Connecting things to the IoT

We have already established the fact that the Internet of Things is a home for connected devices. It was concluded that any device that can be connected to the Internet is qualified to be part of IoT. Further along the line, we discovered that our everyday things can be transformed to become part of IoT if they are embedded with systems and sensors to enhance their ordinary functioning. Now the question is how do these millions of devices connect to the Internet of Things? With what route do they communicate with one another? Let’s explore some of the connection routes available for devices on the Internet of Things.

Cellular Network

Have you ever wondered how you could connect to the Internet and enjoy all the activities, programs, chats, messaging, etc.?  You are leveraging on the power of cellular networks. Yes! These networks serve as the backbones wherein, we ride to watch videos, connect will all our friends all over the world, get rides, shop and enjoy the offerings of the social media (McClelland, 2019).

During the early days when the Internet was still new, the focus was mostly on connecting people. Even in recent times, we use cellular networks on our smartphones to stay connected over the Internet. However, with the advent of IoT, cellular networks are now being used for connecting both people and devices.

Although IoT devices can use cellular networks to connect or stay connected, the traditional options we have such as 2GB, 3GB or even 4GB modems are not most appropriate for all the things on IoT. These categories work well for sending a massive amount of data, but they have a challenge of excessive power consumption. Also, some applications on IoT do not require a lot of data to interact or send data.

Moreover, if all the devices connected to the Internet of Things could be plugged into an electrical outlet all the time, there will be no issue. Unfortunately, the reverse is the case because some devices function with batteries and not electricity. Applications such as asset trackers, agriculture sensors, meters, street lights, and healthcare equipment transmit little data regularly.  These devices don’t need a high GB modem to function, but they need to be powered all the time (Rand, 2018).

This situation necessitated the creation of cellular IoT which involves technologies like NB-IoT (Narrow Band IoT) & LTE-M (Long Term Evolution for Machines. These cellular techs are designed specifically for the devices on the Internet of Things that can’t use the traditional cellular networks. These two IoT techs are bridging the gap between regular cellular networks and IoT devices. While NB-IoT takes care of devices that communicate once in a while and require low bandwidth, LTE-M handles the higher bandwidth devices, roaming applications and mobile apps (Rand, 2018). Already, NB-IoT is being applied in environmental sensors remotely to measure wind, temperature, pressure, etc. With this tech, these devices can last for ten years on battery or last longer on solar power while sending regular updates as required. Also, LTE-M is now being used on asset tracker which is not stationary as it roams from one country to the other without interruptions.

So what’s the future benefit of using cellular networks to foster connection amongst the devices on the Internet of Things? Well, since the cellular network is already everywhere with many base stations, buildings, cell tower, power supply, etc. it is expected that it can connect hundreds of thousands of devices on the Internet of Things (Rand, 2018).

Wifi

Wi-Fi is another networking technology that devices on the Internet of Things can leverage on to connect. If not for anything, this network is everywhere, and many applications can operate comfortably with it. Wi-Fi can be found on any house where Internet connection exists. Just like cellular networks, it can be a good backbone for IoT devices.

Well, although Wi-Fi is ever-present and capable of connecting thousands of IoT devices, it still has the same power issues as cellular networks. Wi-Fi needs a lot of power, and this is already a deterrent from using it to connect devices that can’t sustain such power demands or those that are in locations far from the power grid (Micrium Embedded Software, 2017).

So one may wonder Wi-Fi connectivity can be used for IoT devices. The answer is that there is a way because developers have added two specifications to the traditional Wi-Fi known as 802.11ah & 802.11 ax (Parekh, 2017).

Wifi HaLow or 802.11 ah is from the original IEEE802.11ah standard which was ratified in October 2016. The reason behind it is to handle the issues that made the Wi-Fi unsuitable for IoT devices which were the problem of power and range of coverage. This specification provided low power and extended range requirements for IoT devices. The downside is that HaLow still needs a special kind of wireless access point or installing a radio inside the App and client hardware (Parekh, 2017).

HEW or 802.11ax is another wireless standard suitable for IoT devices. It maintained some of the features of 802.11ah but offered a suitable platform for at least eighteen clients to connect and transmit data at the same time. Clients can minimize power consumption and also avoid a collision because this specification comes with sub-carrier spacing and multi-user MIMO features (Parekh, 2017).

Although these two specifications are meant for the Internet of Things devices to enable Wi-Fi connectivity, vendors of this network continue to improve on them to offer more.

Satellite

Even before the Internet of Things became very popular, the satellite has been one source of connection for people all over the world. We all know that satellite has always been a network which reaches across places or countries where other technologies fail to cover. With a satellite tech, countries monitor even their loneliest remote locations whether on land or in the sea. Given how far-reaching and reliable the satellite network is, it will have a positive effect on IoT.  This will mean that its applications will reach far and wide across continents (SES Beyond Frontiers, 2016).

However, for the satellite network to match the demands of IoT devices in their millions there must be constant innovation. The reason being that although satellites can handle the wide-spread connectivity demands of IoT, the demands of speedy and heavy data transactions needs of IoT devices, may run into a glitch.Well, satellite operators are aware of this challenge, and as such, are making efforts to come up with hardware and services that will take care of these fears.

Already, satellite-based solutions for IoT are being developed with the purpose of integrating them to create hybrid networks. These networks will be a combination of wireless networks, fiber, and satellite. While still awaiting these hybrid networks, IoT devices are being connected with narrowband providers (L band operating frequency range 1-2 GHz in the radio spectrum). However, satellite connections such as Ka-Band and Ku-Band have created a path for IoT devices in space (Amyx, 2017).

Further innovations on Satellite technology for connecting the Internet of Things are ongoing, and with time, there will be new specifications to handle both the wide coverage and speed required for IoT devices to communicate.

ZigBee

This is another network that IoT devices depend on for connecting and sharing of data. ZigBee is based on IEEE Standard 802.15.4 and created to support applications that require low power and low data to function. One thing to note about this network is that it is supposed to be an open standard network, but vendors have customized and extended its products and allowed for intolerability. However, unlike WiFi, ZigBee network supports lower data rates and also uses a mesh network topology to prevent hub devices and establish an architecture that can heal itself (Rouse, 2019).

Now the question is how this network facilitates the connectivity and data sharing needs of IoT devices. Currently, ZigBee has more than five million chipsets already sold in the market. This network is seemingly suitable for the IoT device to connect wirelessly. Even more, the ZigBee Alliance has worked hard to make the network protocol stack modular to give several hardware platforms access to work on the network.

A recent study revealed that by 2023, ZigBee chipsets should be selling up to one billion every year. The low-power and versatile chips are being used in products such as home automation systems, connected lighting schemes, and some devices used in climate control. Some companies that are fully manufacturing ZigBee-based products are Comcast, Amazon, Samsung Smarthings, IKEA, Signify and Schneider Electric (Lombardo, 2018).

LoRaWAN

LoRaWan is a wireless protocol which LoRa Alliance developed solely for mitigating the long-range communication challenges on the Internet of Things. This protocol can handle the long-range and low-power consumption requirements of IoT due to its system architecture based on LoRaWan. Also, both the network architecture and the protocol helps to determine a network capacity, node battery lifetime, security, quality of the service and types of applications which the network serves.

One of the benefits of LoRaWan over other networks like Bluetooth and WiFi is that it doesn’t consume much power and its requirements for data transfer is not much. Also, unlike WiFi and Bluetooth, it measures its range in miles and not in yards. This protocol has 3 classes, A, B, C created for end-point gadgets and also offered simplex, half-duplex, and a modified full duplex getaway as seen in B. Each of these classes offers different downlink and uplink advantages although many people adopt class A over the others (Smith, 2017).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *