What are OTA Updates in IoT?

Over-the-Air (OTA) updates in IoT imply wireless delivery of software updates and patches directly to internet-connected devices. This technology eliminates the necessity of manual presence and actions, simplifying device control and maintenance. In the realm of IoT, Over-the-air-updates enable devices stay up to date with the latest available software and security standards.


Constituents of OTA IoT Updates  

Successful OTA updates can be achieved by including of the following components into the process: 

  • Firmware is a low-level software controlling IoT device hardware.  

  • Bootloader - a program responsible for loading the firmware and enabling the updates. 

  • Update server is a central server that stores and sends updates to specific IoT devices. 

  • Network connectivity includes cellular connectivity, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or other channels to transfer updates from the server to devices.  

  • Device Management Platform - software that oversees the entire update deployment process, monitors device status, and ensures successful update installation. 


Why are OTA Updates Needed in IoT? 


OTA updates are essential for maintaining and enhancing the functionality, security, and performance of a vast network of interconnected devices within the IoT landscape. They address critical aspects like: 

  • Security. Patching vulnerabilities and safeguarding devices against cyber threats. 

  • Functionality. Introducing new features and functionalities to improve device capabilities. 

  • Stability. Fixing bugs and optimizing device performance for smoother operation. 

  • Compliance. Ensuring devices adhere to evolving regulatory requirements. 

Types of OTA Updates 

Over-the-Air (OTA) updates involve two major aspects - firmware and software. Firmware Over-the-air (FOTA) updates focus on the low-level software referred to as firmware. The latter directly interacts with the IoT device's hardware. FOTA updates are essential for cyber threat protection, improving device functionality, improving hardware performance as well as updating communication protocols.  

On the other hand, Software Over-the-Air updates work with software or OS that runs on top of the IoT device's firmware. It includes new features for the device UI, bug fixes at the app or OS level, OS security upgrades, and more. 


The Flow of an OTA Update in IoT 

A typical OTA update in IoT has the following flow: 

  • Developers create and test the new software update. 

  • The tested update is uploaded to a secure update server. 

  • The device management platform schedules the update for specific devices or device groups based on pre-defined criteria. 

  • Devices receive a notification about the available update. 

  • Devices securely download the update and initiate the installation process. 

  • The device verifies the update's integrity and authenticity. In case of failures, a rollback mechanism allows reverting to the previous functional state. 

  • Upon successful installation, the device sends a confirmation message. The device management platform monitors the update status across the network.    

Top IoT FOTA and SOTA Providers 

Provider Name 

FOTA/SOTA 

Description 

Mender

FOTA 

Open-source platform specifically designed for managing FOTA updates in IoT devices. 

Redbend 

FOTA & SOTA 

Pioneer in FOTA and SOTA solutions, particularly for automotive and industrial applications. 

Microsoft Azure IoT Hub 

FOTA & SOTA 

Cloud-based solution offering device management capabilities, including secure FOTA and SOTA updates. 

Google Cloud IoT Core 

FOTA & SOTA 

Cloud-based solution offering tools for managing both FOTA and SOTA updates. 

AWS IoT Core 

FOTA & SOTA 

Cloud-based solution with functionalities for managing FOTA and SOTA updates. 

Sierra Wireless Device Management Platform 

FOTA 

Device management platform with functionalities for managing FOTA updates for devices using cellular connectivity. 

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