The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of physical objects embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies. The purpose of IoT is to connect and exchange data with other devices and systems over the Internet.
The medical field is one area where IoT is growing exponentially. As more and more medical devices are made with technology that connects wirelessly to upload data, IoT answers the call.
Let’s review a few IoT devices, how they work, how to choose their suitable protocol, and how to get help with IoT device design should you need it.
What are IoT Devices
IoT devices include environmental sensors, internet-connected appliances, vehicle trackers, and even assembly line machines. Even though an IoT device can be any electronic device that communicates through the Internet, it doesn’t necessarily mean mobile phones or PCs.
When discussing IoT devices, the focus is mainly on devices with a narrower purpose. These can include designs that control the lights in your home or medical devices that track and monitor specific health conditions like glucose levels or GI motility.
Wireless Communication Protocols
Every IoT device performs by using a set of rules to exchange data between electronic devices. For the devices to work together, there are specific IoT protocols that the devices use to communicate wirelessly.
These protocols are critical to the IoT technology stack and allow communication and interaction between sensors, devices, gateways, servers, and user applications.
Here are six main ways an IoT device communicates with others.
- Bluetooth Low Energy
Bluetooth Low Energy is by far the most popular protocol because of its low power and interoperability between devices. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) works up to about 30 feet (10 meters), but sometimes much less. BLE is usually used to connect to a handheld device like a smartphone when it needs to communicate with an IoT device.
The disadvantage to using BLE is that a hub or a device like a smartphone must relay data from the IoT device to the cloud.
Wi-Fi is well known for use in home Internet, smartphones, tablets, and other devices. Its universal availability makes it a popular IoT communication protocol. Because the Wi-Fi infrastructure is already set up and available in most places for IoT connectivity, it has the advantage over other available protocols.
It can transmit very high-speed data, but the power consumption is too high for most IoT devices. The batteries would be too big. It is mainly used in IoT devices with high data rates, and most IoT devices have very low data rates.
In terms of security, Wi-Fi provides secure communication, which is needed when sending data across devices and to its final destination.
Cellular communication is used for long-distance wireless communications. Cellular wireless communication performs using GSM/3G/4G/LTE, and now 5G.
This communication protocol is best used for sensor-based IoT devices operating in remote areas and for high-speed data. Just like Wi-Fi, cellular wireless communication is readily available and can be used securely. However, it does have its drawbacks.
The primary issue with cellular communication is the high power consumption, even more than Wi-Fi. Cellular modules require large amounts of power, requiring large batteries or frequent charging.
The power issue was solved with the introduction of LPWAN. NB-IoT and LTE-M (or CAT-M) are the primary examples of LPWAN. LPWAN only became widely available in 2019. It is now available to well over 90% of the US population and most of the world. Low power IoT devices can now communicate directly to the Internet at low data rates with small batteries. These technologies have the disadvantage of a monthly fee, although the fee is quite low.
LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network), or just LoRa, is another version of LPWAN. It is even lower in power than NB-IoT and LTE-M. Still, it is only available to about 30% of the US population, so it is not suitable for most general-purpose applications.
LoRa has a big advantage not available with any other LPWAN technology. It can have a private network where you install a base station to serve an area, such as a factory or a school. The cost of a base station is only around $300, and there is no monthly service fee, as there is with public networks. The disadvantage is that you can’t roam outside the area where you have installed a base station.
To communicate, LoRaWAN varies across regions. The most popular bands are 422MHz, 868MHz, 915MHz, and 923MHz. LoRa cannot transmit high-speed data, although that is usually not a problem with IoT devices. Data rates are very low because each payload is limited to just a few hundred bytes.
The Zigbee protocol is based on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard and is a popular short-range wireless communication protocol. It operates at 2.4GHz with a 250kbps data rate. It can function with low-power consumption and works at low data rates.
Zigbee is typically used for specific applications, such as home automation and industrial applications, to provide multi-hop mesh networking. It also allows for sleep modes to help decrease power consumption.
Even though Zigbee is a popular short-range wireless communication protocol, it needs a central hub or edge router to relay data from IoT devices to the cloud. Because it is not supported in smartphones, its general-purpose use has been limited.
A radio frequency-based low-power consuming communication protocol, Z-Wave, is based on IEEE 802.15.4 standards. It is the simplest among all the protocols and is suitable for small devices like lamp control and other consumer applications. Because of its simplicity, Z-Wave implementation and use make it easy for IoT devices to communicate over short distances; however, it is not as popular as the other protocols.
Choosing the Right Protocol for Your IoT Device
With wide-scale IoT solutions being implemented, there is an emerging set of new wireless technologies. LoRaWAN and SigFox continue to have limited deployments. Technologies like NB-IoT (NarrowBand-Internet of Things) and LTE-M are now built out across the USA and much of the world for deploying devices that will work nearly everywhere.
The focus of innovation is on low-power protocols that enable remote battery-operated devices to send small amounts of data for months to years at a time. Since remote service costs are a significant component of the total cost of ownership for a sensor network, we expect one or more of these new standards to replace Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE, Zigbee, Wi-Fi, or cellular.
As with anything, each has its advantages and disadvantages, and it’s crucial to understand them when designing an IoT device. The optimal technology depends on your application.
Expert IoT Design and Development
Voler Systems has extensive experience developing and designing IoT smart devices, wireless products, wearable medical devices, and gateways. We are highly experienced in developing specifications from your ideas, creating innovative IoT device designs, sensor integration, and producing high-quality wireless products.
Voler is a leading design company for new products, embedded systems, medical devices, wearable tech, and IoT devices. We can provide you with a complete product design from end to end.
Contact us today for help in the design and implementation of your next IoT device.