Today, there are thousands of applications for IoT and many common IoT connectivity technologies. From improving business processes through smart monitoring and designing advanced systems of interconnected devices to achieve an application design, IoT has found its way into nearly every silo of business and technology. One of the most common considerations for those new to IoT is choosing what IoT connectivity technology will fit the applications. In this article, we’ll discuss just how to make that assessment, setting new IoT users up for success.
Choosing the best connectivity option for your IoT device isn’t as hard as it seems. While there is a whole range of possibilities – and often your projects will shift connection type as they move from proof of concept through early trials and into managed production roll-out – the number of final production options suitable for your system narrows pretty quickly as your device evolves and the system management processes become clear. Let’s take a look at some of the most common connectivity options available for your IoT-enabled devices.
Easy to implement, cheap, and high bandwidth; Ethernet is another example of the most common IoT connectivity technologies. Ethernet is great when you need a hard-line uninterrupted link to your device. Of course, it’s critically important to have the physical infrastructure to hook devices up; if not, you’re going to be looking at other connectivity solutions.
Another major consideration is that data transmitted over ethernet isn’t secure. In using ethernet, your data and device management actions are subject to attack from any other equipment on the same network unless you take specific steps to encrypt your messages. Further, if you’re deploying equipment into a new construction site, then Ethernet can work well. Still, if your IoT solution is a retrofit system, then it’s very likely that the in-house ethernet link is out of bounds due to local networking policies.
Again easy to implement and well-understood, WiFi extends Ethernet points’ benefits and delivers the flexibility of installing your device in the locations that it’s required without routing cables to a network switch. Data is generally encrypted from your device to the WiFi access point but will be sent in the clear over the access point’s internet connection unless you add your own IoT system encryption. Points to consider are the onboarding of credentials required to connect devices to the WiFi network and ensuring that your entire system is resilient to connectivity outages caused by bandwidth capacity in busy WiFi areas or interference from other equipment operating in the same area. If your device is working in a consumer or enterprise space, WiFi can be ideal but watch out for the power requirements.
A common option for low-power connected devices – typically battery-powered wearables with a limited connection duration only when the device is being used is Bluetooth. Bluetooth range is typically low in the 3-5m area, and a secondary device is required to bridge the data to an internet connection. Often Bluetooth is bridged through mobile phones, but dedicated gateways are also popular in fixed applications like domestic health monitoring.
Zigbee is another of the various IoT connectivity technologies that are frequently used in domestic products. Like Bluetooth, Zigbee requires a bridge to pass device data to the internet. The range for Zigbee is considerably longer than Bluetooth, and power consumption is higher, making this a frequent option for smart home products like light bulbs and ceiling fans.
Cellular connectivity through mobile phone networks offers a very different set of IoT connectivity technologies because it uses existing large-scale infrastructure and puts a much greater level of control and management directly into the IoT system operator’s hands instead of relying on on-site connectivity management. This makes cellular an ideal fit for IoT connectivity when you know that your devices will operate in areas across the country with ubiquitous cellular coverage.
High Data Rate Cellular
Connectivity options like 3G, 4G, and 5G cellular connections provide wide coverage multi-MBps data connections that are ideal for real-time video streaming or other data-intensive applications or highly mobile devices. High data rate cellular is a great option for both applications like public transport WiFi provision using in-vehicle access points with a cellular backhaul link, or for mobile devices where high connection availability is required on an inclusive basis like those implementing vehicle or package GPS tracking systems.
Extending the traditional high data rate cellular services are newer low data rate methods with corresponding low power requirements. NB-IoT and Cat-M are increasingly popular LPWAN technologies. They can be ideal for balancing the large-scale connection requirements of a widely distributed IoT system combined with the low bandwidth requirements traditionally associated with IoT devices and low power requirements. These connectivity options are being deployed at a high frequency than the regular cellular options that connect our mobile phones. Management of IoT-focused cellular connections lines up well with traditional cellular options, which open the door to systems migrating future devices over as hardware is updated.
LPWAN Managed Networks
Local self-managed IoT wireless networks or LPWAN Managed networks are another example of one of the more common IoT connectivity technologies that can be a great solution when deploying wireless devices with your own access points and gateways in areas that don’t have an existing infrastructure. Compared to WiFi network connections that place large power requirements on connected devices, the IoT-focused LPWAN network provinces options that you can deploy and are designed to operate at lower bandwidths, draw less power, and operate in a fault-tolerant way with re-routed mesh network topologies in place. LoRaWAN and, more recently, Wi-SUN solutions offer long-range connections between gateways and devices, with the gateway performing both a dynamic MESH function and a bridge to the internet. Wi-SUN has high adoption in smart cities and by utility service providers who like the ease of automatic data path rerouting and the operational range to connect utility meters to gateways.
Fortunately, with the wide variety of IoT applications, there’s certainly a connectivity solution to meet the application’s unique scope. By assessing an application’s implementation, power requirements, and unique design parameters, one can understand what connectivity strategy may act as the best fit for their unique needs.