A Comparison of Wireless Technologies for the Average, Confused Entrepreneur

by | Dec 4, 2019

The efficacy of wireless technology being adopted makes businesses succeed at a faster pace. Though we have got umpteen varieties of IoT based wireless systems in the market, it is always a tough task to find out the best one that aligns with the business requirements. Moreover, fresh technologies are ever-evolving with customized functionalities.

Anyone who aspires to develop a sustainable business in this digital era should be well aware of the functional applications of the wireless technologies available across the market.

While trying to understand the technical aspects of the various wireless technologies, I stumbled upon this informative article by John Teel. At first, I was thrown off by the “technical difficulty reading” level of this article (stating it’s 6/10); no matter the arbitrary reading level, I did find this to be a good introductory guide of the different types of connectivity your product could have. It’s simply a collection of different wireless technologies.

If you do want to read the full article, John Teel, the author, does go into more detail about his experience and applications of each technology.

This is not a comprehensive list of all the connectivity modules you can implement (the author left out SigFox due to “[the] future is uncertain and it’s not broadly supported in the U.S”) - but if you want a simple breakdown of the modules listed, then you found the right article. This article specifically discusses:

Classification of wireless technologies


Peer-to-Peer:


In the early 1980s, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networks were the prominent method to establish connectivity. It is the simplest of all the wireless networks that allow connectivity and sharing of resources between two or more personal computers without any centralized architecture of the server systems. Here the computers are connected through an Ad hoc network that is established with the Universal Serial Bus (USB) for transferring files through the network.

Teel goes into detail about the communication staples: Bluetooth Classic, WiFi Direct, and NFC (Near-Field Communication). Taking into consideration speed, common applications, and power sources - these are especially big considerations if you’re connecting only two devices. Let us learn what are they:-

Bluetooth Classic: Bluetooth classic is a basic type of P2P wireless network that is capable of connecting both the stationary and portable devices. The wireless connection is established here with ultra-high-radio-frequency waves that ranges from 2.402 GHz to 2.480 GHz. It covers over a short range of distance of about 100 meters only. It is designed to replace the regular RS232 data cables for connecting personal computers and Input/Output devices and is referred to as Personal Area Network (PAN).

WiFi Direct: Previously, WiFi Direct was titled a WiFi P2P network that comes under WiFi standards for P2P networks. This enables direct connectivity between devices in the WiFi P2P network without any broadband internet connection or a router or a wireless access point. But It would facilitate browsing of the internet and file transfer between devices in the network at the speed of any WiFi network. Devices from different brands can also establish connection provided anyone of the devices should adhere to WiFi Direct standards. These are the exclusiveness of the WiFi Direct network!

NFC: Near Field Communication is a low-speed wireless P2P network. NFC is a collection of wireless communication protocols that enables connectivity between any two electronic devices within the proximity of up to 4cms. It is generally referred to as contactless near field communication systems that are widely used in the electronic identification mechanism, contactless mobile payments, and to enable sharing of small data files. NFC can self-configure to faster connection for huge file transfers.

Low-Power/Short-range/Low-data Mesh Technologies:


Mesh network technology is an independent and dynamic connection configuration that comes under local network topology. It allows every node of the network to take part in the data transfer mechanism. This mesh network can reduce the installation cost and effort as they can self-configure and self-organize themselves. Also, when a node encounters an incident, this network would enable sharing the load of the failed node to other corresponding active nodes in the network without any hassle. This tendency to distribute the load evenly increases the fault-tolerance of the network and alleviates the maintenance cost.

Here’s when communication becomes a crowd and classifies as “many-to-many” considering the technologies: BLE (Bluetooth Low-Energy), Zigbee, Z-Wave, and 6LoWPAN. This “meshing” basically allows you to connect device A through Z, or depending on your application - device AAAA to device ZZZZ! Just keep in mind how many devices you’re trying to connect and the efficiency of transferring data between all of them and the use of your product.

Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE): Bluetooth Smart or BLE is a wireless personal area network (WPAN) designed to reduce the power consumption and operational cost that is associated with the Bluetooth Classic. Hence the term is coined as Bluetooth Low Energy. This wireless network is dedicated to healthcare, fitness, security systems and home entertainment applications.

ZigBee: It is a dedicated wireless system developed to fit into the requirements of IoT networks such as low cost and low power parameters. It is an open global standard that functions on IEEE 802.15.4 physical radio specifications. It also does operate on unlicensed radio frequency spectrum bands such as 2.4 GHz, 900 MHz and 868 MHz. It can operate on low power batteries for years to monitor and control electronics applications.

Z-Wave: It is a dedicated wireless network used mainly for home-based wireless connectivity and applications. Z-Wave is a type of mesh network that operates under low energy radiofrequency waves of 800-900 MHz to establish a connection between home appliances that are within 100 meters of distance.

6LoWPAN: IPv6 over Low-Power Wireless Personal Area Networks is abbreviated as 6LoWPAN. It is primarily used in home automation and automation across entertainment applications and factory equipment.

LAN (Local Area Network)


The local area network is nothing but the connectivity of devices in one physical location. So it is referred to as "local". The size of the LAN differs according to the size of the physical location. For example, a LAN can be as simple as a Home area network or as large as the LAN connection in a school, college or business enterprise. The unique feature of LAN is that it facilitates the connection of devices that are all located in the same small geographical area. Wide area network (WAN) and Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) are the ones that cover huge geographical areas that also facilitates the connection of several LAN networks together.

LAN Using WiFi: Wireless LAN is also known as WLAN or Wi-Fi which operates under IEEE 802.11 standard. These are predominantly used for home-based WLAN or commercial applications like enterprises that are connected to LAN and share a common WiFi network.

Just like Teel mentioned, “WiFi is fast, cheap, easy to implement, has a good operating range, and is widely available.” Just consider power consumption!

Long-distance Cellular Technologies:


When it comes to IoT networks, people would always prefer low power, long-range, high-speed networks that support a large volume of data transmission. GSM with GPRS function, often referred as 2G, is best-suited for long-range cellular connectivity. But transferring high volumes of the data is not possible here. So comes the 4G/5G based higher bandwidth LTE cellular connection which facilitates high speed as well as large data transfers. The downside is that, relatively, it consumes more power and is costly.

Cellular Technologies 1G/2G /3G/4G and 5G: Generally, G refers to the "Generation" of the wireless spectrum bandwidth that has been evolving over the years. The speed of the data transmission is increased with every succeeding generation. It goes like this -1G spectrum provides the speed of 2.4 kbps, 2G spectrum provides the speed of 64 Kbps and operates on GSM technology, 3G spectrum provides the speed of 144 kbps-2 Mbps and operates on WCDMA technology, 4G spectrum provides the speed of 100 Mbps - 1 Gbps and operates on LTE technology and finally, 5G spectrum provides the speed of 1Gbps and higher and operates on OFDM/BDMA technology.

 

Low-power Long-distance Technologies:


Low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN) are the one that facilitates data transmission at a lower bit rate with low power consumption between IoT devices such as sensors that operate on batteries. Here the rate of data transmission ranges from 0.3 kbit/s to 50 kbit/s per channel.

LPWAN devices can run on low cost, small batteries for about 20 years. Its operating range covers up to 10kms. This network is widely used to create private networks of sensors.

LoRa: It is a Long Range low power wide area network (LPWAN) technology. This network protocol was developed by Semtech. It covers a physical distance of up to10km. This protocol is based on chirp spread spectrum modulation specifications. It is widely used in smart consumer applications and smart IoT networks.

NB-IoT: Narrow Band IoT is a radio technology model developed by 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) based on LPWAN intended to cover a wide area of cellular networks. Its bandwidth of operation is with 200kHz, mostly used for indoor applications that function on OFDM for downlink communications and SC-FDMA for uplink communications and operate on licensed bandwidth.

LTE-M: This network is specifically designed for IoT applications. It operates on enhanced machine type communication (eMTC) mechanisms developed by (3GPP). It can provide a higher data rate of transmission, mobility functions and Voice over the IoT network comparatively to that of NB-IoT.

Teel warns that depending upon the communication you choose, it may not be supported globally. Specifically, he mentions that LoRa, NB-IoT, and LTE-M are choices, but you have to weigh the pros and cons of the size of data being transferred and the cost to do so.

As long as you don’t mind Predictable Designs (the original content creator) to store your email address, you can download their Excel sheet that breaks down each of the wireless technologies by power, speed, type, and range.

I hope that this overview would have given you a clear understanding of various wireless technology options available in the market. Do choose the one that would best suit your business requirements. And from there, you can narrow down your research towards that chosen network technology and implement it in your IoT product development and deployment. You can always use Ioterra’s free insight request tool for more help on this.
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