How to choose the IoT right protocol for your product

Bruce Leith

Blog by: Bruce Leith - 14 / Jun / 2019

Multiple disciplines and multiple decisions need to come together throughout the IoT product development process. In today’s blog, we’re taking a closer look at just one – the choice of which IoT connectivity protocol to use.

On the one hand, this can feel like a simple decision. It is often assumed that WiFi makes most sense for products that will be deployed indoors, whilst cellular connectivity is the most appropriate choice for outdoor products.

This approach, however, is somewhat simplistic. First, you need to familiarise yourself with the advantages and disadvantages of WiFi and cellular connectivity.

Understanding WiFi

WiFi connected devices incur minimal or even no recurring costs, because there is no data plan involved. Additionally, WiFi tends to be a cheaper protocol overall because there is no payment to access the underlying network infrastructure. There will probably be a small recurring fee for the IoT platform for connectivity usage, but this is likely to be far cheaper than a cellular data plan. Furthermore, WiFi means no bandwidth restrictions, making it ideal for rich applications such as audio and video streaming, and it offers lower latency than cellular connectivity.

However, these substantial benefits come with some caveats. Like any WiFi-enabled device, a WiFi-enabled IoT device depends on its router’s connection the internet being reliable. Weak signal means poor connectivity and potentially damaging knock-on effects on the product’s performance. The environment where the IoT device is being deployed can affect reliability too; thick walls or complex buildings, for example, can limit performance. 

Understanding cellular

Cellular networks have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years. They are now comparable to WiFi in cost and power, and they have been designed from the ground up to support constant communication. Their penetration in underground or complex environments is good too. There are also various different types of cellular protocols available, with Cat-M1 and Narrowband IoT  (NB-IoT) currently holding the most market share.

However, cellular protocols require you to sign up to a data plan, meaning a recurring cost which is not necessary in other business models, as well as working closely with cellular carriers, which can be complicated. Cellular standards are also in a state of constant evolution which need to be considered when developing products.

Making a choice

Next, you need to think about the demands of your own particular IoT product and where and how it will be deployed. Key factors to consider include:

  • Power.How long will your products need to remain in situ, depending on battery power, and will they be using replaceable or researchable batteries? Different protocols place different power demands on your product.
  • Range. What kind of area will your IoT ecosystem cover? Broadly speaking, small and undemanding IoT setups are better suited to simple WiFi networks, whilst larger regional areas are often better matched to cellular connectivity.
  • Data. What kind of data will be carried across your IoT ecosystem, and in what volumes? Large quantities of rich data require greater bandwidth than smaller, simpler data.

There is no singular approach to choosing the right IoT protocol for your product, but these considerations can help you to make an informed decision. For further guidance, contact Tern today.


Topics: connectivity, IoT protocols

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