IoT backwards is ToI or ‘Thing to Internet’, a critical and sometimes overlooked part of IoT, how does the Thing connect to the Internet? Depending on what your Thing is and what your Use Case is – addressed in earlier blogs – your answer is either straightforward or complicated. If your Things are powered and have already have embedded electronics that support LAN or WiFi or even Cellular (adding a module?) connectivity is straightforward. If your things are not powered, or battery powered, things get more complicated as internet connectivity consumes power. So what are the ways that we can connect Things to the Internet. Here are the 5 basic categories (there are others like RFID):
Of the five the first one is widely understood and used for a large variety of internet connectivity. Advantage is that this connectivity is already there and therefor any additional cost for IoT connectivity is minimal. One issue is the use of existing LAN and WiFi networks for IoT as it raises some security concerns. Many companies have firewall security and the needed access to IoT server requires firewall configuration or at least agreement from customers. As threats and WiFi security keys change over time, IoT devices is yet another variable for the IT department to handle. If the local LAN/WiFi is locked to outside use, it requires either separate new network (and ISP) or some other connectivity method. What to do?
High Speed Cellular Connectivity comes to the rescue as a completely independent connectivity method that does not touch local IT infrastructure. This connectivity method can be completely secure if implemented with separate APN (Access Point Name) and VPN (Virtual Private Network) in the cellular providers’ network. Cellular connectivity has a price tag of $30 per month for IoT data levels.
Near Field Connectivity via Gateway has some specific use cases in IoT but mostly with older already existing implementations as it was the only technology available at the time. It is still useful where distances are not important, and the cost is low as the Gateway is connected to LAN/WiFi or existing high speed cellular.
In new implementations, Near Field is being replaced by Local Wide Area Network Connectivity which is optimized for IoT. LoRaWAN, SigFox and Zigbee has been around for more than a decade and is used in ‘designed from scratch’ IoT implementations. The connectivity is low bit rate, but the advantage is that IoT devices can operate battery powered for long periods of time. The technology is well understood and works over distances up to 3/4 miles. A recent addition is Bluetooth 5 that operates at the same distances with speeds of 1Mbit or more. While speed is often not important for IoT, this capability expands the use cases. What is exciting about Bluetooth 5 is that it is low power and operates over long distances (3/4 mile) allowing battery powered devices to connect to IoT Gateways. Because of the wide spread of Bluetooth, this technology is becoming a key contender.
The cellular industry has not been sitting on the side-line and introduced Low Speed WAN Cellular Connectivity a couple of years ago. These were done as software upgrades on existing cellular networks meaning nationwide (and worldwide) connectivity overnight. Connectivity speeds are lower than cellular but so are data plans with 1MB of data per month costing $1 or less. There are two versions, NB-IoT and LTEm and typically available on the same networks. As they use different cellular frequencies and technologies, they are optimized for different use cases. NB-IoT offers Kbyte speeds but penetrates deeper into buildings (think basements). LTEm offers MByte speeds and the same roaming capabilities as 4G LTE cellular service.
Understanding IoT connectivity needs is an important part of effective implementation of IoT in your business. Triotos will take work with you and create the business results you need.