A Basic Introduction to IOT Connectivity

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The following information was taken from a Whitepaper done for a McKinsey report on the future of connectivity and the IOT.[1]

The Internet of Things (IoT)—the network of connected “smart” devices that communicate seamlessly over the Internet—is transforming how we live and work. At farms, wireless IoT sensors can transmit information about soil moisture and nutrients to agricultural experts across the country. IoT alarm systems, equipped with batteries that last for years, provide homeowners with long-term protection. Wearable fitness devices—for both people and pets—can monitor activity levels and provide feedback on heart rate and respiration. Although these applications serve different purposes, they all share one characteristic: dependence on strong connectivity.

IOT ConnectivityIoT stakeholders seeking connectivity solutions include radio and chipset makers, platform vendors, device manufacturers, and companies in various industries that purchase IoT-enabled products, either for their own use or for sale to the public. These companies can now choose from more than 30 different connectivity options with different bandwidth, range, cost, reliability, and network-management features.

With annual economic benefits related to the Internet of Things expected to reach $3.9 trillion to $11.1 trillion by 2025, companies cannot afford to defer their IoT investment until 5G networks are fully functional.

When contemplating their options for IoT connectivity, companies must choose among solutions from four categories: unlicensed; low power, wide area (LPWA); cellular; and extraterrestrial. Companies may find it difficult to choose among these technologies because each IoT use case presents unique requirements for bandwidth, range, and other connectivity features.

Unlicensed connectivity solutions

These solutions are not exclusively licensed to a particular company, allowing the public to access them on any IoT device that uses this technology. Unlicensed solutions are relatively inexpensive and allow businesses to manage their own networks, rather than relying on a mobile operator to do so. On the downside, unlicensed technologies are vulnerable to interference from electrical or environmental obstacles, such as a large number of buildings that may interfere with signal transmission. They also face difficulty in providing connectivity over long distances (more than 100 meters).

For instance, Wi-Fi—perhaps the most well-known unlicensed option—has a bandwidth of up to one gigabyte per second. That is higher than the band with for Bluetooth, Zigbee, and Z-Wave.

Low-power, wide-area connectivity

LPWA technologies are relatively new. As their name implies, they have two characteristics:

  • Low power.They can allow devices to operate for years, assuming that they collect and analyze data hourly and factoring in the typical impact of battery self-discharge and degradation.
  • Wide area.These technologies deliver at least 500 meters of signal range from the gateway device to the endpoint. Coverage is lowest in challenging deployment environments, such as urban or underground locations.

In addition to providing long battery life and extensive range, LPWA technologies are reliable and associated with low costs. No other technology offers these four characteristics in combination.

Only 20 percent of the global population is now covered by LPWA networks, so they cannot become the default solution within the next five years, but their availability is growing rapidly. By 2022, we expect that most IoT applications will use LPWA networks, which will make connectivity choices less confusing. (5G will still not be widely available at that point). Each LPWA technology has different advantages and implementation requirements.

Cellular connectivity

Current 4G LTE technology offers high bandwidth of up to 100 megabytes per second and a large range of more than ten kilometers. Reliability and availability are also good. On the downside, 4G LTE technology is associated with high costs

Companies can deploy 4G LTE connectivity over public or private networks. Public networks use the same connectivity infrastructure as mobile phones.

Extraterrestrial connectivity

This connectivity option includes satellite and other microwave technologies. IoT stakeholders generally use it only when cellular and fiber options are not feasible since it has the highest costs. Only a few industries rely on extraterrestrial connectivity for IoT apps.

Connectivity requirements across industries

McKinsey produced a user table that suggests best-fit case for a range of industries. However, before settling on a particular platform, it is best to have an expert analyze what is the best fit for each particular situation. Indeed, many companies may find it advisable to develop their own mix of communication solutions. To do take this path may not be as complex or as expensive as one might imagine. There is a small universe of independent product developers in this new industry, and they can be a wise choice for at least a consultation before diving too deeply into the new infrastructure.

1.By Daniel Alsen, Mark Patel, and Jason Shangkuan

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