IoT developers and the businesses that support them have a vested interest in using the best network connectivity option available (both from the developer experience and expense angles). For many, WiFi is an obvious choice when high bandwidth is a requirement. While for others building stationary solutions with easy access to wired Ethernet, that connection method is equally a given.
The rest of us, though, may actively implement IoT solutions that:
- are in-motion or occasionally mobile,
- are deployed globally,
- require a redundant offsite network gateway,
- or need a reliable and secure connection.
Building on top of decades of global infrastructure, cellular should be a top consideration when it comes to picking the best IoT network connectivity option. This blog post demystifys cellular. The rest of the blog series takes a critical look at four key topics related to wireless IoT, including:
- Demystifying Cellular IoT?
- The Advantages of Cellular IoT (that’s this one!)
- Common Applications for Cellular IoT
- Cellular IoT Network and Infrastructure Redundancy
Cellular IoT Benefits
The advantages of cellular connectivity with IoT are extensive:
- Coverage: Cellular networks are ubiquitous, mature, and reliable.
- Global Reach: There is no other network technology with the reach of cellular.
- Security: SIM-based authentication and utilization of VPN tunnels makes cellular the most secure option.
- Installation: Works out-of-the-box without requiring local installation or technical expertise.
- Low/No power: Cellular modules can consume ~8mA of power and networks are still available in the case of a power outage.
When it comes to security, coverage, and usability, it’s hard to compete with cellular.
Global Cellular Coverage
For global IoT deployments, cellular connectivity is widely considered the most logical and reliable connection option. There is no need to build new infrastructure nor add additional network gateways to support remote deployments. You’re simply connecting to the cell towers that are already in place.
Cellular roaming is another consideration. Are you providing a solution that may either be deployed to an unknown spot in the world or move between regions? As cellular IoT projects move from location to location, your cellular provider must have agreements with partner carriers to facilitate seamless connectivity across regions without changing SIMs.
Since cellular networks use SIM cards for authentication, it’s exceedingly difficult to spoof the identity of a device. Let’s compare this to WiFi. When connected to a public WiFi network, devices share the connection with all other devices on the network. If any individual device has a security concern, all devices are at-risk. Cellular keeps every device separate from every other device, ensuring the security of the data being transmitted.
Due to the importance of cellular connections today, cellular IoT protocols can take advantage of existing performance characteristics. Cellular operates in licensed bands, which dictate the performance and reliability of communication. Cellular also provides a known number of connections per tower, which are actively managed behind the scenes, thus providing guarantees on service and reliability.
Low Power Consumption
Historically, a significant limitation for cellular adoption has been power consumption and battery life (or lack thereof!). Modern cellular protocols make it possible for cellular IoT modules to save power when not in use and transmit relatively small amounts of data with minimal power usage.
Both LTE-M and NB-IoT are designed to offer years of operation from a battery-driven power source. Since data throughput is limited (but often more than enough for relaying sensor data), simpler signal modulation schemes and less complex radio modems are needed, leading to diminished power requirements. Advances in wake/sleep modes on modern hardware only contribute to these benefits.
The advantages of cellular IoT are clear. Unmatched global coverage, embedded device security, “it just works” installation, and exceedingly low power requirements make it an obvious choice for the IoT.