Following the posting of our new Connectivity Options for IoT Developers eBook, we want to focus in on the connectivity options touched on in the eBook. There we identified various connectivity technology for IoT applications including long-range cellular technology from 5G, LTE, LMT-M, NB IoT and even 3G; to shorter range technologies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave and Thread.
Before you dive into selecting a connectivity option for your IoT solution, it makes sense to take a step back to understand the technical and business variables that could impact your application. As you review the multiple options available to you, here are some frequently asked questions (FAQs) that touch on the variable factors to consider when making your IoT connectivity decision(s).
FAQs for IoT Connectivity Options
What type or amount of data will be sent? What are the bandwidth requirements to support this?
An increase in data usually means an increase in required bandwidth. For larger data sizes (e.g., security video), consider LTE for long range or Wi-Fi for home or office automation.
How much latency is tolerable? Is the information mission critical?
An increase in mission critical data or time sensitive data generally demands low latency. Consider 5G when available, and LTE (or processing at the “edge”) where possible to minimize data transfers. Wi-Fi can be used for home entertainment applications, especially when using video.
How far is data being sent?
Longer distances usually mean an increase in power requirements to transmit data. Using a cellular network technology such as LTE is great for mobile applications and remote monitoring. For extreme cases such as remote oil well monitoring, satellite technology may be necessary.
How often is data being sent and how often does the device need to be available or ‘awake’?
A device such as an electricity meter, which sends a small amount of data infrequently (e.g., once per month) back to a central office, is one example where LPWA (low power wide area) may be an optimal connectivity option.
How many devices are on the network?
If there are a large number of devices within a confined environment (e.g., several dozen smart lights within a building) consider an IoT optimized network such as LPWA or mesh network capabilities of Bluetooth devices.
Is the device remote? How often can it be serviced?
Be sure to understand the life span of the device, its batteries, and sensors. LPWA technology has been optimized for long battery life, in some instances up to 10 years. Remote devices should be configured to send or receive the minimal amount of data that satisfies the lifespan of the power source as well as the sensors.
What are the environmental conditions under which the devices are being installed?
Environmental conditions, physical environment, and even other communications technologies can cause interference or impede signal strength, and therefore a loss of data integrity. Consider these factors when choosing a solution and deciding on placement during installation.
Is the device moving or static?
Mobile devices and/or applications in transportation and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) likely require reliable, wide-area connectivity such as LTE or 5G. For example, autonomous cars moving around smart cities will likely communicate both with each other and with fixed assets (e.g., smart traffic lights). This requires reliability, and the ability to dynamically shift between frequencies.
What is the value of the asset(s) the device is monitoring?
Determine reliability levels and cost requirements based on asset value(s). For example, an asset tag used for tracking an employee’s toolbox may not require the same level of communications reliability as that of an asset tag tracking a large cargo container.
How many sensors are in use?
An increase in the number of sensors usually results in an increase in battery consumption or necessitates a dedicated power source. Try to minimize the data transmitted by processing it on the device and/or compressing the data.
Are standards required?
Identify industry or government requirements needed to communicate wirelessly in a region using a given protocol. This is currently the case for 5G where governments are just starting to license spectrum. Also check if your desired standard is available. For example, some countries no longer support 3G, while other countries haven’t adopted 4G yet.
Does your company want to operate your own network?
Evaluate the cost of maintaining your own network, such as a private LTE/5G cellular network, versus using a service provider’s. Also consider using a software-defined-network to help centralize control and scale as required.
What are the security requirements?
Determine the types and levels of security provided by each protocol. For example, most Wi-Fi routers support a variety of encryption standards and can often whitelist devices based on their MAC address.
Does the system require regional or global reach?
Determine if connectivity and Internet access is available, as well as roaming options, where required.
Will any part of your system be open source? Identify existing protocol stack implementations that you can utilize. This can help reduce the time to commercialization while also allowing you to take advantage of frequent updates.
These are just a few connectivity questions to take into consideration and should provide a starting point for the type of analysis required on an IoT project.