Selecting Wireless Technology that Works Best for Your IoT Product

By Rob GrayJuly 22, 2016

Cisco's market research forecasts 50 Billion IoT devices by 2020, which essentially means all these devices have to be connected with one another or to something. As it seems from the current standpoint, through 2020 and beyond, every connectivity mechanism will be predominantly wireless.

Though it isn’t necessary for all IoT devices to be connected wirelessly, the majority, however, will have to rely on some form of wireless access network. Legacy technologies like Bluetooth, ZigBee, Z-Wave or proprietary RF will continue to be frontrunners, but they will be eventually displaced by emerging technologies like Bluetooth low energy, BLE, and Thread.

In recent times large scale R&D is in place, particularly for three wireless technologies, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth low energy, and Thread, which are expected to dominate the IOT connectivity landscape in Local Area Networks (LAN).

All these technologies have one fundamental IOT element in common — Internet protocol connectivity — the basis of IOT and smartphone connectivity for easy use and commissioning, an integral part of IOT adoption.

Important Factors to Consider While Choosing the Best Wireless Technology for IoT Devices

The most crucial factor obviously is the range and site. Personal Area Networks, such as wearables and consumer electronics, Smart Home, Smart Factory, and Smart City, involve varying distances between the devices and the network communicating with them.

Effective range influences critical performance issues like transmission frequency, modulation scheme, and transmission power. This is why it is highly necessary to keep in mind the effective range while formulating wireless technology strategy for an IoT device or application.

Bluetooth

Specifically for short-range applications, Bluetooth low energy is the only technology that renders longest battery life and the capability to operate from a coin cell battery. It is ideal for coin cell applications such as wearables or tags, particularly because of its peak current that is as low as few mA.

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi, with much longer reach, is the most stable and secure technology for connectivity to smartphones, and large-scale IoT infrastructures such as Smart Homes, Smart Buildings, and Smart Cities.

Wi-Fi can deliver high throughput required by applications such as video doorbell or surveillance cameras. Likewise, for same reasons, Wi-Fi is being increasingly adopted in most music streaming applications.

Thread

Emerging technologies like Thread has the ability to extend reach beyond the Wi-Fi range with considerably lower power consumption. It is a dependable technical solution, but despite a large number of companies joining the Thread group, its ground reality is yet to be proven.

Other Crucial Things to Consider While Selecting Wireless Technology for Your IoT Product

Power Requirements

The performance of wireless technologies like sensors and devices significantly depend on the way they are powered. Effective powering of a device has huge implications on the applicable access technologies, the initial cost of the device, and the total cost of ownership over its operational lifetime.

Number of Devices

Bluetooth has historically been used for one-to-one connectivity, point-to-point or point-to-multipoint master-slave relationship, where one master can communicate with up to 7 slaves.

BLE allows more devices, practically about 10 to 20, whereas Wi-Fi access points are typically capable of handling 30-40 active mobile users.

For larger numbers, the 4G/LTE with six sector base station can provide coverage for 10-15 thousand connected devices, while Zigbee supports up to 65,000 nodes.

As you can see, available choices are plentiful but prudently opting for the right wireless technology depends on your specific needs.