IoT Connectivity Technologies - Part I
The world of electronic communication of voice, text and images is subject to constant change. Since the step from analogue communication to digital communication has been made, it is irrelevant today whether voice, text or images are to be transmitted. We transmit data represented by bit patterns.
Parallel to this development, with the advent of digital communication we can see that the wired transmission of these bit patterns is being replaced more and more by wireless transmission, beginning with the IEEE 802.11(Wi-Fi) standard for consumer devices which laid the foundation for the triumph of wireless communication. The steadily increasing development, penetration, and performance of mobile communications networks worldwide, which are originally based on the international GSM standard over more than three decades now, paved the ground for the digitalization challenge of the 21st century in mobile communication: Connectivity.
Beyond personal communication the Internet and especially the (industrial) Internet of Things (IoT) allows completely new business opportunities or business processes thus disrupting existing business models in nearly all existing fields of application. With highly anticipated developments in the fields of artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, and block chain technologies, there is immense potential to exponentially deploy its applications.
The rapidly expanding Internet of Things extends connectivity and data exchange across a vast network of portable devices, home appliances, vehicles, manufacturing equipment and other things embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and actuators. For a broad range of smart and intelligent applications, including environment monitoring, smart cities, smart utilities, agriculture, health care, industrial automation, asset tracking, logistics and transportation, from consumer wearable devices to industrial machines, these connected things can signal their environment, be remotely monitored, and controlled – and increasingly – make appropriate decisions and take actions on their own.
According to Statista Research Department, January 22, 2021, an increasing share of the electronic devices produced around the world are manufactured with internet connectivity and forecasts suggest that by 2030 around 50 billion of these IoT devices will be in use around the world, creating a massive web of interconnected devices.
However, the almost endless variety of IoT applications on the one hand and the multitude of technical standards on the other make it difficult for companies to select the right connectivity solution making their specific use case a business case.
“The nice thing about standards is that you have so many to choose from” (Andrew S. Tanenbaum)
Connectivity technologies for IoT can be structured into two high-level categories: wireless and wired connectivity solutions. From these two main choices, wireless solutions can be further divided into long-range and short-range connectivity standards.
Long ranges can go up to 200km, whereas short-range solutions cover a maximum of approximately up to 1 kilometer (Wi-Fi 6/Wi-Fi 6E) but often significantly less. And while short-range always uses unlicensed spectrum, long-range connectivity standards can utilise either licensed (cellular) or unlicensed spectrum.
Every IoT application has unique requirements when it comes to selecting the right connectivity solution. Different use cases show that there really is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, as each of any IoT applications comes with different challenges for its connectivity requirements.
In part II we will focus on the details of wireless technologies, their main characteristics and restrictions.
From the set of solutions in the unlicensed spectrum, also called ISM Band (Industrial, Scientific and Medical Band), we will only consider Wi-Fi 6/6E, Sigfox and LoRa as the most relevant worldwide. In the licensed spectrum standardized by 3GPP, it is the mobile network technologies LTE-M, NB-IoT and 5G.
EC-GSM-IoT, though also standardized by 3GPP, seems to have no future in our view as it is using 2G (GPRS) infrastructure, which some mobile network operators have already - or are planning to - shut down in order to free up resources for impending 5G deployments.
Continue with part II