Advances in new IoT wireless technologies are allowing businesses to place IoT devices in more remote locations, consume less power, and reduce costs. Here is a look at some of the most exciting advances in IoT wireless technologies that are opening new doors for enterprises.
The top new IoT wireless technologies
There are a number of new IoT technologies worth discussing that fall into the cellular connection category. LTE, 3G, and 4G are the most common cellular connections.
These are all well-suited for streaming data, but they are not usually suitable for individual IoT devices located at the “edge” of the network. The cost structure attached to these cellular connections (around $30-$40 per month) are similar to what you might pay for your cell phone.
Businesses cannot afford to pay that kind of rate for just one IoT device that is part of a larger network consisting of many IoT devices. More importantly, a single IoT device is most likely not transmitting anywhere near the amount of data these plans cover, making the cost completely out of line with your needs. For these reasons, it’s no surprise it has been uncommon for a company to add cellular to an IoT device.
There are two new cellular IoT technologies changing this situation—Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and LTE Cat M1. They are both on the bottom end of the cellular curve, both in terms of cost and performance. You can’t send nearly as much data with either technology (which works fine for most IoT edge devices). The cost is a fraction of the other cellular services.
LTE Cat M1 can extend battery life of devices by up to 10 years, and it is compatible with the existing LTE network. It is designed specifically for low-power and low-cost IoT devices and applications.
NB-IoT serves a similar purpose, but it does not work on the existing LTE network, although most carriers are adding the support. Rather, it uses DSSS (direct-sequence spread section) modulation to transmit data.
Both technologies offer exceptional cost savings for IoT devices, because they eliminate the need for a gateway. Sensor data is sent directly to the main server. Connections to asset trackers, for example, are opening new doors for remote monitoring at an extremely low cost.
For example, ATT offers a NB-IoT plan starting at just $1 per month. The cost savings associated with these two technologies is letting companies put cellular connections in places they never would have considered before.
At the other end of the cellular spectrum, 5G is a new IoT wireless technology that is improving the way data is transmitted from the gateway to the cloud. 5G has an even higher bandwidth than 3G and 4G, so it can transmit even larger amounts of data.
5G would not be suitable for the type of edge IoT devices using NB-IoT and LTE Cat M1 for the reasons mentioned above, but it is ideal for transmitting data in IoT systems and applications from the gateway to the cloud. If you have one hundred pieces of equipment on your factory floor, each with their own IoT sensor, and one gateway picking up all of that information, you can use the 5G cellular network to transmit the data to the cloud.
The benefit here is that the data can be transmitted without needing a WiFi connection. Many enterprises like this model as it allows them to transmit data independent of their internal network. They also see this as a more secure option, as they don’t have to add any hardware to their internal network or manage the security of those devices.
A survey from Gartner discovered that two-thirds of organizations plan on deploying 5G by 2020, with IoT being the primary use case. 5G is opening new doors for IoT across various industries:
- A more reliable and secure network for industrial IoT systems.
- Real-time networks and data transmission will bring advantages to many industries, particularly healthcare.
- Improved connectivity and communication for connected cars will lead to new developments in the automotive industry.
LPWANs and Zigbee
Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) deliver long-range communication through inexpensive batteries. LPWAN is an IoT technology that is ideal for large, expansive IoT networks, allowing you to connect all of your IoT sensors and conduct remote monitoring, asset tracking, and more.
When deciding whether or not to use LPWANs, it’s important to note that this type of connection can only send data in small chunks. This makes it better for cases where the data is not time-sensitive and where a low bandwidth is acceptable. Some prime uses for LPWAN include controlling or monitoring streetlights and trash bins in smart cities, and temperature regulation in homes and office buildings.
Zigbee is a short-range, low-power wireless standard that is a specific type of LPWAN. Zigbee is beneficial for IoT because it increases the range of coverage by transmitting and relaying data over several sensors, creating an IoT mesh network.
Zigbee is ideal for medium-range IoT systems and applications in which sensor nodes are located relatively close to one another and equally spaced out. It is most commonly used in industrial environments.
Bluetooth technology uses UHF radio waves to transfer data. Bluetooth is best for short-range data transmission. Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE)—aka Bluetooth Smart—is the low-power version of the technology.
Applications using this technology can run on a small battery for several years. Bluetooth Low-Energy is ideal for IoT devices that only need to exchange small amounts of data over a short distance. This type of IoT technology is being used in such items as wearables and other medical devices, in which data is sent to the user’s smartphone before going up to the cloud.
BLE 5 is the fifth version of the BLE protocol. With this version, the raw data rate is doubled, so the same amount of data can be transmitted in half the time (therefore consuming less power). It also provides an optional long-range mode.
Since this version supports lower power, longer distances, and larger volumes of data, it is making Bluetooth a more compelling choice for data transmission in IoT devices.
RFID technology has been around for quite some time now in the retail and IoT realms, but new uses are emerging for RFID technology in IoT devices through the use of wake-up radios.
A wake-up radio is, in essence, a remote control for your IoT sensors. If you have a sensor on a piece of equipment and you want to wake it up every hour to record a measurement, you can use RFID technology to do that.
In a wake-up radio, the RFID emitter antenna is pointed at the equipment and tells the radio receiver when to turn on the sensor to take a measurement. The RFID receiver receives just enough power to turn on the IoT device.
The benefit of wake-up radios is that no power is used while the device is sleeping. This delivers great power savings. The RFID radio uses no power in sleep mode, so you gain an overall savings in power (and cost).
With all of the new IoT wireless technologies available, organizations have new and exciting opportunities to deploy IoT devices, systems, and applications in more efficient ways. If you’re not sure which IoT wireless technology is right for your specific project or business case, consult experts in the field to make sure you take the best approach.