IoT connected devices are creating a world in which data is exchanged between physical objects such as sensors, on-device software and adjacent technologies with other systems and devices. The essential enabling technology is the connection between the ‘things’ of IoT which enables these exchanges to happen. Immense value is now being derived across the value chain as organizations take advantage of new opportunities, new business models and new revenues which are enabled by IoT connections.
Different IoT connection types are utilized depending on the requirements of the IoT devices involved which can range from IoT and connected devices that need to communicate infrequently with small amounts of data to always-connected IoT devices that require large amounts of data to be communicated at high speed and with low latency. There are a wide variety of IoT connections that can be used to connect a thing as small as a dental implant to something as large as a tractor.
Connecting all these different things in IoT and adding sensors to them adds a new level of digital intelligence, enabling connected devices to communicate in real-time and to participate in automated processes at immense scale. As IoT matures, the number of connections is accelerating rapidly and IoT connected devices forecasts show the growing trend for deployments that involve large volumes of devices connecting to the internet.
There are now approaching 14 billion connected IoT devices in deployment, which exceeds the number of non-IoT connected devices, such smartphones, tablets, PCs and fixed line telephones. This number is expected to grow to 30 billion in 2025 as the Internet of Things makes the fabric of the world around us even smarter and more responsive and digital and physical universes merge.
The types of IoT devices that can be connected range from sensors and actuators that perform relatively simple functions, such as turning a light on or off or notifying authorities that a trash bin is full, to complex always-connected devices, such as ride-sharing vehicles that can be geo-fenced and tracked. Continuous monitoring has proven its value in assuring uninterrupted cold chain logistics, for example, but even newer applications will rely on high bandwidth, low latency connections to enable use cases such as remote medical procedures or video-enabled security.
With tens of billions of devices connected by 2025, the number of use cases will also accelerate rapidly, taking IoT into new markets. At the same time, connection types are diversifying to take account of the different needs of IoT devices. The cellular market has been on a journey from 1G to 5G and 5G is now available, alongside earlier cellular generations, to connect devices that require very high speed, very low latency as well as the capability to connect huge numbers of IoT devices in densely packed areas.
There are many different IoT connection types to choose from and there is likely to be an optimum solution for all IoT device types that matches IoT device requirements with the application, the system, software and devices it needs to connect to and which takes account of coverage and availability at the deployment location.
Different connection types and devices are now coming together to create the hyperscale Internet of Things, driving innovation and increasing the scope of what is possible to achieve by connecting devices and bridging the digital and physical worlds.
Low power wide area networks typically utilise unlicensed radio technologies to enable relatively low capacity over sites such as factories, campuses and mines. Most offer a cost-effective, low power alternative to cellular connectivity, with the exception of NB-IoT, and are well-suited for IoT applications that require modest throughput.
Key types of LPWA connectivity include:
Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology mainly used for exchanging data between fixed and mobile devices over short distances using UHF radio waves in the ISM bands, from 2.402 GHz to 2.48 GHz, and building personal area networks. Its characteristics make it suitable only for short distance deployments.
Bluetooth Low Energy is aimed at applications in healthcare, security, home entertainment and wireless beacons. Independent of Bluetooth, BLE offers reduced power consumption while maintaining the range of classic Bluetooth.
LoRaWAN is a networking protocol for connecting wireless battery operated devices to the internet in regional, national or global networks. It addresses IoT requirements such as bi-directional communication, end-to-end security, mobility and localisation services. LoRaWAN baud rates range from 0.3 kbps to 50 kbps.
NB-IoT is a low power wide area (LPWA) technology developed to enable a wide range of IoT devices and services. NB-IoT significantly improves the power consumption of user devices, system capacity and spectrum efficiency, especially in deep coverage in contrast to cellular networks. Battery life of more than 10 years can be supported for a wide range of use cases. It provides a simpler, lower bandwidth alternative to cellular connectivity.
Sigfox is similar to LoRaWAN in that it is a technology designed for global roll-out to provide wireless networks to connect low power objects such as smart meters. It has low power characteristics and utilises the 900MHz band with networks in 72 countries, covering 5.8 million square kilometres, as of November 2020. Sigfox communication supports up to 140 uplink messages a day, which can carry a payload of 12 octets at a data rate of 100 bits per second.
Wi-Fi is commonly used for local area networking of devices and for internet access. Well known in home and small office networks, the technology is also utilised in enterprises to connect devices and provide public internet access for mobile devices. Wi-Fi has a range of 20-150 metres and some versions can achieve speeds of more than 1Gbps.
With the recent Wi-Fi 6 standard, the technology has more to offer IoT. Wi-Fi 6 offers data rates up to 10 Gbps with eight antennas and the technology can serve power-hungry devices with large batteries, such as mobile phones, tablets, and laptops. By operating at 5 GHz, Wi-Fi 6 avoids the highly congested 2.4 GHz frequency band and offers improved data throughput, increased robustness and reduced power consumption in comparison to previous Wi-Fi.
Zigbee is a communications protocol used to create personal area networks with small, low power digital radios. Typical applications include home automation, medical device data collection and other low power, low bandwidth use cases. The technology is limited to transmission distances of 10-100 metres with a line of sight in order to keep power consumption low. Zigbee has a defined data rate of 250Kbps and is suited for intermittent data transmission.
A system designed to capture, manipulate, analyze, manage and present spatial or geographic data.
A technology created by the US Government that allows for location services.