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Wireless Standards Governing Internet of Things (IoT) Connectivity

Internet of Things (IoT) is an evolving field of computer, software, and hardware engineering that aims to bring interconnectivity to devices and human beings.  Since it is not a new field, several wireless standards, or protocols, of connectivity, have been developed since the beginning of IoT.  Different groups and standards try to solve various problems.  Depending on the application, which will dictate various factors such as range, data requirements, security, power demands, and battery life will determine the choice of one or a combination of technologies.  Outlined below are some of the major wireless standards that electrical engineers can use in Internet of Things electronic design.

Bluetooth Low Energy

Bluetooth – Bluetooth Smart (Bluetooth Low Energy) is a short-range wireless communication technology that has become ubiquitous in the consumer electronics market.  It has a significant integration with over 90% of mobile devices connected.  Bluetooth Smart has been designed to offer low power consumption.  This wireless standard is a huge advantage as many IoT integrated devices are small and require as little power usage as possible.  With its newer 4.2 version, it will include Internet Protocol Support Profile that will allow Bluetooth Smart to manage smart edge devices.  The biggest disadvantage of Bluetooth connectivity is that it only allow transfer of relatively small chunks of data at low speeds (1Mbps) and within a small radius of 50-150m.

Wifi 802.11n

Wi-Fi – Wi-Fi is a standard choice for most electronic device connectivity.  Its 802.11n wireless protocol, as defined by IEEE, an international standards organization that governs electronic products, offers frequencies in the range of 2.4 GHz to 5GHz.  It can connect devices within a range of 50 meters.  It can also provide faster transfer speeds in the range of hundreds of megabits per second (Mbps).  The huge disadvantage of Wi-Fi connectivity is that it consumes a lot of power.  Hence, it shouldn't be used in devices with low power and relatively small processor capacity.

Zigbee Protocol

ZigBee – ZigBee is a communication technology based on the IEEE802.15.4 protocol.  This standard is the industry-leading wireless technology that operates at 2.4GHz for devices with a range of 100m.  This protocol is a fit for devices that require infrequent data exchange at relatively low data rates of 250kbps.  ZigBee offers low power operation, it’s robust, and is well suited for scalability.  ZigBee is a standout protocol for machine to machine (M2M) communication in the Internet of Things ecosystem.

6LowPan Wireless Standard

6LowPAN – 6LowPAN (IPv6 Low-power wireless Personal Area Network) is a connectivity technology designed for use across multiple platforms such as Ethernet, WI-Fi, Bluetooth or ZigBee.  It was innovated to give the smallest of devices with limited processing power the ability to connect to existing platforms and transmit information.  It uses the IPv6 stack which is broad enough to provide approximately 5 x 1028 addresses for every person in the world, enabling any embedded object or device to have a unique IP address and connect to the Internet.

Z-Wave Home Automation

Z-Wave – Z-Wave is a wireless communication standard that uses Z-Wave Alliance ZAD12837 / ITU-T G.9959 wireless protocol.  It’s a low power radio frequency protocol designed for home automation devices.  It can operate within the range of 30 meters and has a data transfer rate of up to 100kbs.  It effectively operates at the frequency of about 900MHz.  It is highly scalable and uses a simpler protocol hence it is easier to use.

Thread IoT Wireless

Thread – Launched in 2014, Thread was designed entirely for IoT device home automation.  Thread is an IP-based wireless standard that focused on low-power consumption.  It also provides easy integration between the cloud and mobile devices.  It can also operate with both Bluetooth and 6LoWPAN standards.  Another huge advantage of Thread is its support of Mesh Network.  This flexibility allows for secure connectivity through hardware or software encrypted and authenticated communications.  It is best suited to operate at frequencies of about 2.5 GHz, and it can transfer data at a rate of 250kbps.  The main downside of this protocol is that it only connects to devices within a small range of about 10 meters.

Cellular Modems

Cellular – There are various standards of cellular communication protocols used in IoT connectivity.  This wireless system is especially ideal for long distance transmissions.  Furthermore, the ubiquity of mobile usage means that this method is available almost anywhere.

The earliest form cellular connectivity is the Edge standard or the 2G model.  This cellular wireless standard uses GSM 850/1900 frequencies, can operate within the ranges of 10 km and 26km, and can transfer data at the rate of 384kbps.  The next form of cellular wireless connectivity is the 3G through HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access).  This system can operate up to a maximum range of 250km, has a data rate of up to 10Mbps, and operates within the frequencies of 850MHz – 1900MHz.  The most recent form of cellular connectivity is the 4G Long Term Evolution (4G LTE) which allows for a data rate of up to 500 Mbps and is ideal for the transmission of a large amount of data.

The biggest downside of cellular connectivity is the huge power consumption experienced in many applications and the initial and ongoing costs to implement. 

RFID for Internet of Things

RFID - Radio-Frequency Identification is the use of electromagnetic fields to identify tags stored in objects. RFID readers are able to wirelessly track and sense tagged items as they make movements through the supply chain, are sitting in inventory, displayed on a sales floor, or progress down a production line.  RFID tags, readers, and chips facilitate identification systems that can track an enormous amount of items, from pallets of food to sensors in a refinery.  RFID operates at frequencies of about 13MHz within a range of 1 meter.  Data rates of up to 243kbps are possible with this protocol.

NFC Wireless Standard

NFC – Near Field Communication is a set of communication protocols that enables two electronics devices that are very close to communicate with each other.  NFC is an evolution of RFID and a chip operated as one part of a wireless electronic link.  Unlike Bluetooth, NFC does not need pairing and prompts the user when the two devices are near each other.  This standard has become prevalent, especially in mobile wallets such as Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Google Wallet.  The small distance required for communication enhances the security of the protocol.  It operates within the frequencies of 13 Mhz, below the range of 10cm, and transfers data at about 423kbps.  Its greatest advantage is that it’s very energy efficient, as very little power is required to facilitate the connection.

Sigfox Wireless

Sigfox – SigFox is a protocol that specifically designed for IoT, especially for low power devices that need to send small chunks of data.  This focus on low-power, low-bandwidth communications also makes the Sigfox network relatively easy to deploy.  Sigfox deploys sensors that switch off their operation when not needed.  Hence, they can save a relatively large amount of power.  They operate on the unlicensed spectrum of 900MHz and can transfer data at the rate of 1kbps.  The range varies depending on the environment with rural getting about 30-50km and urban getting only 3-10km.

Weightless Protocol

Weightless- Weightless technology delivers wireless connectivity for low power, wide area networks (LPWAN), specifically designed for the Internet of Things.  It allows for the exchange of data between a base station and machines around it and enables engineers to build effective LPWANs.  There are currently two main Weightless connectivity wireless protocols: Weightless-N and Weightless-W.  Weightless-N uses ultra-narrow band technology operating in license-exempt spectrum 1GHz in what is commonly known as the Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) bands.  It can achieve data rates of up to 10Mbps within a range of 2-5km.

Lora IoT Wireless

LoRaWAN - LoRaWAN (short for Long Range Wide Area Network) is protocol based on Media Access Control (MAC) for long range, low power networks (short for LPWAN) based on the LoRa (short for Long Range) radio modulation.  It addresses key requirements of IoT electronics such as secure bi-directional communication, localization services, and mobility.  This wireless protocol will provide seamless interoperability for smart devices without the need of complex local installations, and gives freedom back to the engineer, developer, and businesses enabling the rollout of IoT devices.  LoRaWAN operates at a range of up to 5km in urban areas and15 km in suburban areas.  Data rates can reach up to 50kbps.

Many wireless standards and protocols are competing to be the ultimate winner in IoT connectivity.  Illustrated above are some who have taken huge strides toward achieving universal use, but the dynamics of Internet of Things technology are evolving rapidly, and more research has to be carried out to achieve the ultimate, all benefits inclusive, wireless standard for IoT connectivity.

What's your favorite IoT wireless protocol?  Let us know in the comments below!  Also, be sure to follow SemiElectronics on your favorite social media network!

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