The Internet of Things, or IoT in short, refers to the fact that now there are various devices (things) besides the computer that are connected to the internet, receiving and sending data. The wide availability of the wireless network, as well as the fact that computer chips are now much more affordable than ever, have allowed the Internet of Things to happen.
It’s now possible to connect a lot of things to the internet, from something as small as a microchip to something as big as the whole building. However, connecting all of these different devices might require different infrastructures and network connections, so the implementation can be quite complex.
Here, we will discuss these different types of network connections for the Internet of Things and each of their implementation.
Different Types of IoT Network Connections
The concept of the Internet of Things is not actually new, and the idea of adding connectivity and sensors to objects has been discussed since the 1980s. It is actually a relatively old idea thas has recently been realized by the arrival of technology enabling the concept.
Below are some of the technological implementations that have enabled IoT in the form of various network configurations:
1. Wired and/or Short Range Wireless
The most basic version of IoT network connections is to simply wire the devices together (or the sensors). Alternatively, we can also use short-range Wi-Fi (like in 1 house). However, it’s difficult to scale this type of network.
It is also important to note that Wi-Fi is not the only wireless network available in the context of the IoT networks. In fact, WiFi is not always preferable since it consumes a lot of energy so it’s not ideal for battery-powered devices and sensors. Instead, low-powered wireless connection protocols like ZigBee, Z-Wave, and even Bluetooth are preferable (we will discuss more of this further below).
2. Machine to Machine (M2M) Cellular Connections
If we want to connect devices that are separated in a great distance (and even, globally), the only option is to use cellular—-2G, 3G, 4G LTE, and 5G—networks.
This network connection type consists of equipping the device with a SIM card or the device might have an embedded eSIM and then using the GPRS/3G/LTE/5G network of a network carrier.
Truphone, for example, offers an IoT connectivity and network management solutions, providing an easy-to-use platform to monitor and control the connected devices/sensors, while leveraging Truphone’s global mobile network to connect devices that might be separated by thousands of miles.
The key advantage of this connectivity model is obvious, as it is the only type of network connection that allows international and even global connection. However, it also has several weaknesses:
- It is still relatively expensive
- Large data footprint and you are more exposed to various cybersecurity threats. Using a secure network provider is very important with this type of network connection
- High energy consumption, so each device/sensor might need to be wired or at least has a powerful battery.
- Obviously you are tied to a subscription cost for the data plans, which can be expensive in the long run
M2M cellular connections remain the best way to connect IoT devices on a global scale, but it might not be the most cost-effective option early on if you only want to connect several small devices at home.
LPWAN stands for Low-Power Wide-Area Network. As the name suggests, the objective of this network type is to allow:
- Low energy consumption, so the device can operate on battery for years
- Cheap modules
- Small, but can cover a relatively wide area
- Optimized to communicate for very small data plans
The concept of LPWAN is not actually brand new. The Alarm Network in the U.S. which has been around since the ’90s, for example, is actually a type of LPWAN. LPWAN uses less power than cellular M2M connections but can cover as long as WiFi and Bluetooth.
However, in LPWAN’s implementation for IoT, Sigfox and LoRaWAN are the two major players. Sigfox built the first LPWAN network in France and is considered the pioneer in LPWAN IoT technology. However, Sigfox is not really popular in the U.S. SigFox and LoRa use two different techniques but the technology is relatively similar.
4. Mesh Network
In mesh networks, all the sensors/devices are connected to each other like a mesh and cooperate to distribute data to reach a certain ‘target’.
Zigbee is a popular IoT connection that belongs to the mesh network type. Mesh networks have a very short range, so you might need more devices throughout one building or you might need the use of repeaters to cover the whole intended area. Also, the mesh communication would translate into high power consumption.
However, a mesh network is very reliable, robust, and smart. Smart, in a way that it can find the fastest and most stable path to send data. Also, a mesh network like Zigbee is very easy to install for smaller-scale implementations (i.e. a smart home).
End Words: Power VS Range Vs Bandwidth
Choosing between the different types of network connectivity would ultimately depend on three main factors: power consumption, bandwidth usage, and coverage range:
- The cellular connection uses high power consumption but also offers the most coverage and most potential bandwidth
- WiFi, Bluetooth, mesh network and wired connection uses relatively low power consumption but has less range. However, they do offer high bandwidth capabilities.
- LPWAN offers the lowest power consumption but covers a wide area, but it only offers a fairly low bandwidth capacity.
If you plan to scale your IoT project, then a cellular connection is your best bet, and you might want to consider Truphone For Things for your IoT wireless connection solution. Truphone For Things offers the most versatile ways to connect your devices/sensors and to control each device reliably with an intuitive, easy to use management platform.