The IoT is a broad and complex technology, which means there’s no default, out-of-the-box IoT solution that will be right-fit for every enterprise. There are many different ways to connect an Internet of Things network, and some may be more ideal for your business than others.
No two enterprise networks are exactly alike — every company has different objectives, different barriers, and different capabilities they need supported. Even the simplest and ad hoc of business scenarios calls for some degree of customization when it comes to implementing a network solution.
This simple truism applies to Internet of Things networks just as much as it does to traditional networks. Obviously, the way you set up your physical IoT network will depend on how you plan to use it — IT leaders will need to decide where sensors are placed, what they’re designed to measure, and how enterprise endpoints should use the information their IoT devices deliver to them. But it also applies to the technology that will be used to connect all those smart devices.
And with so many IoT connectivity options available, the choice is less simple than you might think. That’s why we’re providing you with a basic guide to the different technologies you can use to connect your IoT devices, breaking down which options are best for which architectures, uses, and requirements.
The advantages of WiFi are greater if you’re looking to build an IoT network that is data-intensive, but doesn’t encompass an especially large physical area. WiFi expends far less power when sending data than cellular does, and you aren’t charged for the amount of data you transmit. But anyone with a home WiFi network will observe that you don’t have to move very far outside its range before performance is impacted.
A good example of where a WiFi-connected IoT network would work could be a “smart” factory. Sensors monitoring the efficiency of production would be sending data constantly, but within a relatively small physical range limited to the factory.
The low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) is an innovation that expands cellular coverage to environments where it might not otherwise be available, and can do so for larger areas than WiFi is capable of covering. The catch is that it can only send small amounts of data fairly infrequently: a good use case would be agriculture, where you might need hourly updates on something simple like moisture across a large farming property. Sensors on LPWANs can go years without needing to recharge or change their batteries.
Like WiFi, Bluetooth is capable of sending large amounts of data continuously, but works within an even shorter range — the low cost of the technology has led some to incorporate it with larger IoT architectures. Bluetooth works best for small devices meant to transmit data frequently and over short distances, such as wearable devices and beacons.
Mesh networks are systems of nodes that connect to one another to extend a radio signal that can connect to the internet. What sets it apart from WiFi and cellular IoT connections is that they form a gateway, giving every IoT device, as well as other devices in the area, a local network through which they can get information from one another and the internet.
Mesh networks can be a bit difficult to implement in some cases, but they’re an ideal solution for very practical applications like smart HVAC and lighting systems. They can also be used to back up critical systems that must always be online in the event of an outage, since mesh nodes can step in to replace one another if they stop working — the healthcare industry comes to mind as an excellent use case.
With rollout plans for 5G infrastructure being announced in major cities across the country, there’s never been a better time to base a business use case on wireless. 5G will offer far greater bandwidth than previous generations of wireless technology. What’s more, competition between carriers has resulted in far better coverage, meaning that IoT implementations can use cellular in more places than they might have been able to in the past.
That being said, cellular isn’t going to be your best bet if your IoT network needs to be connected in remote, subterranean, or even indoor environments where coverage won’t be ideal. If you’re running an oil rig, for instance, and need to monitor the activity of pumps in offshore locations far from any network, you likely won’t be able to rely on cellular data. And despite 5G’s clear advantages with regard to latency, the technology has its potential downfalls in terms of coverage and propagation — issues that could prove particularly problematic for IoT networks that demand nothing if not exceptional reliability. Similarly, if sensors are required to transmit data constantly rather than occasionally, the activity may gradually lead to a higher bill from your provider.
No matter how you choose to connect your Internet of Things network, what’s most important is that your team is able to control it and connect it to your existing IT infrastructure. The best way to ensure this is by partnering with a skilled networking expert who can design and implement purpose-built solutions for your specific IoT application.
At Turn-key Technologies (TTI), we have decades of experience helping enterprises install and manage networks that bring next-generation technology solutions to life. A network assessment from our team of certified experts can help you understand how to improve the performance of your network.
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