main strength and focus has been connectivity, have opted for the OTS / Off the Shelf kind for our upcoming IoT packages’ solutions, and I’ll give a bit of as to why below to help in the discussion that impacts, not only OTS, but DIY as well; let’s start with the 2 main questions everyone should ask themselves 1st:
I. What is your intended ‘goal’ for your IoT device/solution/project? One would be unwise to assume that everyone involved in an IoT project even knows the ‘why’, and much less the ‘how’. And that’s ok; we’re all learning here, but at least you need to ask yourself this question first, as honestly and efficiently as possible - the success (or lack of) your project depends on this very question and corresponding answer. The folks at Beecham Research found interesting conclusions as part of their Why IoT Projects Fail survey : “…many IoT adopters [are] unclear what they want from IoT…” and, as a result, are “…wasting time, energy and resources on projects that will ultimately be unsuccessful”. We know this to be true. In an industrial project we participated in some years ago we asked the question: “Are you involved in IoT because you see the value or because of FOMO?”. We never got an answer. We’ve heard through these last 2-4 years how thousands of dollars were invested in a ‘software tool’ that couldn’t ‘connect’ well, or that ‘connectivity’ was never taken into consideration and only at the last minute a radio of technology ‘x’ was ‘dropped in’, or that the device needed to be ‘plugged in’ on an AC outlet and the project money was devoured by the UL certification alone - again, some things that look ‘trivial’ and were not taken into consideration since the beginning, now are all examples of failed projects that didn’t ask this first question and went ahead with just what they ‘knew’ (or thought they knew) about IoT. These are just some examples as well of why we decided to go OTS : knowing well in advanced our main goal was a commercial one geared towards solving specific, tangible and prioritized problems that we knew we didn’t had the resources and/or know-how to do it ourselves. Of course, our view is ‘biased’ based on our specific needs and applications, and also doesn’t mean that DIY isn’t the way to go for these or other situations, but I think you get the idea here. Which leads me to the second question…
II.Once you’ve asked yourself the question above, and have the answer and have gone DIY/OTS, do you know enough to ask the hard questions from a device standpoint? Ok, so you know what you want from an IoT device, you know how to solve it and what hardware to use. Whether DIY or OTS, and depending on application, now you need to ask yourself the next round of hard questions: is this IoT device/solution oriented towards the industry, or education, or science, household, or just a hobby? Once again, these 2nd round of questioning goes hand in hand with the 1st to determine what kind of device to pursue: DIY or OTS, and what to look for in each. For example, if its for educational purposes or as a hobby - or even commercial ones! - we know well the cost and awesome availability of DIY’s resources such as Arduinos, Raspberrys, etc have - not to mention the total control the developer have over these. But, again, if eventually the goal is to ‘sell’ these (or even if this wasn’t the intended purpose and then that changed!) then this is exactly the point where things can go on the unforeseen territory.
How will they connect, 1st, at a local level and then at scale, say at a WAN or even LPWAN or even national level? What technology(ies) to pursue in said connection based on that purpose? Do I need to follow guidelines, certifications, licensing for that? Do I go wired or wireless? Do i know enough one way or the other? Once again, having a clear vision and answering all these questions as quickly, ‘humble’ and efficient as possible will help you determine what kind of device to pursue, help to sought, and/or ‘adjust’ quickly as your project goes along.
Going back to our specific case, we knew we were not ready (yet) to go DIY, so we opted for OTS as mentioned already, and then we knew we wanted to go the LPWAN (low power wide area network) for our intended solutions based on specific long range requirements - meaning we went wireless, which is what we know best To that effect, these are some of the hard questions we ask from manufacturers and solution providers, again, as mere example of the topic at hand and not the end-all-be-all guideline (some of these apply to both, DIY and OTS!):
a. If the device is ‘plugged in’ to the wall, is it/does it need to be UL/CE listed, certified (of course, depending on country/jurisdiction)?
b. If wireless, and meant for commercial use, is it FCC (in the case of US) Part 15 certified? If DIY and for commercial applications, you NEED to make sure you understand this!
c. If technology ‘X’ for wireless communication is used, is it proprietary or open-sourced? Does it require licensing and/or royalties for its use: personal, educational or commercial?
d. Is the device/technology available/mfr through just one vendor or multiple?
e. Is there any kind of ‘Alliance’ or local/national/global standardization ‘entity’ (i.e. 3GPP, IEEE, LoRa Alliance, etc) that governs the device?
f. Whether wired or wireless, what type of information (payload) needs to be sent, what speed, bandwidth, latency requirements?
g. If battery operated, can I use typical easily available ones such as AAA, AA, CR or coin? How much will the battery last? Can I use more effective batteries such as Li or even rechargeable? How much will these cost over time?
h. If wireless, do I understand the limits and capabilities of my radio technology of choice? Does it fit the range I need to pursue? Is it, again, a proprietary radio technology offered by just one vendor or multiple or open-sourced? How does it handle the level of data and requirements from point f above? Can it be upgraded easily without ‘Rip-n-Replace’?
i. If wireless, do I know what kind of antenna is best, internal or external? How do I make sure these are of the correct band/kind? Do I know the most basic of antenna theory to make sure the device’s performance is not affected : i.e. frequency/band, VSWR, loss/gain, etc?
j. If wireless and OTS, do I get as much of these specs above mentioned from the mfr as possible (even DIY in some cases)? Are they going to support me well after the POS (Point of Sale)?
k. What precautions, guidelines and procedures you need in order to install these devices safely and legally, again, especially on the commercial side of things: indoor, outdoor specs needed (such as IPxy), cabling, grounding, etc (if wired, although even wireless hardware has wires!)?
l. Last, but not least, how secure IS my device? Does it come with embedded security of some kind or do I have to ‘add’ it? How far does the security go: between device and access point/gateway, or between device and network or all the way to the application (aka end-to-end encryption)? What kind, is it proprietary or the likes of AES, TLS, HTTPS, etc? Can you build security on top of it?
Again, these are just ‘some’ of the really hard questions one has to ask; I know is a LOT to digest but make no mistake about it: if you don’t pay attention to any/all of these - especially if in the business of scaling even at the educational or hobby level - you may very well end-up paying the same price as those mentioned before. Hope this adds a lot more ‘juice’ to the discussion and helps everyone achieve their particular IoT goals.