Mobile vs Wi-Fi

Here we explore the distinctions between mobile and WiFi connectivity. Learn about the pros and cons of each to make it easier for you to decide which type of access is better suited to your needs.

What is mobile IoT?

Mobile IoT is the wireless connection of devices that make up the Internet of Things. Mobile networks such as 2G-5G and Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) networks are typically chosen to connect mobile IoT devices but Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and others are also selected, usually for local or non-mobile applications. Cellular IoT offers the benefits of mobile technology and is therefore suited to devices that move as part of their regular use.

Cellular vs Wi-Fi for IoT

Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is commonly used for local area networking of devices and for internet access. Familiar 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 typical range of 20-150 metres and some versions can achieve speeds of more than 1Gbps.

Wi-Fi transmits at frequencies of 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz which are much higher than the frequencies used for cellular transmission and higher frequency means that signals can carry more data. However, there are drawbacks of using Wi-Fi for IoT applications because that higher frequency means there is a balance to be found between power consumption, range and bandwidth. In exchange for high data rates, Wi-Fi is relatively power hungry and short distance in most deployments.

For an average WiFi router, ranges are much, much shorter and depend on a number of factors. Range can depend on the antenna, reflection and refraction, and radio power output, so if you have thousands of sensors out in a field, Wi-Fi isn’t the best option.

Wi-Fi can be good for IoT applications that don’t have to worry about power drain such as those that can be plugged into a power supply or those that need to send a lot of data, such as a home security system. Another advantage of WiFi is that it’s a proven and standardized technology that’s already present in many buildings and public areas.

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.

Key attributes of Wi-Fi 6 include:

  • Higher data rates of up to 10Gbps
  • Increased capacity
  • Ability to support dense device connectivity
  • Lower power consumption

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