The Internet of Things includes many technologies that are constantly evolving. Even now, IoT applications span virtually every industry in the world. They can scale from a single device to large cross-platform deployments with multiple devices that are all connected to the cloud. In order to connect these devices and allow them to communicate with each other, there are various network standards and protocols. To make things work correctly, the network should meet all bandwidth, latency, range, and other requirements. For this purpose, there have been improved some standard protocols as well as have been developed new ones. In this article, let’s look at the most popular types of IoT networks.
IoT Network Explained
To run an IoT application, you need a reliable connection between the devices and sensors and the IoT platform itself. To do this, it is necessary to choose an appropriate network technology that will meet all the requirements and peculiarities of the device’s operation. An IoT network is a collection of interconnected devices that interact with one another without the need for human intervention. This can be an autonomous car, smart appliance, or wearable technology.
IoT networks consist of a large number of small, inexpensive sensors that are used to gather information about the environment. For example, farmers use IoT sensors to monitor moisture levels, and industrial plants use similar sensors to monitor pipe pressures. IoT sensors are highly configurable and can track hundreds of different changes. Sensors transmit all information to the cloud. And depending on the amount of data being transmitted, the technology, and the use case, businesses can choose from different IoT networks to achieve their goals. For example, a few most common ways sensors transmit data are via Wi-Fi, BLE or cellular, but there are a few other data transmission options.
The Four Types of IoT
As you already know, connectivity in the Internet of Things is quite important. It’s a very complex and diverse field, so there can’t be one-size-fits-all solutions. Below we will look at the 4 main types of wireless networks in the IoT. Each type has its own features, benefits and disadvantages, so the choice of a specific network will depend on the peculiarities and goals of the IoT application.
Short Range wireless networks
This type of network is used to send data over short distances. The major short-range connectivity solutions are WiFi and Bluetooth. Wi-Fi stations exchange data by sending each other data packets: blocks of data individually sent and transmitted over a radio link. WiFi networks can be used when applications are running in a local environment or in a distributed environment if there are several access points connected to the network. The main disadvantage is that the device must be close to the access point in order to get a good signal. Also, WiFi consumes a lot of power.
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is a more energy-efficient protocol. Both networks provide a good level of security for users. But, originally, BLE had the problem of passive eavesdropping, where a third-party device eavesdrops on data exchange between the two devices.
Both networks ensure an excellent level of security. But the original BLE had the passive interception problem where a third party device was able to intercept the data exchange between the two other devices. As for the data transfer rate, BLE is suitable if small amounts of data need to be transferred — it transfers data at a rate of 1 Mbit/sec. For example, it could be temperature sensor readings, GPS coordinates, etc. However, BLE is not suitable if there is a need to transmit data in real-time to a server. The WIFI standard can transfer data at speeds of up to 1.3 Gbps — it’s ideal for transferring large amounts of data.
In general, the use of Bluetooth will be a good solution for simple applications where two devices need to connect with minimal configuration. For example, if the devices are connected at the push of a button, as in headsets and remote controls. Wi-Fi is better suited for IoT applications where some degree of client configuration is possible and high data rates are required.
Cellular networks have become very popular in the mobile industry. These networks provide reliable broadband connectivity that supports everything from streaming applications to voice calls. Also, they provide very high bandwidth. There are several generations of cellular network technologies and specialized networks for IoT, each with its own infrastructure.
Cellular networks work well in low-power environments. With the introduction of ultra-low latency, 5G networks will be able to effectively support needs such as time-sensitive industrial automation, real-time medical data delivery, or video recording for public surveillance systems. On the other hand, cellular networks have some problems:
- Expensive equipment:
- High operating costs and energy consumption.
- Large footprint
- A subscription cost.
Depending on which type of cellular network you choose, it completely changes the coverage, cost, bandwidth, and power consumption. 2G and 3G are the most common cellular solutions for IoT, but LTE-M and NB-IoT are also becoming more common.
Low power wide area network (LPWAN) technology delivers the low cost, low power consumption, and wide-area coverage required by wireless sensor networks. It is reinventing how various operations can be remotely monitored and controlled. The LPWAN network was designed for telemetry-based IoT applications that periodically transmit relatively small amounts of data. This technology has three main advantages: long range, low power consumption and low cost. In urban regions, the operational range is a few kilometres; in rural areas, it is more than 15 kilometres. The sensors can run on small inexpensive batteries for 10-15 years, which reduces maintenance costs.
The major competitors in the LPWAN space are Sigfox and LoRaWAN. Sigfox is a narrow-band technology that occupies very narrow portions of the spectrum, changing the phase of the carrier radio wave to encode data. It is a lightweight protocol for processing and transmitting small amounts of data and is ideal for connecting billions of sensors and devices to the cloud. A difference between LoRaWAN is that this technology looks at a wider spectrum than SigFox. These two technologies have a lot of applications: vaccine chain monitoring, temperature monitoring for food, room occupancy, temperature, and energy usage monitoring.
Mesh networking is a new form of wireless internet. Mesh networks are best described as connectivity configuration — the way components communicate. A mesh network consists of a large number of nodes, and all these nodes communicate with each other and distribute data between them in order to reach the gateway. Mesh protocols are reliable and popular solutions for indoor and outdoor applications such as lighting, HVAC operations, security, and energy management. There are several popular mesh protocols: Zigbee and RFID.
Zigbee is a standard designed to address the specific requirements of low-cost, low-power wireless IoT networks. For some applications, such as low-power devices that do not demand a lot of bandwidth, it is considered an alternative to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. One of ZigBee’s distinguishing advantages is its ability to enable secure connectivity. This is accomplished by employing 128-bit encryption.
RFID is another mesh technology. It uses radio waves to identify various objects. There is a device that reads information from a wireless device at a distance without the requirement for physical contact or line-of-sight. Such a network can be used in a variety of areas: retail, healthcare, transportation, etc. For example, by using RFID networks in smart homes, intelligent fridges can make a shopping list, while smart washing machines can automate the proper washing cycle.
In conclusion, it is worth noting that selecting the right wireless network for a successful IoT application production is a necessity. To get good results with IoT technology, you need to make thoughtful decisions beforehand. There are a lot of types of IoT networks, from widespread BLE, cellular, and WiFi to LPWAN, mesh protocols, etc.
All networks have their own peculiarities, advantages, and disadvantages, so to select the best IoT wireless technology, you must assess the available options based on individual demands. It’s important to consider the tradeoffs between power consumption, range, and bandwidth for the product and to prioritize each. Data range, battery size, cost, transmission distance, carrier or customer deployment, deployment location, firmware upgrades, and other factors also may be included in the research.