IoT, or the Internet of Things, is now everywhere. There are already more than 10 billion interconnected IoT devices today by 2021, and the number is still expected to grow to more than 25 billion by 2030.
As we know, IoT deployments now span a huge range of industries. There are small IoT projects that only involve one or two IoT sensors, but there are also large-scale IoT networks involving hundreds if not thousands of interconnected devices with complex functionalities.
The success of any IoT project relies on connections, and IoT devices use network standards and protocols to allow these devices to communicate with each other and to the cloud.
Why Are There So Many IoT Network Protocols?
At the moment, there are actually more than 100 network protocols capable of facilitating IoT networks, with around 30 of them being fairly popular. The question is, why don’t we have a single connectivity solution for all IoT use cases?
The answer is that because, at the moment, we don’t yet have a perfectly ideal IoT network protocol that can cater to all use cases.
This ideal IoT network protocol should:
- Consume as little energy as possible
- Has the widest possible coverage area, in theory, should be able to connect two devices that are halfway across the world directly
- Has as high bandwidth as possible
Obviously, such a connectivity solution doesn’t yet exist, and this is why all IoT network protocols we have at the moment always feature at least one tradeoff between the three requirements: power consumption, bandwidth, and range.
With that being said, we can categorize these different IoT network protocols into three major categories.
Three Types of Iot Network Protocols
1) High Power Consumption, High Range, High Bandwidth
In this type of IoT network protocol, a lot of energy is used to send a lot of data across a significant range. Cellular and satellite are the most important examples of this category.
2) Low power consumption, Low Range, High Bandwidth
As we can see, the tradeoff here is range. To ensure power efficiency while retaining the ability to send and receive a lot of data at any given time, we must sacrifice range. Wi-Fi, for example, consumes less energy than cellular IoT, but can only cover a very limited range.
3) Low power consumption, High Range, Low Bandwidth
Last but not least, this type of IoT network protocols sacrifice bandwidth to ensure we can send data across a great range while maintaining power efficiency.
Popular IoT Network Protocols
1) Cellular IoT
Most of us are already familiar with cellular connectivity powering our smartphones and tablets, and cellular is also one of the most popular connectivity solutions in IoT.
Cellular networks, especially 4G LTE and now 5G, offer high bandwidth and reliable connectivity, and with cellular coverage virtually available anywhere in the world, cellular IoT is one of only two solutions capable of facilitating global IoT connectivity, along with satellite.
Truphone offers service in more than 100 countries, and with eSIM technology can allow IoT operators to easily switch between networks from different countries without any roaming charges.
The main downside of cellular connectivity, however, is that it consumes a lot of power to wirelessly send a huge amount of data across a great range. So, IoT devices that are deployed remotely and must rely on battery powers are not great candidates for using cellular IoT.
2) Bluetooth LE
Bluetooth has always been a cost-effective connectivity solution but consumes a fairly high amount of energy until the introduction of Bluetooth LE (Low Energy).
Bluetooth LE is an optimized version of Bluetooth, ideal for connectivities between battery-powered IoT devices. Consumes less power than Wi-Fi, but also has lower bandwidth capability than Wi-Fi, and the range is fairly limited.
Bluetooth is typically used in IoT applications where the range is not an issue (i.e. smart home) and for devices that don’t require a lot of bandwidth.
WiFi is obviously a popular connectivity solution most of us are familiar with and is widely used both in residential and commercial environments.
Wi-Fi can provide very high levels of bandwidth, and consumes less power than cellular IoT. However, the range of Wi-Fi connections is fairly limited. Wi-Fi usage in IoT applications is limited to small-scale IoT projects like smart homes and smart offices, but newer Wi-Fi protocols like HaLow are introduced for IoT applications.
Wi-Fi HaLow offers more range and less energy consumption than standard Wi-Fi, making it ideal for a wide range of IoT projects.
4) Mesh Networks
Mesh networks like ZigBee and Z-Wave rely on the interconnectivity of devices that are organized in a mesh topology, allowing the devices to transfer and send data amongst each other to amplify range.
Well-suited for medium-range IoT deployments that are distributed within fairly small areas like smart homes.
LPWAN or Low-Power Wide Area Network is an umbrella term referring to new IoT network protocols that can provide wide-area communication with low energy consumption, at the tradeoff of bandwidth. LoRa and SigFox are the most popular examples of LPWAN technologies at the moment.
LPWAN can only offer fairly low bandwidth but is actually ideal for various IoT projects since many IoT sensors don’t actually need to send and receive a lot of data. Sensors and thermostats, for example, can operate fairly well in low bandwidth situations.
With various different IoT network protocols available, it’s important to choose the right solution by first assessing your needs: which between energy consumption, range, and bandwidth is the most crucial of your IoT deployment, and which you can compromise.