The most prominent prediction about IoT is that there will be over 30 billion connected devices by 2020. What does this mean? There are several implications of this assertion, however, the one we shall concern ourselves with is the underpinning technology. Since IoT is concerned with connecting devices and machines, the technology that makes the connection possible is of importance to us.
There are various types of wireless technology that enable these gadgets to transmit and receive data even without the conventional method of using wires. These technologies vary widely and they have their pros and cons. The different factors considered are battery quality (power and energy density), the range of coverage, the bandwidth requirements, etc.
For this reason, a brief summary of the 5 most commonly used technologies for IoT devices will be discussed in the paragraphs that ensue.
ZigBee (IEEE 802.15.4)
ZigBee, belonging to the LPWAN group, is slowly gaining traction and it is an open global standard that was designed with the intention of using it in M2M networks. Two features of the ZigBee are that it is very cheap to run and it also doesn’t consume as much power as the conventional technology. These features make the solution perfect for a couple of industrial applications.
The encryption utilized is the 128-bit AES encryption which is used in mesh networks to connect nodes together through a number of pathways. The interconnection of multiple devices also means that the technology can be used in a connected home setting for connecting home automation devices.
WiFi (IEEE 802.11)
WiFi relies on radio frequency waves to enable two devices to communicate with one another. Usually, WiFi is renowned for connecting internet routers and personal computers, desktops, or mobile phones. However, there are other important applications of this technology.
In essence, it is a local wireless network running based on the 802.11 standards set by the body governing the affairs of electrical engineering; the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). With WiFi, we can make use of the 2.4 GHz and the 5.0 GHz bands.
Bluetooth and BLE (IEEE 802.15.1)
When we talk about transferring data over very short distances, these technologies come to mind. Before we had more sophisticated means of data transfer, any phone user could just switch on their Bluetooth device and initiate an exchange instantly. The technology is also widely used in fitness trackers, smartwatches, and other similar devices that have low power consumption.
BLE also referred to as Bluetooth Smart, is now supported by several smartphones and computer manufacturers, as well as some of the most popular operating systems. The underpinning technology for the exchange of data is UHF radio waves and, like the WiFi, it operates at 2.4 GHz.
WiMax (IEEE 802.16)
WiMax stands for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access and via this technology, data can be transferred at an astonishing rate of 30 – 40 megabits per second. The impressive nature of this network caused some mobile carriers; most notable among them being Sprint, to deliver wireless data to their respective customers via the technology. However, almost all of the companies eventually decided to switch to faster LTE networks in order to improve speed.
Of all the technologies mentioned, this might come off as the oddest or the rarest, however, it is a widely used technology for IoT products. It is also the technology that underpins some very popular products in the market today; one of them being the Amazon Echo.
It is a mesh network that uses low energy radio waves in order to enable the machine to machine communication and this ensures the wireless control of residential appliances and automated gadgets in the home.
The rate of growth of this technology is particularly exciting. In 2017, we had about 1700 products using the Z-Wave interface. Now in 2018, over 2400 products are in the loop.
This article would not be complete without mentioning some other technologies empowering the internet of things. One notable one is the Insteon; which has the largest number of maximum devices that can be connected (17.7 million). There’s also the LoRaWAN (Long Range Area-Wide Network) which is a protocol built for IoT devices in the wide area network and smart homes.
With so many wonderful advancements in the field of networking and connectivity, the sphere of the Internet of Things is bound to soar. Apart from the wireless technology ensuring data transfer, work is being done on that of wireless charging and this also promises to be revolutionary!