6 Leading Types of IoT Wireless Technologies and Their Best Use Cases

IoT Wireless Tech

6 Leading Types of IoT Wireless Tech and Their Best Use Cases

The Internet of Things (IoT) starts with connectivity, but since IoT is a widely diverse and multifaceted realm, you certainly cannot find a one-size-fits-all communication solution. Continuing our discussion from last week on mesh and star topologies this week we’ll walk through the six most common types of IoT wireless technologies. 

Each solution has its strengths and weaknesses in various network criteria and is therefore best-suited for different IoT use cases.

Positioning of different IoT wireless tech (Adapted from: IoT for all)

1. LPWANs

Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) are the new phenomenon in IoT. By providing long-range communication on small, inexpensive batteries that last for years, this family of technologies is purpose-built to support large-scale IoT networks sprawling over vast industrial and commercial campuses.

LPWANs can literally connect all types of IoT sensors – facilitating numerous applications from remote monitoring, smart metering and worker safety to building controls and facility management. Nevertheless, LPWANs can only send small blocks of data at a low rate, and therefore are better suited for use cases that don’t require high bandwidth and are not time-sensitive.

Also, not all LPWANs are created equal. Today, there exist technologies operating in both the licensed (NB-IoT, LTE-M) and unlicensed (e.g. MIOTY, LoRa, Sigfox etc.) spectrum with varying degrees of performance in key network factors. For example, while power consumption is a major issue for cellular-based, licensed LPWANs; Quality-of-Service and scalability are main considerations when adopting unlicensed technologies. Standardization is another important factor to think of if you want to ensure reliability, security, and interoperability in the long run.

2. Cellular (3G/4G/5G)

Well-established in the consumer mobile market, cellular networks offer reliable broadband communication supporting various voice calls and video streaming applications. On the downside, they impose very high operational costs and power requirements.

While cellular networks are not viable for the majority of IoT applications powered by battery-operated sensor networks, they fit well in specific use cases such as connected cars or fleet management in transportation and logistics. For example, in-car infotainment, traffic routing, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) alongside fleet telematics and tracking services can all rely on the ubiquitous and high bandwidth cellular connectivity.

Cellular next-gen 5G with high-speed mobility support and ultra-low latency is positioned to be the future of autonomous vehicles and augmented reality. 5G is also expected to enable real-time video surveillance for public safety, real-time mobile delivery of medical data sets for connected health, and several time-sensitive industrial automation applications in the future.

3. Zigbee and Other Mesh Protocols

Zigbee is a short-range, low-power, wireless standard (IEEE 802.15.4), commonly deployed in mesh topology to extend coverage by relaying sensor data over multiple sensor nodes. Compared to LPWAN, Zigbee provides higher data rates, but at the same time, much less power-efficiency due to mesh configuration.

Because of their physical short-range (< 100m), Zigbee and similar mesh protocols (e.g. Z-Wave, Thread etc.) are best-suited for medium-range IoT applications with an even distribution of nodes in close proximity. Typically, Zigbee is a perfect complement to Wi-Fi for various home automation use cases like smart lighting, HVAC controls, security and energy management, etc. – leveraging home sensor networks.

Until the emergence of LPWAN, mesh networks have also been implemented in industrial contexts, supporting several remote monitoring solutions. Nevertheless, they are far from ideal for many industrial facilities that are geographically dispersed, and their theoretical scalability is often inhibited by increasingly complex network setup and management.

4. Bluetooth and BLE

Defined in the category of Wireless Personal Area Networks, Bluetooth is a short-range communication well-positioned in the consumer marketplace. The new Bluetooth Low-Energy, also known as Bluetooth Smart is further optimized for Consumer IoT applications thanks to low power consumption.

BLE-enabled devices are mostly used in conjunction with electronic devices – often smartphones – that serve as a hub for transferring data to the cloud. Nowadays, BLE is widely integrated in fitness and medical wearables (e.g. smartwatches, glucose meters, pulse oximeters etc.) as well as Smart Home devices (e.g. door locks) – whereby data is conveniently communicated to and visualized on smartphones. In retail contexts, BLE can be coupled with beacon technology for enhanced customer services like in-store navigation, personalized promotions, and content delivery.  

5. Wi-Fi / Wi-Fi HaLow

There is virtually no need to explain Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n), given its pervasiveness in both enterprise and home environments. However, in the IoT world, Wi-Fi plays a less significant role.

Except for few applications like digital signages and indoor security cameras, Wi-Fi is not often a feasible solution for connecting IoT end devices because of its major limitations in coverage, scalability and power consumption. Instead, the technology can perform as a back-end network for offloading aggregated data from a central IoT hub to the cloud, especially in the Smart Homes. Critical security issues often hinder its adoption in industrial and commercial use cases.

A new, less known derivative of Wi-Fi – Wi-Fi HaLow (IEEE 802.11ah) – introduces noticeable improvements in range and energy efficiency that cater to a wider array of IoT use cases. Nonetheless, the protocol has received little traction and industry support so far, partly because of its low security. HaLow also operates in the 900 MHz frequency band only available in the USA, making it far from a global solution.

6. RFID

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) uses radio waves to transmit small amounts of data from an RFID tag to a reader within a very short distance. Till now, the technology has facilitated a major revolution in retail and logistics.

By attaching an RFID tag to all sorts of products and equipment, businesses can track their inventory and assets in real-time – allowing for better stock and production planning as well as optimized supply chain management. Alongside increasing IoT adoption, RFID continues to be entrenched in the retail sector, enabling new IoT applications like smart shelves, self-checkout, and smart mirrors.

Each IoT wireless technology is relevant for different IoT verticals

To quickly sum up, each IoT vertical and application has its own unique set of network requirements. Choosing the best wireless technology for your IoT use case means accurately weighing criteria in terms of range, bandwidth, QoS, security, power consumption, and network management.

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Mesh vs Star Topology – How to Find the Right Architecture for Your IoT Networks

Mesh vs. star topology

Mesh vs Star Topology – How to Find the Right Architecture for Your IoT Networks

A network topology defines the way various components communicate with each other within an IoT network. Topologies can vary greatly in security, power consumption, cost, and complexity. Before choosing and implementing a communication technology, it is important to first understand which topology is most relevant to your IoT applications and requirements. In this blog, we compare mesh vs star topology – the two most common architecture types for IoT wireless networking.

Mesh Topology

In mesh networks, a message hops from one device to another in order to reach its destination (e.g. a gateway). A sensor node, serves as both an endpoint that captures and transmits their own data as well as a repeater that relays data from other nodes. In a partial mesh network, only selected nodes have the repeater/relaying function and are connected with more than one other node, while in a full mesh network, all nodes are homogeneous and fully interconnected to each other.

Mesh topology is widely employed to extend the coverage of short-range wireless technologies such as Zigbee, Z-Wave, WirelessHART. Most mesh networks have a self-healing capability as data can be re-routed using another path if one repeater node fails, thereby enhancing robustness.

If enough repeaters are installed, you can cover large areas like an entire industry campus or a commercial building using mesh configuration. Nevertheless, since the range between two nodes is very short in nature, the number of required repeaters increases rapidly, making these networks very expensive to install. In many cases, extra sensor nodes must be added, not to capture data, but simply to attain the desired coverage.

Redundant device density and excessive numbers of connections significantly complicate network setup, management and maintenance activities. Complexity greatly hampers scalability and despite low transmit power, the relaying nature of mesh networks imposes very high power consumption. Nodes must constantly be “awake” and “listen” to whether a message needs to be relayed. High relaying traffic through one node can also quickly drain its battery.

Another major concern over mesh networks is their vulnerability to security attacks. If a single repeater is breached, the entire network collapses. The larger your IoT network, the more repeaters – or better said – the more possible points of attack. When it comes to full mesh networks where all nodes act as the repeater, you may want to think twice before installing one.

Star topology

An alternative approach to wireless IoT networking is star topology whereby all sensor nodes communicate to a central hub/access point (i.e. a gateway). Technical design of the central hub is much more sophisticated to handle huge amounts of data flowing to it.

Thanks to one-hop, point-to-point connection, star topology is much simpler and less expensive to implement compared to mesh topology. Network security also increases, as endpoints operate independently of each other; if a node is attacked, the rest of your network still remains intact.

The primary disadvantage of star topology is that the network footprint is limited to the maximum transmission range between devices and the gateway. However, choosing the right communication technology can help overcome this problem. For example, a Low-Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) with an extensive range of over 10 km line-of-sight will enable vast coverage when deployed in star topology.

LPWAN star networks are optimized for minimal power consumption and can secure years of battery life on the sensor side. Unlike mesh topology, nodes are not required to be continuously “awake” to listen and relay data from other nodes. Outside of transmission time, they can fall into “sleep mode,” consuming almost no power.

So which topology is the right one for you?

The answer is very simple: It all comes down to your IoT applications.

For example, Zigbee, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth mesh networks can be a great option for applications in the consumer marketplace. Smart home use cases such as HVAC and lighting automation often require smaller coverage areas with a limited number of endpoints positioned close to each other.

Mesh topology is also a viable solution to extend the footprint of legacy Wi-Fi networks – available in literally every single house nowadays – without exploding costs or involving sophisticated network management. High bandwidth usage in many consumers applications like video calls and streaming, voice control, etc. further makes Wi-Fi mesh most feasible if you’re looking for one integrated home network.

On the other hand, if you want to connect hundreds or thousands of sensors distributed over geographically dispersed campuses and facilities like factories, mines, oilfields or commercial buildings, LPWAN using star topology is the better choice. It provides a reliable, cost-effective and easy to deploy and manage solution. Configuring and optimizing mesh networks, on the contrary, can be an extremely daunting task in this case.

Still wondering which combination of network topology and communication technology best suits your needs? Visit our blog on 6 Leading Types of IoT Wireless Tech and Their Best Use Cases.

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Contact a MIOTY™ Solution Expert for more information or to book a demo.