IoT Connectivity: More than a Pipeline
With countless applications across multiple industries, businesses are applying IoT technology like never before. According to IT Pro, in 2018 alone, around 3.6 billion IoT devices were being used to complete a variety of tasks.
And while they take many forms and can be used across a multitude of different industries, all IoT applications share a crucial requirement: they all depend on reliable and secure connectivity.
However, not all types of connectivity are created equal. Each offers specific benefits, and intelligent selection of project-specific connectivity can offer incredible added value to any IoT project.
Connectivity, bandwidth, power and resources aren’t all the same in the scope of IoT. In fact, taking these factors into consideration from the start offers a significant opportunity to optimize your operations and cut costs.
In the IoT equation “device + connection + cloud”, connection range, type and reliability matter just as much as the devices that are being connected. This is because each IoT-connected device has specific requirements that must be met if they are to operate at an optimal level, and in tandem with the other devices in the network.
Similarly, each type of connection offers distinctive benefits that could make them the obvious choice for the connected devices in a given industry or application. For example, a connection that excels at long range would work far better on a large farm than in a small factory.
For instance, if your IoT project requires high bandwidth or broad geographic coverage, cellular connectivity will offer significant advantages over Wi-Fi or Low Power options.
Likewise, if you don’t require a private cellular network for your IoT project, it would make sense to choose a public cellular connection and save the associated costs. Because people see and treat connectivity as a simple tool, they miss the hidden value to your IoT project.
There are four main connection types that can be used to support IoT-connected devices:
- Unlicensed connectivity (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc.)
- Low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) connectivity
- Cellular connectivity (2G, 3G, LTE)
- Extraterrestrial connectivity
Unlicensed IoT Connectivity
This connectivity type is unlicensed, which means that it is not licensed to any specific company. There are plenty of examples of unlicensed connectivity, such as Z-Wave, Bluetooth, and, the most popular, WiFi.
Any IoT device can publicly connect through this method. With unlicensed connectivity, businesses can manage their own devices on their own network, separate from any mobile operator. Plus, this connectivity type tends to be rather inexpensive.
Unlicensed connectivity is as easy to use as connecting to your Wi-Fi network at home. Plus, it’s simple to set up and relatively cost-effective, as it doesn’t require comprehensive security.
That is why it’s the ideal connection type for smart homes. The connection range only has to be as wide as the house hosting these connected devices, and the required network infrastructure is likely installed already.
Since unlicensed connectivity can be publicly accessed, there are potential interference issues that could come up with this connection type. Large buildings, harsh weather, electromagnetic or microwave interference, and even human bodies can all impact the strength and reliability of your connection, and as a result, the performance of your IoT-connected devices.
Along with interference, public connections could also be subject to security risks that could potentially jeopardize your personal data or the control of your IoT-connected devices.
Unlicensed connectivity can also have difficulty connecting devices that are over 100 meters apart. Depending on the specific needs of an IoT project, this could prove to be detrimental to your project operations. Of the unlicensed connectivity choices, WiFi has the greatest bandwidth amount — as high as 1 gigabyte per second.
Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) IoT Connectivity
Low-power wide-area networks provide devices with connectivity that covers a vast range at low power cost. Although only one fifth of the global population is currently covered by LPWA networks, its usage is quickly growing in popularity.
LPWANs can effectively support smaller data transfers (10 to 10,000 data bytes at up to 200 kbps) over far wider areas (from 2 km to 30 km) from device to gateway point. The batteries in each of these devices could last for years depending on the amount of data being transferred.
This could be a hindrance for projects that involve high power usage and large data transfers. However, infrequent data transfers, such as sensors indicating vacant hospital beds or full waste containers, are perfect for LPWANs as they enable projects to operate without having to frequently replace batteries.
LPWAN connectivity is gaining popularity in the manufacturing sector, where long-range tracking and low power requirements are especially crucial for sensors and control devices. In these situations, thousands of sensors are often dispatched across a large geographic area. Each device tends to infrequently send small data packets, which make it a perfect use case for LPWAN connectivity.
LPWANs are also seen in parking garages, where IoT sensors inform users when parking spots are open, and within smart city applications, including waste containers that can send alerts when they’re full to improve operational efficiency.
LPWAN connectivity keeps these types of IoT projects operating longer than wireless technologies like Bluetooth and 3G by providing a power-efficient network where small device batteries may last years between replacement or recharging, rather than weeks or months.
However, if an IoT project requires more power usage or larger data transfers, LPWAN may not be the correct connectivity choice for your operations.
In addition, users have the flexibility of using either licensed or unlicensed connectivity for their LPWAN. They can choose licensed connectivity if they wish to further protect their data by licensing their own radio frequency for data to travel through, without depending on public infrastructure that could fail or leave data vulnerable to interference.
Cellular IoT Connectivity
Cellular connectivity offers IoT devices reliable connection strength and a secure, fast bandwidth of over 100 megabytes per second through an IoT SIM card.
Businesses can use cellular connectivity for their IoT-connected devices over a public or private network. Using a public cellular network for your IoT devices would use the same mobile infrastructure that smartphones use.
Private cellular networks come at a higher cost but are separated into segregated systems running on unused frequencies. A private cellular network connection could also be erected with a portable base station, however, it would come at a higher cost.
A more cost-effective approach to private cellular network connections could be achieved using SORACOM Canal, which leverages Amazon Web Services Virtual Private Cloud peering to connect IoT devices with your own personal, private cloud server. And because Soracom Canal doesn’t rely on the public internet to connect IoT devices, highly sensitive data related to your devices is protected from external threats.
Depending on the IoT project, the heightened security and privacy that comes with private cellular connectivity could be worth the price.
Cellular connectivity often comes at a higher price than unlicensed connectivity and requires more power than LPWA. However, the connectivity strength, range, security and speed could make it the right choice depending on the IoT project.
Cellular connectivity doesn’t require any infrastructure, and cellular-connected IoT devices don’t need to be onboarded. This is especially ideal for IoT projects that are run on a tight budget, such as farming operations. Not having to pay for skilled labor to on-board IoT devices or erect network infrastructure saves valuable dollars that can be used on other facets of your IoT project.
The security and consistency of cellular connectivity makes it the perfect match for IoT projects where the reliability of IoT devices are paramount, such as power plant operations involving safety, or government processes involving sensitive data.
In addition, cellular connectivity can provide higher bandwidth than the majority of other connectivity options. IoT sensors that are collecting massive amounts of data, or devices that are managing large, complex supply chain operations could benefit from a cellular connectivity that can handle their unique network load.
Plus, connecting IoT devices could be troublesome depending on their geographical location. Cellular connectivity can provide IoT projects with a steady, reliable connectivity that doesn’t rely on a building’s WiFi or other external factors.
Extraterrestrial IoT Connectivity
This IoT and M2M connectivity type is a niche choice for only a handful of industries, as it’s often used only when the other options, including cellular or fibre, are not feasible.
Extraterrestrial connectivity uses satellite and microwave technology, which can offer low to medium bandwidth, high range and good reliability.
One such industry is military organizations that require private connections for their unmanned drones. Shipping, mining and other industrial operations can benefit from extraterrestrial connectivity as well, considering many IoT projects require the reliable connectivity and expansive range that an extraterrestrial connection provides.
However, extraterrestrial connectivity comes with its challenges as well. For instance, some extraterrestrial connections require line-of-sight with the devices, which could prove to be problematic considering the geographical location as well as the expansive range of some IoT projects.
It’s in these situations that cloud technology empowers IoT projects with the ability to store and transfer device data without a need for direct line of sight or geographical proximity.
Depending on the IoT project, any of these connectivity types could be the best choice. Cost, range, reliability, security and power are just a few factors that should be considered when determining how you want your IoT project to perform.
Best Way to Improve Your Project with IoT Connectivity
Connectivity is the foundational pillar upon which IoT technology is built. Without a way to connect IoT devices in a way that adds value, IoT systems will fall apart under sub-optimal performance and unnecessary costs. After all, there’s a reason why 75% of IoT projects fail.
Soracom was founded to democratize IoT by providing cellular connectivity without the usual restrictions that keep IoT projects from moving forward. Over 10,000 customers, from large corporations to small startups, use Soracom Air for their IoT connectivity.
We provide hassle-free, no-commitment cellular connectivity in over 120 countries. And with no minimum cost per device, you only pay for the data you use.
Plus, Soracom’s user console and API give you complete control over every connection in your IoT network. These tools come at no added cost and let you monitor data usage network-wide, start, stop or pause any connection, get alerts for unexpected data usage, identify “chatty” SIMs or even use ICCID, IMSI, or IMEI to manage devices.
Once your SIMs are active, Soracom services like Beam, Harvest and Funnel let you optimize data usage, verify device activity on the fly with on-demand, serverless data visualization, and connect directly to your preferred cloud services.
If you want to learn more about the difference that smart connectivity designed for IoT can make for your project, schedule a demo with Soracom today.