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What is IoT connectivity and How to Choose the Right Option?
IoT connectivity is typically how we refer to the methods used to connect IoT devices—methods including applications, sensors, trackers, gateways and network routers. In the IoT industry, however, IoT connectivity is also a term commonly used to describe the specific network solutions that can power this kind of connectivity. This could be WiFi, cellular or LPWAN, to name but a few.
When sizing up the right IoT connectivity option for you or your business, we tend to strip these options down into three categories: bandwidth capacity (speed), coverage range, and power consumption. It can be tricky to find an option that prioritises all three of these factors, so it’s important to understand what your IoT requirements are before landing on a connectivity solution.
In this article, we explore the various options available to businesses when settling an IoT connectivity solution.
Bandwidth, range and power consumption: which to prioritise
The three things we 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. That said, 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.
Other factors to consider:
Alongside the above, it’s also important to assess the following when choosing the right IoT connectivity option:
• Cost. Sounds obvious but IoT connectivity solutions can vary a lot in cost. It’s also important to factor in the initial set up costs as well as the ongoing operational costs.
• Your current system. It’s worth checking in as to whether the system you are currently working on is able to support an IoT connectivity upgrade. Some can be easily integrated, saving you a lot of time and money.
• Scalability. IoT connectivity is all about the ability to scale and futureproof your business—but some solutions (such as wired connectivity) are more rigid than others. Be mindful of your future growth plans when choosing an IoT connectivity solution.
• Deployment location. Make sure you do a full audit of your location and check that it is suitable to work alongside your chosen connectivity solution. For instance, a location with lots of radio interference or lots of obstructions (i.e. walls, other buildings) might not work as well with certain options.
Below we’ve listed the top industry contenders used to connect IoT devices. We’ve listed the pros and cons of each to help you understand which will work best for your needs.
Cellular IoT connectivity
Cellular connectivity – also referred to as satellite connection – is typically used when we talk about machine-to-machine (M2M) IoT 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 (16 to 24 km).
• 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 IoT 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: 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 global IoT connectivity and IoT SIM cards in over 100 destinations across the globe.
When it comes to connecting IoT devices, WiFi can work well for smaller gadgets and appliances within a certain coverage range. As a network, it has a fairly high-power consumption (but still less than a cellular alternative) and has the obvious limitations in terms of coverage parameter.
That said, WiFi is typically reliable—providing good IoT connectivity once you have got it up and running correctly. Already, using WiFi as an IoT network has taken off. Just think about how many people use WiFi to power their Alexas and Google Nests.
Overview: If you have specific or limited parameters that you need your IoT network to work in, WiFi can be a good option for you. However, as with your WiFi network at home, it can occasionally ‘cut out’. If you have an IoT device that absolutely has to remain on 24/7/365 (healthcare devices, smart locks etc) you may prefer to use cellular.
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.
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.
In summary, in most instances, cellular connectivity provides the best experience when it comes to connecting your IoT offering. Cellular offers both a broad coverage range and the opportunity to scale. And all this can be done at a relatively low cost.