The Internet of Things (IoT) opens up myriad possibilities for businesses. It can seem like there are just as many options for connecting IoT devices and sensors, including cellular, Ethernet, WiFi, satellite, radio-frequency identification (RFID), near-field communication (NFC), low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN), and Bluetooth. Here’s what you need to know about IoT connectivity, the common options available, and how to choose the right one.
IoT connectivity is the method of connection between the elements in an IoT system, which may include applications, platforms, routers, and sensors, and other systems that need connectivity to “talk” to the cloud. The options for IoT connectivity are typically categorized based on power consumption, range, and bandwidth requirements.
A lot is riding on IoT connectivity. Businesses that can successfully implement reliable IoT gain the ability to expand into new markets, develop new product offerings, and explore new business models. Connectivity can help businesses grow new revenue while gaining differentiation and competitive advantages, giving them an edge over other companies in their space.
For an IoT network to work properly, connectivity is crucial. Making the right choice for connectivity is the cornerstone of an effective IoT ecosystem. It makes the difference between a device that will cause customers frustration and a device that can quickly become an essential and integrated part of their lives.
IoT connectivity solutions are made up of tradeoffs between power consumption, bandwidth, and range, not to mention costs of implementation and ongoing support. You’ll need to evaluate these tradeoffs based on your specific needs. Here’s what to consider.
IoT connectivity options that have low power requirements can be either low range or high range, depending on the amount of data that will be passed. Low-power, wide-area networks (LPWANs), as you might deduce, offer low power consumption with a wide range, so they have limitations on the amount of data that can be sent but have a range measured in miles. LPWAN devices often use a battery for power.
For higher bandwidth requirements where power consumption needs are low, Cat-M1 Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are better options, depending on range requirements of an IoT solution. Many of the devices in our homes like speakers, earbuds, and exercise equipment use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for connectivity. As you may have experienced, the range is limited. Ethernet is also in this group, and it can be used for high bandwidth needs with a wired connection.
A lot of power is required to send a lot of data over a great distance. Cellular and satellite are great options in this case. Both options can transmit high amounts of data, but the energy drain is high. A device transmitting a lot of data over large distances will need to be charged frequently.
No one method will accommodate all of the smart applications available. So how do you choose? The answer is by considering the types of IoT connectivity and your project’s needs based on power consumption, bandwidth, and range. The final decision for the right connectivity method will strike the best balance for your specific situation.
When you’re starting your project, consider the different use cases and the needs of your customer. Which is the most important: power, bandwidth, or range? What are the power needs? Will the device need to transmit a large amount of data? Is long-distance required or will the device function within short ranges? The answers will narrow the options to help you choose the best-suited connectivity network for your smart enterprise.
The variety of smart devices using each type of IoT connectivity is growing by leaps and bounds, and that growth is expected to continue. Here are some examples of the most commonly-used methods.
One of the best-known is cellular as almost everyone has a cell phone today. Our cell phones offer a wide range with very high bandwidth. However, their high power consumption drains the battery, and we often need to charge the device every day or more often. Cellular would not be suitable for devices and applications with battery-powered remote sensor networks given the high power consumption requirements.
Wi-Fi networks can carry even more data than cellular, at the expense of range. They also have high power consumption, like cellular. So, they are used with short-range devices that can manage the large power need. Even though Wi-Fi applications exist for outdoor use, you will often find Wi-Fi devices designed for use in indoor environments like homes, restaurants, businesses, cafes and airports. Internet routers and home automation systems use Wi-Fi.
Consumer electronics often use Bluetooth given their need for high bandwidth and limited range. Unlike Wi-Fi, they require low energy. Some examples are earbuds, exercise equipment, and portable speakers.
Nothing beats satellite for covering distance needs, and it’s a great option when range is the most important factor for network connectivity. There are satellite communication devices available when people are off-the-grid without access through other means. It isn’t widely used now though it could gain some traction.
Ethernet connects wired local area networks (LAN) so devices can communicate. It’s beneficial when transmitting a large amount of data quickly. However, it does require a physical connection, often making it a less desirable method. Ethernet is generally used for video transmitting devices like cameras and robotics.
As previously mentioned, LPWAN technology is used for devices spread over a wide area with low power and bandwidth requirements needing a high range with low power and low bandwidth. LPWAN usage is growing, with a number of providers developing their own solutions like Sigfox and LoRa. LPWAN can be used for things like smart metering, city infrastructure, agriculture, and others. Carriers also offer NB-IoT, LTE Cat-M1, which are cellular options designed to compete with LPWAN.
There is a lot riding on your decision of an IoT connectivity partner for your business. It’s essential to choose one with a deep understanding of both the technical and business aspects so they can suggest the right solutions for your business. This includes important services like billing, monitoring and analytics, and security considerations, in addition, to support making and implementing the right choice for connectivity.
When evaluating connectivity partners, ask the right questions to get a better sense of how they work with customers and what their level of experience is with specialized IoT network technologies. Additionally, it’s most helpful to have a partner that’s been authorized to resell access to the core carrier for the region you’re targeting (and the roaming partners they've made agreements with). Your connectivity partner should also be able to get you set up with SIM cards from different on-network carriers in different regions, which could save you money over using a single SIM across all regions.
Planning an IoT project but unsure of the right connectivity option for your solution? We'd love to help. Contact us to discuss your company's unique needs. We’re happy to provide you with insights that will help you make the decision.