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What is IoT Connectivity and How to Use the Right One for Your Project?

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IoT technology changes the world and the way people and devices cooperate and communicate. IoT connectivity provides any device from a smart bulb to a complex industrial machine an opportunity to share collected information.

What does it bring?

The answer is simple — automation of routine processes. Sensors, wearables, and other IoT devices transfer data and perform various actions. 

In this guide, we will dive into IoT connectivity and discover how to choose the right one for your project.

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What Is IoT Connectivity?

The Internet of Things was created to connect devices and transfer information. Simply put, the information processing system or application collects information, analyzes it, and performs actions using prewritten scripts. 

Any object connected to an offline or online network that collects and exchanges information with other systems without human intervention can be considered an IoT device. 

Below, you can find the most popular examples:

  • smart home appliances (e.g., thermostats, lighting systems, security cameras);
  • wearables (e.g., fitness trackers, smartwatches);
  • industrial sensors (e.g., temperature sensors);
  • medical devices (e.g., pacemakers, insulin pumps).

The primary benefit of IoT devices is increasing people’s productivity and streamlining time-consuming routine tasks. However, IoT technology also brings potential drawbacks, including privacy and data protection concerns, since devices tend to gather sensitive data.

How Does IoT Connectivity Work?

Internet of Things connectivity is established, depending on various components: 

  • Sensors/scanners. IoT devices can have a lot of sensors and scanners that monitor changes in the environment (e.g. temperature) and perform pre-chosen actions, based on the collected information.
  • Connectivity protocols. Remote devices need wireless communication channels — Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular networks (4G/5G), LoRaWAN, Zigbee, etc. — to exchange information and commands. 
  • Application protocols. To ensure seamless communication between an app and an IoT device, it is required to follow standards and protocols like MQTT, CoAP, or HTTP. 
  • Data processing services. There are two options for how IoT devices process information — on-premises or in the cloud. The choice always depends on business requirements and needs. 
  • User interfaces. IoT devices usually have a mobile app or a web interface that shows the status of all the performed actions and allows giving commands. However, some IoT devices have a dedicated interface.

IoT Connectivity Technologies

It’s common to divide IoT connectivity technologies into two types — application layer protocols and physical layer (connectivity) protocols. Below you can find the details and examples.

MQTT is an application layer protocol that was created for devices with limited processing power and battery life, often operating in unstable, high-latency, and low-bandwidth network conditions. To put it simply, MQTT is happily used for scenarios with connection problems.

For example, MQTT Last Will and Testament stands for a feature that notifies once the IoT device (connected to an MQTT broker) disconnects without prior notice or announcement. Or, the Quality of Service (QoS) levels. MQTT has three QoS levels, which enable clients to select the appropriate level of reliability for their messages.

As for physical layer (connectivity) protocols, there are several methods:

  • Wi-Fi is a popular wireless technology used in many IoT applications, especially in smart homes and buildings. It ensures high-speed data transfer and usually connects a large number of devices locally (around 50 meters). On the other hand, Wi-Fi tends to consume a significant amount of power.
  • Bluetooth is a low-power technology that is suitable for short-range communication between small devices, e.g. wearables. Additionally, Bluetooth Low Energy was specifically developed for IoT.
  • LoRaWAN was designed for long-range communication between IoT devices with a small battery. LoRaWAN is a reliable and secure IoT connectivity method with a communication range measured in kilometers. 
  • Cellular networks (4G/5G) also offer long-range connectivity. It’s common to use cellular networks for remote monitoring and control. However, 4G/5G technologies are quite expensive and require a significant amount of power. 

We’ve covered only the most widespread global IoT connectivity protocols. There are many other technologies and protocols (e.g. NFC and RFID) available, so the question arises — how to choose the appropriate communication option for your IoT project?

How to Choose the Right Communication Option for Your Project?

Picking the right communication protocols and technologies is a crucial part of IoT project development. The market is full of great solutions, but you have to focus on your business needs, requirements, and specifications. 

Of course, it’s always better to consult with a qualified team to find the best solution. However, below you can find several must-consider factors while choosing the right communication tools for your project:

  • Range. The distance between IoT devices connections is the key factor. If the distance is over 50 meters, technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth aren’t suitable. In this case, it’s better to pick cellular networks or use LoRaWAN. 
  • Power. To connect and share information, your IoT devices use batteries or other power sources. Bluetooth or Zigbee are low-power options, but they cover small distances. On the other hand, cellular networks tend to be more expensive.
  • Bandwidth. The amount of information required to be transferred is also significant. In case of heavy data transfers, it’s better to pick Wi-Fi or cellular networks.
  • Scalability. One more thing to pay attention to is the number of devices the network needs to support. For example, IoT connectivity technologies like Zigbee and LoRaWAN support a large number of devices, while Wi-Fi and cellular networks tend to have limitations.
  • Security. According to data privacy regulations, it’s required to ensure a secure way to transfer personal data. Cellular networks offer higher security communication levels in comparison to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
  • Availability. Some IoT connectivity methods aren’t available in several regions. For example, 5G networks, the most promising IoT connectivity technology, work only in several regions and countries.
  • Cost. Last but not least is the final price of the picked option. Cellular networks and Wi-Fi are considered the most expensive ones, while LoRaWAN is more cost-effective. 

As you can see, there are a lot of factors that affect the final decision on picking the IoT connectivity method. You need to evaluate every available option and choose the one that meets your project requirements and specifications. 

It’s also possible to integrate several connectivity methods and adapt them to your solution, considering all the device and region peculiarities.

Author‘s bio:

As an accomplished technology enthusiast, Laurenz Dallinger has a strong interest in digital transformation, with a particular focus on IoT. His commitment to advancing the field of device communication is evident in his work as a speaker and exhibitor at events like the Ars Electronica museum. As a valued member of the Cedalo team, the company behind the top MQTT broker, Laurenz is passionate about sharing his knowledge and ideas with developers seeking new and efficient ways of communicating with devices.

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