What is an OTA update and why is it important?

OTA updates

An Over-The-Air (OTA) update is the wireless transfer of the latest software, firmware, or other information to devices connected with a mobile network.

Cloud_SecurityOver-The-Air updates are commonly used by wireless carriers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to deliver firmware and configure smartphones and other devices for operation on their systems via Wi-Fi or mobile broadband. An Over-The-Air update, for example, is required for the activation of a recently bought smartphone. Carriers and producers have started to turn to various Over-The-Air update design techniques for launching new operating systems to mobile phones, iPods, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices as the number of these devices has developed.

Why are OTA updates necessary for a company and an individual?

LTE and 5G will account for one-third of all cellular IoT interconnection. Also, vast numbers of connected devices will soon be allowing different sectors such as smart cities, public transportation, automatic fare collection systems, industrial automation, to do software updates and more. There is soon one critical requirement to address, which is retaining these widely dispersed implementations up to date.

Updates keep you safe from manipulable cavities in your organization, but old and outdated software is susceptible to cybercriminals. It's particularly crucial to obtain security in place because software update notes frequently unveil patched-up hackable gateways to the public. With the common disclosure of these flaws, fraudulent users looking for a way into your company and sensitive data will find your organization extremely vulnerable.

Application and firmware updates are required for electronics such as computers, iPods, and cellphones, as we all know. Smart or edge devices, likewise, must be updated to keep deployments healthy, boost efficiency, and upgrade to new security measures.

Upgrades may appear to be costly, but the reality is that older systems have more difficulties, resulting in higher costs. The cost of downtime caused by insecure systems and software can quickly exceed the cost of upgrading the system. Don't jeopardize your company by refusing to upgrade your software; you'll come to regret it. Keep in mind that doing nothing has a price!

People's ability to work with or for an organization can be hampered by outdated and unproductive systems and software, resulting in frustration. The out-of-date system offers the impression that your company is behind the times. Instead, invest in Over-The-Air technology to provide an improved experience for your customers while also allowing your employees to increase their speed and profitability.

How it works

How OTA updates work

From the end user's standpoint, OEMs have several choices for distributing OTA updates to consumers; these updates can be either automated or manual.

An automated OTA update from a mobile operator's backend structure can deliver a firmware upgrade to the end customer's device. Using things that automate OTA updates, such as platforms from Smith Micro and Akamai, or emteria Device Hub, especially for Android IoT devices, OEMs can maintain and apply OTA upgrades to their end customers' gadgets and products. Automatic OTA updates are ideal for devices that are located in remote places, such as IoT devices and sensors, or for gadgets that do not have a regular human touch, such as autonomous vehicles.

Manual OTA updates alert a customer about a new downloadable update, and the customer can choose whether to accept it. Cell phone providers may also send text messages to all consumers with a given device, asking them to contact a number to obtain a software update whenever they like to do so.

OTA updates can be received in a range of methods by IoT devices. A microcontroller receives firmware images from a remote server in order to update hardware resources or applications with edge-to-cloud OTA upgrades. A gateway-to-cloud connection is required to upgrade the software app to the gateway's firmware. OTA updates are obtained from a distant server via an internet-connected connection.

Types of OTA updates

OTA updates can be classified into two categories from the viewpoint of the edge device/end-user:

Automatic OTA updates

These updates are distributed by the producers of IoT devices and are implemented on the devices automatically based on configuration settings such as automatic update enable flags and update schedules. For example, the device admin could specify that an IoT device only receives updates during the night or within specific hours, as the device is not in use during these hours. This is esspecially helful for critical, but also less critical, security patches for Android and Linux. Automatic OTA updates are useful for single-purpose devices which are continiously operated by different people, e.g. public ticket vending machines.

Manual OTA updates

Using manual OTA updates makes sense for updates that aren't typically needed for the user, such as operating system feature updates and UI updates. Besides that, manual OTA updates make sense when a device is closely associated with a user, like a smartphone.

In this case, the end-user must run the update-checker routine to check for updates and, if any are found, opt-in to install them. The firmware of an IoT device may occasionally alert the user of an available update, giving him the option of whether to install it. Examples are UI updates, Linux kernel upgrades, feature updates, etc.

From the perspective of an admin, manual OTA updates could also be called half-automatic OTA updates as the software building and uploading process still takes place in an automated way. However, the installation of updates on the final device happens manually by interaction from a user.

OTA update methods

OTA updates can be distributed via the web, a specialized gateway device, a local network (router), or even by connecting to personal hardware, wirelessly. OTA updates can be accomplished in three ways:

  • Edge-to-Cloud OTA updates (E2C)
  • Gateway-to-Cloud OTA updates (G2C)
  • Edge-to-Gateway-to-Cloud OTA updates (E2G2C)

Edge-to-Cloud updates (E2C)

OTA packages are received by a connected device with a built-in microcontroller or microprocessor from a remote server. Upgrades to the microcontroller/underlying microprocessor's hardware capabilities (also referred to as firmware Over-The-Air - FOTA) as well as updates to applications that run on them can be included in the package.

The E2C update technique is used by Google Home, Apple Siri, and the Nest thermostat, to name a few. Using specific services like JFrog (Linux) or Emteria (Android), Raspberry Pi and other single board computer-based systems can also receive updates in the same way.

Advantages of E2C OTA updates: 

It basically ensures that devices are brought up to date, and if the process fails, it protects the existing fleets from fraud.

Disadvantages of E2C Over-The-Air updates: 

Single upgrades could take a very long time if the fleet is large. It's also important to make sure that the right device(s) are selected to deliver the update, taking into account the device's present state of operation. For example, when the device is in the center of initiating crucial tasks, the updates need to be deferred no matter how much we are trying to get the updates installed on the device. Half-automatic updates, as described above, provide a remedy here.

Gateway-to-Cloud OTA updates (G2C)

A telematics system, for example, is responsible for a collection of the locally used device(s) and gets updates from the cloud-based server which is remote via an Internet-connected gateway. The described updates contain the most recent versions of the installed software package(s), the app's host-environment, and/or the gateway named device's firmware. In this situation, the gateway gets updated rather than the associated devices.

Devices that use G2C OTA update techniques include remote energy monitoring system(s), ATM(s), and other known bank and financing services like kiosks. This update strategy make-better the system's safety by protecting the devices from outwardly known and unknown attacks and flaws.

Advantages of G2C Over-The-Air updates:

The gateway may become actualized while running transmission and processing task(s) because it is updated rather than the sensor or sensor nodes.

Disadvantages of G2C OTA updates: 

G2C updates are a concern in terms of security and durability, since the gateway operates as a singular point of failure, potentially rendering the entire system useless if an OTA update fails. The entire system might be rendered useless if the gateway is unable to recover from a failed update procedure.

Furthermore, because the gateway device manages several nodes and receives data from them on a frequent basis, it is hard to forecast when the update will be available for installation. It is realistic to suppose that the system's operation will be disrupted throughout the upgrade procedure in this case.

Edge-to-Gateway-to-Cloud Over-The-Air updates (E2G2C)

A controller, an Internet-connected gateway, downloads updates from a cloud-based server and distributes them to another edge/gateway. In this scenario, the IoT devices must be able to complete the update on their own. This technology is usually used in field-based sensors including temperature, humidity, and weather sensors.

Disadvantages of E2G2C Over-Air-Updates:

When it comes to unsuccessful updates, E2G2C seems to have the same single-point-of-failure as G2C. In this instance, the nodes may or may not be able to notify the gateway about the status of the update in the case of a damaged update, resulting in an updated schedule discrepancy.

The benefits of using OTA updates

Over-The-Air (OTA) software and firmware updates for the embedded platform have become more common in the portable devices, commercial, and automobile industries over time. Once the device has been released into the real world, firmware, or software updates for bug fixes, security patches, or feature updates are required to improve the device and keep it up to date with the current software.

OTA updates keep an IoT deployment viable by improving performance, making it easier to add new services, and enabling devices to stay in the field for extended periods. OTA is a software management solution that allows you to update your mobile device's operating firmware wirelessly.

OTA updates enable your devices to adapt to the new architecture while also lowering maintenance expenses. Updates can be scheduled to coincide with times when it does not impose any issue to the device’s purpose. You won't need to dispatch service personnel in case of IoT devices or pick up the phone and go to an Apple Store to get something serviced.

New risks emerge every day, whether it's tomorrow or years from now, so it's a good idea to be able to be responsive. OTA upgrades take effect quickly, ensuring that your deployment remains stable and that transmissions are secure ahead of the curve.

OTA updates can help new deployments become more adaptable. You can buy a smart object from an IoT business when you want, and then update it with a firmware patch when your installation is due to launch. You won't have to wait till everything is in order before deploying. Rollouts can be done in stages, with devices gaining increasing capabilities as time goes on. There are no restrictions on the number of updates that can be done per year.

The code is becoming more complicated as a result of OTA upgrades. Today's automobiles contain an increasing number of components, more CPUs are located inside household devices, and software contains an increasing number of functions. Software complexity has resulted in long release cycles.

Learn all about the requirements for robust and secure OTA updates and the risks to your Android device fleet if you fail to meet them.

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