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What Is IoT Connectivity?

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IoT connectivity remains one of the most important factors ensuring the success of an IoT deployment. The bigger the IoT deployment gets, the more is demanded from the IoT connectivity solution, and thus the more challenges we’ll face. 

An ideal IoT connectivity solution should provide a wide area coverage, low energy consumption, and as high bandwidth as possible. At the moment, however, such an ideal IoT connectivity solution doesn’t yet exist, and this is why we have so many different IoT connectivity options available. 

What Is IoT Connectivity? 

What Is IoT Connectivity?

IoT connectivity refers to the connections between all interconnected elements in an IoT ecosystem. 

These elements can include the IoT devices, sensors, routers, gateways, platforms, servers, and other systems depending on the configuration. 

In practice, the term “IoT connectivity” typically refers to different types of network solutions used in an IoT deployment. 

Why Are There Many Different IoT Connectivity Options?

Because, as discussed, such a perfect or ideal IoT connectivity solution isn’t here yet. 

Thus, all IoT connection options we have today always have at least one trade-off in the three core requirements: energy consumption, bandwidth, and coverage area. Different IoT projects vary in their requirements and should use the right connectivity options depending on their needs. 

Thus, finding an ideal solution for a given IoT project always involves compromising for a trade-off between these three core requirements, and the ability to understand your project’s needs in every stage of its deployment will be extremely important in choosing the best-suited connectivity network for your IoT deployment. 

Below we will discuss some of the most popular IoT connectivity solutions to help you identify the trade-offs and pick one according to your needs. 

Wi-Fi 

Type: medium/high energy consumption, high bandwidth, low coverage

Wi-Fi remains one of the best solutions for data-intensive IoT projects that are deployed in a relatively small area, such as smart homes, offices, schools, and so on. 

Today’s Wi-Fi network can offer bandwidth of up to 1Gbps, allowing a very fast data transfer rate, but as we know, the coverage range is fairly limited. Regarding energy consumption, Wi-Fi is also among the worst, although not as bad as, for example, cellular IoT connectivity. 

Newer Wi-Fi protocols, however, are being developed to lower energy consumption and expand the coverage range, like Wi-Fi HaLow

The good: high bandwidth and data transfer rate, relatively low-cost, and easy to install virtually anywhere. 

The bad: limited range (up to 100 ft), relatively high energy consumption

Ideal use: smart home applications, office IoT, schools/campuses, etc. 

2. Bluetooth LE

Type: low energy consumption, high bandwidth, low coverage area

Bluetooth is another short-range IoT connectivity option that can allow a relatively high data transfer rate, albeit not as high as Wi-Fi. 

Bluetooth used to be a technology famous for its high energy consumption, but this has changed with the arrival of Bluetooth LE (Low Energy), which has been specifically developed as an IoT solution. 

Similar to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth works great in smart home applications and other deployments that don’t require as much coverage range. 

The good: low installation cost, low energy requirements, and relatively high bandwidth

The bad: very limited range, lower bandwidth compared to Wi-Fi

Ideal use: connecting IoT devices indoors (smart home, offices), wearables. 

3. Cellular IoT

Type: high energy consumption, high bandwidth, high coverage area

For larger-scale IoT projects that require a wider coverage range but don’t want to sacrifice bandwidth, cellular IoT remains the favorite option. With cellular connectivity and the right data plan, you can technically connect two IoT devices located in two different countries. Truphone for Things, for example, offers coverage in 100+ different countries, so you can technically expand your IoT system to a global scale. 

Cellular connectivity, especially with the recently introduced 5G, also offers very high bandwidth capacity allowing high data transfer rate. Yet, its main disadvantage is its very high energy consumption. 

The good: nearly global coverage with high bandwidth, reliable with cellular towers available virtually everywhere

The bad: high monthly data plan cost, high energy requirements

Ideal use: large-scale IoT projects wherever cell towers are available. 

4. LPWAN

Type: low power consumption, low bandwidth, high coverage area

LPWAN, or Low-Power Wide Area Network, is an umbrella term referring to various IoT connectivity solutions that offer very high coverage area (above 500 meters) and low power consumption. The trade-off, at least at the moment, is the low bandwidth. 

LPWAN  technologies like LoRaWAN and SigFox are relatively inexpensive and don’t require a strong battery. This is possible by sending only smaller portions of data periodically, allowing the IoT sensors to last for years without recharging. 

The good: long-range, low cost, and low energy requirements

The bad: low bandwidth and higher latency

Ideal use: for remote sensors (i.e thermostat) that don’t need to send a high amount of data

5. Mesh IoT Networks

Type:  low power consumption, low bandwidth, high coverage area

ZigBee and Z-Wave are two popular examples of mesh IoT networks. In mesh technology, the IoT devices are interconnected, creating nodes between these devices to transfer data. In case one device goes down, the rest keep on going without any issue. Can only transfer a small amount of data at any given time (low bandwidth), but pretty reliable. 

The good: low power requirements, low cost, reliable

The bad: complex setup, low bandwidth

Ideal use: smart home applications, offices, schools, hospitals, etc. Also great as a backup for other connectivity solution

Conclusion 

Knowing the exact needs of your IoT deployment, and future plans for scalability are the key to choosing the right IoT connectivity solution for your project. Yet, cellular connectivity remains the most versatile option at the moment, especially for massive and large IoT deployments that also require a high data rate/bandwidth.