IoT, or the Internet of Things, allows different objects and devices to stay connected to the internet–to the cloud. These IoT devices can be sensors like thermostats, devices like smart cameras, and even whole systems.
An “IoT-enabled” device, simply means it is connected to the internet, capable of sending and receiving data between them and wallowing them to be remotely controlled or even automated.
What enabling such function is the IoT connection solution between all these devices. The IoT connection is also connecting the devices to a data processor (i.e. a server), enabling the devices to be monitored and controlled remotely.
Here, we will discuss different connectivity technologies enabling IoT connection, but let us first discuss how these IoT devices actually connect and communicate.
How IoT Connection Works
The idea of IoT has been around for decades, at least since the 1970s. However, the actual term “Internet of Things” was devised by Kevin Ashton, a then P&G executive, back in 1999. Today, however, IoT is a reality connecting billions
While there are various different ways IoT implementations can work, there are three core elements of IoT that can impact every implementation:
IoT connection enables the exchange of information between people, devices, and even systems. For example, a device can automatically communicate its current state of operations, battery level, health, and so on. On the other hand, a thermostat can monitor the temperature in a given room then send this temperature information to other devices, for example to an HVAC system so it can adjust its operation based on the temperature data.
- Control and Automation
IoT connection allows businesses or individuals to remotely control a device, with technologies offered by cellular connectivity provider for IoT that allows you to control a device located halfway across the world, as long as there is cellular coverage. For example, a business located in the US can remotely turn on or turn off an IoT automated vehicle that is currently parked in Japan.
Ultimately, remote monitoring and control, as well as automation, are all deployed to help a business or individual save money, for example by minimizing equipment failure and reducing inefficiencies via automation. For example, by automating a vehicle to use only the most optimal routes, we can reduce fuel expense.
The key to IoT deployment is how IoT devices connect and communicate with each other: IoT connection.
Different IoT Connection Options
There are actually various different IoT connection technologies available at the moment: cellular IoT, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, LPWAN, and mesh technologies like ZigBee, just to name a few. There are more than 30 connectivity technologies commonly used in various IoT applications for both businesses and individuals, not to mention the experimental ones.
So, do we actually need these many IoT connection options?
The thing is, at the moment, there isn’t a single perfect connectivity solution that can fit all IoT use cases, as every IoT deployment is unique.
There are three technical requirements for all IoT connectivity solutions: bandwidth, coverage area, and power consumption. A perfect IoT connection should be one that:
- Has as high bandwidth as possible
- Consumes as little energy as possible
- Has truly global coverage area
Obviously, such technology doesn’t (yet) exist at the moment, and every IoT connection technology we have at the moment always has tradeoffs between bandwidth, coverage range, and power consumption.
Let’s take a look at some popular IoT connection technologies, their benefits, and ideal use cases.
1. Cellular IoT
Cellular connectivity remains one of the most popular IoT connectivity options widely used in many IoT applications.
We can categorize cellular IoT connectivity as one with high coverage range, high energy consumption, and high bandwidth. In fact, cellular connectivity is one of only two IoT connection technologies that can offer global coverage. The other one being satellite connection, which is much more expensive to implement than cellular.
IoT data plans provide coverage in more than 100 countries all over the world, allowing global IoT deployment while ensuring reliable data transfer across the widest possible coverage.
The main weakness of cellular IoT is that it consumes a lot of power, so it’s not suitable for applications involving battery-powered devices and sensors.
Wi-Fi can also offer very high bandwidth and consumes less energy than cellular connectivity (although still consume a relatively high amount of power) but has the expense of a very limited coverage range.
Ideal only in short-range applications where the devices can also be hard-wired to a power outlet, like in a smart home, offices, or schools.
3. Bluetooth LE
In the past, Bluetooth is known as a huge battery drain, but the invention of Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) allows a high-bandwidth connection while consuming relatively low energy, but similar to Wi-Fi it also has limited range. Bluetooth also has lower maximum bandwidth than Wi-Fi but consumes less power.
Bluetooth is easy to set up and has low signal interference, making it ideal for various indoor IoT deployments.
Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) is an umbrella term to describe a plethora of new IoT connection technologies that can send data over a lot of range (more than 500 miles) while consuming only a little energy. The tradeoff here is that LPWAN technologies at the moment only offer relatively low bandwidth.
However, many IoT sensors actually don’t need to send that much data, and so LPWAN is ideal for many IoT implementations where the sensor is deployed in remote areas and must rely on batteries.
At the moment, no perfect universal IoT connection solution has been made available, and so choosing the best IoT connectivity solution must be based on the specific requirements of any given use case. The best approach is to identify the specific needs and limitations of your IoT deployments and use the information to drive the decisions about the choice of the best-suited IoT connectivity option for you,