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5 WiFi alternatives for IoT Networks and Connectivity
At its very core, the Internet of Things (IoT) is all about seamless connectivity that works on its own. For the last decade, IoT has promised big ‘things’—a lot of which it is now delivering on. The introduction of Alexa and Google Nest has shown how easy (and popular) it can be to connect one’s devices. But it’s not just consumer products that are making the leap: IoT technology is transforming B2B industries as well with the implementation of trackers, sensors and devices.
While the end-results tend to make the headlines, none of these cutting-edge technologies could work without an equally cutting-edge network to connect them.
WiFi connectivity for IoT devices seems like an obvious choice, given that (for consumers and businesses alike) we already know it and use it, but it’s not the only option—nor is it necessarily the best.
Below, we’ll take a look at WiFi alternatives that you can use to connect your IoT offering in a way that best suits your business needs.
Bandwidth, range and power consumption: which to prioritise
The three things we typically tend to reference when sizing up a good IoT network are:
• Power consumption. Many IoT devices are battery-powered and not hard-wired. Keep this in mind when choosing a network, as you won’t want something too power-hungry if you’re looking for longevity.
• Coverage range. If your devices span a fair distance, you’ll want to keep coverage range in mind when choosing a network.
• Bandwidth. Some IoT devices can consume a lot of data. You’ll need to choose a network that can receive and process the required amount of data for your needs.
To use WiFi as an example: when using it as an IoT network, it works fine for stationary devices that don’t require a large coverage range. As you already know through connecting to the regular internet, WiFi connectivity is fairly limited in its parameters and can only connect so far. If you’re looking to connect something that requires a more flexible coverage range, you’re better off choosing a WiFi alternative.
Assessing your core IoT needs
As well as the above factors, it’s also important to reflect on the following when thinking about the fundamental design of your IoT network:
• Purpose: what is the main objective of your IoT application?
• Performance: what is the minimum performance requirement of your application in order to meet your objective?
• Location: Where are your planned locations for these devices and how far away are they from one another?
With all this in mind, let’s look at some WiFi alternatives for connecting your IoT suite.
Alternatives to Wi-Fi for IoT connectivity
1. Cellular connectivity
Cellular connectivity – also referred to as satellite connection – is the #1 WiFi alternative which is typically used when we talk about machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity. It’s the same type of connectivity that we use to connect our smartphones and tablets and uses a broadcast tower to function—typically within a range of around 10 – 15 miles.
• Cellular has the furthest range by far. As long as you are within range of a cellular tower (which is most of the time), you can connect to anyone or any ‘thing’ on a global scale.
• Cellular is a very reliable IoT connectivity solution. Unlike WiFi, it rarely ‘cuts out’ and is available everywhere.
• Ease of use: Cellular is highly compatible—you only need an eSIM or regular SIM card in order to connect.
• Cellular has relatively high-power consumption compared to its alternatives.
• Household-name providers can be expensive, that’s why it’s crucial to shop around and ensure you’re getting a tailored deal that’s right for you.
Overview: Cellular is easily the most reliable choice as a WiFi alternative for IoT connectivity. If you want a broad coverage range with the opportunity to scale your IoT offering easily, cellular is a great option for you…and Truphone for Things is an excellent place to start! We offer seamless cellular connectivity and IoT SIM cards in over 100 destinations across the globe.
Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) is a fairly new contender in the IoT network space, but it offers a lot in terms of breadth of coverage while still maintaining low power consumption. LPWAN does this by using small, cheap batteries to power its connectivity.
Various kinds of LPWAN connections have been created for different purposes, such as:
• LTE-M (a customised LTE connection designed for small power consumption)
• NB-IoT (NarrowBand IoT)
Overview: While LPWAN is great for specific purposes, it is only really suitable for those who don’t require high bandwidth, as it is only designed to work with small chunks of data for an equally small cost.
Zigbee is another popular choice of IoT network. It works using a mesh network structure—connecting a host of sensors or devices so that they work seamlessly together to distribute data to the chosen device. With a mesh network, all IoT devices in the system are able to distribute signals and information around the network.
Designed especially for IoT, Zigbee can connect up to 65,000 devices in its mesh and is already supported by mainstream IoT devices such as Amazon Echo.
• As a mesh networking option, it’s one of the best
• Doesn’t need a central hub in order to work
• Does have a short coverage range: devices need to be within 30-50 feet of each other
• Low data transfer (around 250 kbps)
Most of us are familiar with the concept of Bluetooth having used it on our phones for the last decade. Bluetooth enables users to send data across short distances using wireless technology.
In recent years, Bluetooth has improved drastically in terms of power consumption. Where before it could flatten a battery fairly easily, today’s Bluetooth connections run on a fairly low-power model.
Bluetooth had a competitive bandwidth of 2Mbps but only has low range capabilities of below 30ft (10m).
Overview: Bluetooth connectivity is a great option if you’re looking to send information across a close range, with medium to low bandwidth.
Like Zigbee, Z-Wave runs on a radio-frequency (RF) based connection. Unlike Zigbee, however, Z-Wave usually needs to run via a central hub, which can mean the connection is interrupted with latency issues and a limited coverage range.
It’s worth noting that Z-Wave is slightly slower than Zigbee but does have a more impressive coverage range (of more than 30 feet).
Z-Wave uses a 908 MHz band to operate, which enables an increase in coverage range as well as reducing the likelihood of interference. When placed next to each other, Z-Wave is typically more reliable than Zigbee but Z-Wave is supported on far fewer devices.
In summary, in most instances, cellular connectivity provides the best experience when it comes to connecting your IoT offering without WiFi. Cellular offers both a broad coverage range and the opportunity to scale. And all this can be done at a relatively low cost.
Think your business would benefit from cellular IoT connectivity? Truphone offers affordable IoT plans across 100 global destinations. Speak to one of our experts today to find out more.