Internet of Things Network Connectivity Solutions and Strategies
Internet of Things devices require something critical to work: an internet connection. There are many ways to connect your IoT device to the internet, and based on the device you're using you may need a specific type of connection.
Updated March 2, 2021
What is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of connected smart devices — smart speakers, phones, tablets, laptops, desktop computers, smart watches, cars, alarm systems and so much more — that communicate seamlessly over the internet. Transforming the way we live and work, the IoT is made up of uncountable billions upon billions of devices that gain a level of digital intelligence from the internet. If an item can be connected to and controlled by the internet (from turning on your robot vacuum with an app or having your garage door automatically open if your car drives within 100 yards), it is part of the IoT.
The Internet of Things in Business
Sometimes known as Industrial IoT, business devices make up a little less than half of the devices in the IoT. Often these devices encounter environments that consumer devices don't — whether that means wastewater alarm systems that encounter extreme external temperatures and corrosive environments or network servers that handle millions of hits every day. These devices will need different industry-specific certifications, and the infrastructure of these devices will be entirely different than that of a consumer. Businesses might need to manage hundreds, thousands or millions of devices at one time.
Industrial IoT comes with its own concerns, including scalability, communications and power requirements and cybersecurity issues. Another point that must be taken into account is IoT network connectivity. There are many IoT stakeholders that are seeking connectivity solutions. These include radio and chipset makers, platform vendors, device manufacturers and companies in various industries that purchase IoT-enabled products. Connectivity is one of the most important business decisions an organization can make. If you pick one connectivity option and a different one becomes dominant, your IoT devices, applications, solutions and more become obsolete in an instant. But if you wait to make a decision, you could fall behind a competitor.
Connectivity of the IoT
In the end, cellular 5G networks might become a universal solution for IoT connectivity. However, because of high development and deployment costs, 5G isn't likely to be widely available until 2025 or later. Until that happens, there are other common types of communication protocols used to maximize efficiency and optimize IoT technology for any environment.
- Unlicensed connectivity solutions — These solutions include the most well-known unlicensed option: Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is an extremely common communication protocol that seems to be just about everywhere. It is easy to connect and disconnect, add or remove devices, go around or through obstacles while still providing a steady signal and more. However, the lack of a wired connection lowers the bandwidth, and Wi-Fi networks are not very secure. However, it is perfect for quick and efficient communication.
- Bluetooth connectivity — Smart devices such as smart watches and fitness trackers are the perfect candidate for Bluetooth connectivity, and for good reason. These devices demand high amounts of data to transfer over short distances, and may rely on tethered connections to access the internet. It is important to note that Bluetooth comes in two forms: the classic Bluetooth you're familiar with, and Bluetooth Low Energy. Bluetooth Low Energy, as the name implies, is designed to send data in bursts and not utilize as much power when not transmitting. You won't normally see Bluetooth Low Energy in devices like smart watches or fitness trackers, but they may have a Low Energy option to converve battery life.
- Low-power, wide-area (LPWA) — LPWA technologies offer reliability, cost savings, long battery life and extensive range. These technologies allow devices to operate for years and deliver at least 500 meters of signal range from the gateway device to the end point. Coverage is spotty in challenging environments, such as urban and underground locations. Narrowband IoT, LTE machine-type communications, extended-coverage GSM and low-throughput networks are some LPWA options.
- Cellular connectivity — Until 5G takes over the world, 4G LTE technology is as good as it gets. Offering a high bandwidth and range of over ten kilometers, cellular connectivity provides reliability and availability. However, it costs four to five times more compared to Wi-Fi and has high power-consumption requirements. Businesses can deploy 4G LTE connectivity over public or private networks, allowing organizations to segregate devices into a separate system. However, this is often difficult and expensive.
- Extraterrestrial connectivity — When cellular and fiber options are not feasible, using satellite and other microwave technologies allows businesses to enable connection, but it comes at a high cost. This type of connectivity has low-to-medium bandwidth, high range and medium-to-high reliability and availability. Only a few industries, such as organizations within national defense, rely on extraterrestrial connectivity for IoT applications.
Reliable connectivity allows businesses to grow their initiatives and increase their availability. Products such as industrial routers and wireless, IoT gateways, LPWA wireless and others can easily integrate to provide high performance connectivity.
- LPWA wireless provides secure connectivity for lower-power IoT devices. It involves zero-touch deployment and easy upkeep.
- IoT Gateways are perfect for deploying in hostile environments when a secure operation and rapid deployment is necessary.
- Industrial wireless can be used in extreme environments to provide mission-critical wireless connection for IoT applications.
There are several different platforms for IoT connectivity and many different products that can provide that connectivity in hostile or extreme environments. Today's consumers often think about connectivity in terms of smartphones, tablets and laptops while businesses think about connectivity in terms of important monitoring systems, alarms, drones and more. The IoT is so much broader than anyone can imagine, and businesses need to be thinking and looking ahead to ensure IoT connectivity for their devices.