Getting and keeping you connected.

Information at the speed of IoT.


What is connectivity?

IoT connectivity is the term that defines the connection between all the points in an IoT solution, which typically include sensors, actuators, gateways, routers, applications, platforms and other systems. It usually refers to different types of network solutions based on their power consumption, range and bandwidth consumption.

Connectivity solutions

There are many options for connectivity in IoT implementations. Using high-level criteria can help narrow your choices to create a shortlist for most projects. Ask yourself:

Wired connectivity is often the best option when conditions allow but is sometimes not feasible due to distance, environmental conditions, cost, or other factors. Hybrid solutions combining both types of connectivity are sometimes optimal.

What is the distance from the nodes/endpoints to the access point or gateway? Are there terrain characteristics or obstacles in the connection path? With this analysis, it's essential to assume that the maximum projected distances for a given technology are only achievable under ideal conditions.

Some wireless connectivity options are best for infrequent data transmission and may be inappropriate if an application requires a reading every minute of every day, for example. A connectivity solution well-suited to support large volumes of data with frequent communication may be cost-prohibitive.

When looking at a carrier solution (cellular, for example), their geographic coverage area matters greatly. If you intend to use one, you will need to verify that their network has sufficient reach to cover your deployment area, paying particular attention to "dead zones" present primarily in rural areas. In areas with insufficient carrier coverage, you may be able to build a network with technology like LoRaWAN. A thorough analysis of this option requires evaluating things like installation, maintenance, and the means for data backhaul to make an informed decision.

Carrier solutions eliminate the need for you to deploy a private network in exchange for paying for the use, which may be well worth the expense. Although implementing a private network avoids these costs, the level of expertise, setup, maintenance, and support need to exist in your organization or with a trusted vendor.

Understanding your data is another critical consideration. If you need sensors in your network capturing a couple of basic readings (temperature & humidity, for example), most connectivity options can support your data. In contrast, loading up an endpoint with sensors taking many concurrent readings may create too much data for technologies with packet size limitations.

Most connectivity options will get your data to the cloud or your application environment of choice, but some have a higher level of performance than others. Less sophisticated protocols do not provide confirmation for every transmission, which may be acceptable for some use cases but wholly inadequate for others.

Some solutions provide sufficient tracking for occasional movement but cannot effectively monitor truly mobile assets. In addition, the accuracy of determining location varies, with some connectivity options lacking a native capability to meet the specificity some applications require.

The ability to update the software or firmware on endpoints at some point after deployment may seem to be an obvious requirement. Like any hardware, there may be a need to fix bugs, apply new features, or patch security vulnerabilities. Regardless, there are some wireless connectivity options with little or no ability to push updates out to nodes (a feature often called "Firmware Over The Air" or "FOTA").

As you can see, there is no easy or perfect choice for every solution. Several variables go into your choice of connectivity technologies. And of course, in some solutions, you’ll need to use more than one type of connection technology. ObjectSpectrum has vast experience with (and expertise of) the long list of connectivity options, giving us the ability to help our clients choose the best alternative for their application’s needs.

Here are some connectivity options

Ethernet is a group of computer networking technologies for data communication using wired connectivity that works with coax cable, twisted pair/copper, and fiber-optic links. Ethernet is one of the technologies that is frequently used when IoT solutions are using wired connections. This is especially true with the emerging single-pair Ethernet standard.

Serial ports may seem like old news in a high-bandwidth world. Still, they are in use for numerous applications where interfaces are relatively simple, and speed is not a primary requirement. Two common standards for serial communication are RS-232 and RS-485 (which functions over much greater distances than RS-232 and allows for point-to-multipoint connections).

Bluetooth works well for continuous, data streaming applications like the Bluetooth earbuds or speakers most of us use in our daily lives. However, as most of us know all too well, Bluetooth devices need to be charged more often than we’d like. Therefore, in IoT solutions, Bluetooth is used for higher bandwidth, less frequent uses such as device firmware updates. A variation on the technology, known as Bluetooth Low Energy ("BLE"), is usually more appropriate for IoT. Designed for low power consumption, it is more compatible with the small packet sizes and less frequent data transmission typical of most IoT environments. Under the right conditions, a battery powered BLE device can run for years, minimizing power consumption by "sleeping" between data transfer events.

Ubiquitous Wi-Fi technology can also be a connectivity solution for IoT solutions – primarily in indoor applications. Like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi uses the 2.4 GHz unlicensed frequency range available in most countries, enabling the creation of "single SKU" IoT products for the global market. But Wi-Fi is typically not appropriate for low-powered, long-life, battery-powered devices, although new variants like Wi-Fi HaLow aim to address those limitations at the expense of the single 2.4 GHz global frequency.

Ultra-Wideband (UWB) has the capability for high precision locating and tracking. Accuracy within centimeters is achievable with proper attention to device placement in appropriate environments. For IoT, applications leveraging the positioning capability of UWB while using another connectivity option for data transfer is typical.

LoRaWAN is short for Long Range Wide Area Network. This technology uses the license-free sub-gigahertz radio frequencies in the 900 Mhz range for many countries (including the U.S.) and other low-frequencies in areas like Europe and China. It is an excellent option for many use cases requiring small data packets with a relatively infrequent transmission. Because it uses low frequencies that enable long-distance communication, you can leverage LoRaWAN in IoT solutions for connections over distances of five miles or more in optimal conditions. It is highly effective in short-range IoT solutions as well, as it has the exceptional ability to penetrate objects (walls, foliage, etc) as compared to technologies that operate at higher frequencies. Having said that, implementations requiring low latency, large data volumes, or critical response times need to use other options instead of LoRaWAN. And with recently-announced support for LoRaWAN in the license-free 2.4 GHz band (the same as used by Wi-Fi and Bluetooth), it's now possible to design a "single SKU" IoT device that can operate worldwide. But as you might expect, nothing comes for free. So this version of LoRaWAN trades its single-frequency advantage for range.

Sigfox is suitable for cases requiring small data packets with a relatively infrequent transmission using license-free sub-gigahertz radio frequencies. For this technology, the deployments are carrier-based, with the Sigfox company operating the network through partnerships in multiple countries as a public subscription-based offering. Sigfox’s strengths include long-distance communication, effectively connecting sensors miles away from network gateways. And its ability to penetrate objects is also substantial, like other technologies operating at low frequencies, as well as allowing exceptional device battery life. However, its payload is strictly limited to 12 bytes per transmission.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) uses passive and active readers and tags in different combinations depending on the requirements. RFID solutions are relatively low in cost, but have a limited range and are only able to pass small amounts of information.

Satellite connections for IoT are becoming more common due to new technology options, lower costs, and increased coverage. Hybrid solutions using satellite connectivity with other options (LoRaWAN, for example) provide even more deployment flexibility with new satellites known as "Low Earth Orbit" (LEO) types driving much of the growth. These satellites are much smaller, cost less to manufacture, and orbit the earth at a much lower altitude than traditional satellites. They are also significantly cheaper to launch. The primary goals of LEO providers are to reduce the cost of connectivity where there is none.

The same cellular networks providing talk, text, and video connections also enable many low-cost, low-bandwidth IoT devices. Advantages include the ease of provisioning, broad coverage areas, and a mature security infrastructure. And new 5G network technologies aim to provide additional bandwidth and lower latency, which will be the "magic bullet" for some applications and completely irrelevant for others.