Examining IoT Connection Options

The Internet of Things (IoT) is made up of smart devices that communicate over the Internet. How they connect to the Internet varies depending on the end device and its application, and the number of connectivity solutions is expanding. Some IoT devices rely on short-range wireless, while other use long-distance wireless connections. Others connect over wired Ethernet networks. Some connectivity solutions are designed for consumer networks and others for the industrial Internet.

In this blog I'll be focusing on the network connection requirements, but connectivity also expands into the applications as well. For more on that topic, see my previous post, "Peeling Away the Layers of IoT Interoperability." Or, if you're new to IoT, read my posts "Are You New to IoT?" and "IoT: More Than Just Technology."

Three Considerations

There are three primary criteria for IoT devices:

  • Low power -- These devices are expected operate for years to collect, analyze, and send data. These are most likely powered by batteries. Because of their low power, they probably will communicate either short distances or infrequently, such as hourly or daily.
  • Wide area -- These devices are designed to communicate several hundred meters and more. These devices could be for irrigation systems, propane tank refilling, and on farms -- anything that is widely distributed but has little connectivity through wired connections.
  • Bandwidth -- Some of these devices will have very-low-bandwidth requirements because they'll be sending short messages periodically. Other devices, in vehicles for example, may be streaming continuously. Other devices may send video communications and require higher bandwidth.

Source: "The Future of Connectivity: Enabling the Internet of Things," McKinsey & Company

The Range of Connection Choices

Connectivity options will vary based on which vendor made the endpoints and the platforms. Some IoT devices are for internal use only, while others are available to the public. You might find as many as 30 different connectivity options based on bandwidth, range, cost, reliability, and network management features.

IoT will have an impact on wireless networks, as discussed in the post "IoT Impact on Wireless." One consideration is whether the device will use licensed or unlicensed spectrum. Will the wireless connections be for internal communications, external communications, or extraterrestrial such as satellite communications?

Fog or edge computing, which processes data at the endpoint before feeding the network, will also affect network requirements, especially bandwidth (see "IoT at the Network Edge").

Some Wireless Options

Several IoT groups are producing standards, some covering the networks and others dealing with application interoperability (see "IoT Standards: Many, Not One"). What follows is a list of some wireless IoT network options:

  • Bluetooth -- A low-bandwidth, short-distance (about 10 meters) technology for personal area networks; introduced in 1994 as a wireless alternative for RS-232 cables
  • LoRa -- The LoRa Alliance is dedicated to promoting the interoperability and standardization of low-power WAN (LPWAN) for IoT; it promotes its Long-Range WAN (LoRaWAN) protocol as an open global standard
  • LTE Advanced -- An advanced set of standards and technologies that delivers speedier wireless data transmissions
  • LTE Cat. 0 -- LTE supports a new UE category; LTE Category 0, or Cat 0, devices will significantly save battery life
  • LTE M -- Simplified industry term for the LTE-MTC low power wide area (LPWA) technology standard
  • LPWA -- Low Power Wide Area Network, see "LPWA Live for IoT" and "What 'Low Power, Wide Area' Means for IoT"
  • NB-IoT -- Narrowband IoT, the newest LPWA option developed for the IoT
  • SigFox -- French company that builds wireless networks to connect low-energy objects such as electricity meters, smartwatches, and household appliances that need to be always on and sending small amounts of data
  • Thread -- For connecting home devices from Google
  • Wi-Fi HaLow -- From the Wi-Fi Alliance, for products incorporating IEEE 802.11ah technology
  • ZigBee -- Specification for a group of communication protocols used to create personal area networks that support low-power digital radios based on an IEEE 802.15 standard (see "IoT Meets ZigBee" and "The Next ZigBee, 3.0")
  • ZWave -- A wireless communications protocol used primarily for home automation
  • 4G LTE -- An advanced network speed; it can download data at 5 to 12 Mbps, allowing for smooth streaming of live video and better response times for multiplayer online games
  • 802.11ah -- This wireless networking protocol, also called Wi-Fi HaLow, is an amendment of the IEEE 802.11-2007 wireless networking standard. It uses exempt spectrum to provide extended range Wi-Fi networks, and benefits from lower energy consumption, allowing the creation of large groups of stations or sensors supporting IoT

The Strategy of Choices

You need to develop a strong, cohesive strategy. When you develop a strategy, you should: Except that you must work with multiple IoT connectivity standards; focus on the simplicity of standards and connection choices; and consider new business models and look for ubiquity.

Learn more about IoT at Enterprise Connect 2018, March 12 to 15, in Orlando, Fla. Register now using the code NOJITTER to save an additional $200 off the Advance Rate (expires Friday, Jan. 12!) or get a free Expo Plus pass.