What is IoT connectivity and how to choose the right option?
“IoT connectivity”, typically means the different ways in which we connect IoT devices, including applications, sensors, trackers, gateways and network routers. In the IoT industry, however,” IoT connectivity” also refers to the different IoT network solutions that can power this kind of connectivity, including Wi-Fi and cellular or LPWAN solutions, to name but a few.
So when choosing the right type of IoT connectivity option for you or your business, we tend to group these options down into three categories: bandwidth capacity (speed), coverage range, and power consumption. It can be tricky to find an option for an IoT connection that prioritises all three, so it’s important to understand what your IoT requirements are before choosing a connectivity solution.
In this blog, we look at the different available options and explain each one.
Speed, Range or Power Consumption - which is most important?
The three main things we tend to weigh up when choosing a good IoT connection are:
|•||Bandwidth (Speed). Some IoT devices will need to send and receive a lot of data, so you’ll need to choose a network that can handle the right amount of data for your needs.|
||Coverage range. If your devices are physically spread out over a wide distance, you’ll need to choose a network that offers sufficient range.|
|•||Power consumption. Many IoT devices are battery-powered rather than hard-wired into a power source, so it’s important to bear that in mind when choosing a network, as you won’t want something that’s too power-hungry if what you need is longevity.|
If we look at Wi-Fi as an example, it works perfectly well for stationary IoT devices that don’t need a large coverage range, but it’s fairly limited in its parameters and can only reach so far. If you need to connect IoT devices that need a more flexible coverage range, you’re better off choosing something other than Wi-Fi for your IoT connectivity solution.
Other details to juggle...
As well as speed, range and power consumption, it’s also important to keep in mind some other important factors when picking the right option for you:
|•||Cost. It might sound obvious, but the cost or IoT connectivity solutions can vary a lot and the ongoing operational costs are just as important to consider as the cost of the initial setup.|
|•||Your current system. It’s worth checking whether the system you’re currently using can support an IoT connectivity upgrade. Some can be easily integrated, saving you a lot of time and money.|
|•||Scalability. Your IoT connection solution needs to be “futureproof” in that it should be able to scale with you as your business grows and expands. However, some solutions (such as wired connectivity) are more rigid than others. Bear in mind your future growth plans when choosing an IoT connectivity solution and pick something with flexibility.|
|•||Deployment location. Make sure you fully audit your location and check that it’s suitable for your chosen connectivity solution. For instance, an area with lots of radio interference or obstructions (i.e. walls, other buildings) might not work well with certain options.|
That, in a nutshell, are all of the most common and popular options that businesses use to connect their IoT devices. But which one is right for you? We’ve listed the pros and cons of each of them here to help you understand the different scenarios in which they work best...
Cellular connectivity – also known as satellite connection – is normally used when we talk about machine-to-machine (M2M) IoT connectivity. It’s the same type of connectivity that we use to connect our smartphones and tablets and uses a broadcast tower to function—typically within a range of around 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24 km).
Cellular has the furthest range of any solution by far. If you’re within range of a cellular tower (which is most of the time), you can connect to anyone or any ‘thing’ on a global scale. It’s a very reliable IoT connectivity solution, too. Unlike Wi-Fi, it rarely cuts out and is available everywhere.
Cellular is easy to use in that it’s highly compatible. You only need an IoT eSIM or regular SIM card to connect, but it has relatively high-power consumption compared to its alternatives. However, household-name providers can be expensive, so it’s crucial to shop around and make sure you’re getting a tailored deal that’s right for you.
Overview: If you want lots of coverage range with the ability to easily scale your IoT offering, cellular is a great option.
When it comes to connecting IoT devices, Wi-Fi can work well for smaller gadgets and appliances within a specific location. As a network, it consumes a fair bit of power (although still less than cellular) and has the obvious limitations in terms of coverage range.
That said, Wi-Fi is typically reliable, providing good IoT connectivity once you’ve got it up and running correctly. And using Wi-Fi as an IoT network is quite popular already - just think about how many people use Wi-Fi to connect their Alexas, video doorbells and Google Nests.
Overview: If you have specific or limited parameters that you need your IoT network to work in, Wi-Fi can be a good option for you. However, as with your Wi-Fi network at home, it can occasionally cut out. If you have an IoT device that absolutely must remain connected 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, such as a healthcare device, security camera or smart lock, you may be better off using cellular.
Of all the available solutions, Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) is the most recent entry to the IoT network space, and while it provides lower speed, it uses smaller, more cost-effective batteries to power its connectivity and offer great coverage range while still maintaining low power consumption. Different kinds of LPWAN connections have been created for different purposes, such as:
|•||LTE-M (a customised LTE connection designed for low power consumption)|
|•||NB-IoT (for narrowBand IoT)|
Overview: While LPWAN is great for specific purposes, it’s only really suitable for connecting IoT devices that don’t require high bandwidth, as it’s only designed to work with small chunks of data for an equally small cost.
Most of us are familiar with the concept of Bluetooth, having used it on our phones for the last decade, so we know that it enables users to send data across short distances using wireless technology.
In recent years, Bluetooth has improved drastically in terms of power consumption. Where before it could empty a battery fairly easily, today’s Bluetooth connections run on a fairly low-power model. Bluetooth had a competitive bandwidth of 2Mbps but only has low range capabilities of below 30ft (10m).
Overview: Bluetooth connectivity is a great IoT connectivity option if you’re looking to send information across a close range, with medium to low bandwidth.
In summary, cellular IoT connectivity provides the best experience in most instances, when it comes to connecting your IoT offering, because it offers lots of coverage range and the opportunity to scale easily, all at a relatively low cost.