IoT Connectivity: An Introductory Guide

IoT glossary

IoT Connectivity: An Introductory Guide

When deploying IoT solutions, choosing the right connectivity provider is pivotal to ensuring the seamless operation, reliability, and security of the IoT devices. Whether you are a manufacturer, a solution provider, reseller or an end user, understanding the key features of various connectivity options is essential. Factors such as network coverage, bandwidth, latency, data transmission protocols, and security measures all play a critical role in determining the effectiveness of an IoT deployment. By carefully evaluating these features and aligning them with your specific requirements and use cases, you can make an informed decision that ensures the optimal performance deployment.

Through this article we will establish the key considerations when choosing an IoT connectivity solution, the different types of connectivity on offer and how to compare IoT connectivity options.

If you still have questions, as a leading provider of IoT connectivity, Cellhire can advise you on the most appropriate connectivity for your deployment. Simply get in touch today.

What is IoT connectivity?

IoT connectivity is the ability of IoT devices to communicate with each other and other systems over the internet or other networks. It enables data collection and exchange, enabling various applications to monitor, control, and automate processes in fields such as healthcare, transportation, smart homes, agriculture, and industrial automation. Different connectivity technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, cellular networks and LP-WAN are used depending on the specific requirements of the IoT application. The choice of technology depends on factors such as range, power consumption, data rate, and cost. Let’s take a look at each IoT connectivity type.

IoT connectivity type 1: Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is one of the most common IoT connectivity types due to the widespread adoption of the technology by businesses. Its robust infrastructure, widespread adoption, and support for high data rates make it ideal for applications requiring real-time communication, such as smart home automation, industrial monitoring, and healthcare systems. However, Wi-Fi's main limitation is the requirement for an existing infrastructure to be in place. The technology has a relatively limited range compared to other IoT connectivity options and higher power consumption can pose challenges for IoT devices requiring extended battery life or operating in remote areas with sparse connectivity infrastructure.

FeatureDescription
RangeTypically up to a few hundred feet indoors, depending on environmental factors and the strength of the router's signal.
Data RateSupports relatively high data rates, making it suitable for applications requiring real-time or high-bandwidth data transmission.
Power ConsumptionConsumes more power compared to low-power options like Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) or Zigbee, but advancements in power-saving techniques have improved efficiency.
InfrastructureRequires existing Wi-Fi infrastructure, including routers or access points, which are commonly found in homes, offices, and public spaces.
SecuritySupports robust security protocols like WPA2 and WPA3, providing encryption to protect data transmitted between devices and the network.
CostCosts can vary depending on factors like chipset prices, certification fees, and software development costs, but competitive pricing is available for Wi-Fi modules.
Limitations1. Limited range compared to other wireless technologies like cellular or LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network)
2. High power consumption may not be suitable for battery-powered IoT devices requiring long battery life.
3. Susceptible to interference from other Wi-Fi devices and electromagnetic interference in crowded environments.

IoT connectivity type 2: Bluetooth Technology

Bluetooth has become a popular IoT connectivity solution due to its widespread adoption in many IoT devices. Although the range of Bluetooth is limited, Bluetooth mesh networks can be created to significantly increase its range. By using a mesh network architecture, Bluetooth devices can relay data through multiple nodes, effectively extending the range beyond what traditional Bluetooth can achieve. This scalability and flexibility make Bluetooth mesh an excellent choice for large-scale IoT deployments such as smart cities, industrial automation, and building management systems. Additionally, Bluetooth's low power consumption and ease of integration further contribute to its popularity as an IoT connectivity solution.

FeatureDescription
RangeTypically up to 10 meters (Bluetooth Classic), up to 100 meters (Bluetooth Low Energy)
Data Rate1-3 Mbps (Bluetooth Classic), 125 kbps - 2 Mbps (Bluetooth Low Energy)
Power ConsumptionVaries depending on use case and Bluetooth version. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is designed for low power consumption.
InfrastructureBluetooth typically requires minimal infrastructure setup, relying on built-in hardware support in devices. However, for large-scale deployments, infrastructure such as Bluetooth hubs or gateways may be necessary to manage multiple devices and enhance connectivity.
SecurityBluetooth offers various security features such as pairing, encryption, and authentication. However, vulnerabilities have been identified in the past.
CostBluetooth technology is generally cost-effective due to its widespread adoption and low hardware requirements. The cost primarily involves the purchase of Bluetooth-enabled devices or modules. Infrastructure costs, if required, can vary depending on the scale and complexity of the deployment. Overall, Bluetooth is often considered a budget-friendly option for IoT connectivity.
LimitationsInterference from other Bluetooth devices can occur in crowded environments. Limited range compared to other wireless technologies like Wi-Fi. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) may have slower data transfer rates compared to Bluetooth Classic. Compatibility issues may arise between different versions of Bluetooth. Power consumption can be a concern for battery-operated devices, especially in continuous communication scenarios. Security vulnerabilities have been identified in various Bluetooth implementations.

IoT connectivity type 3: Zigbee

Zigbee is a wireless technology crafted for creating affordable, energy-efficient links among machinery and IoT devices. While its intention is to foster interoperability between products from various manufacturers, the reality often sees customised implementations leading to compatibility hurdles. In contrast to Wi-Fi's ubiquity and cellular connectivity's widespread coverage and high-speed data transfer capabilities, Zigbee operates at a more measured pace, prioritizing power efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Its mesh networking protocol facilitates self-healing capabilities, ensuring connectivity resilience even in complex environments. While Zigbee may not match the speed and coverage of Wi-Fi or cellular networks, its niche lies in enabling low-data-rate, low-power applications, making it an indispensable component in the ever-expanding landscape of the Internet of Things.

FeatureDescription
RangeTypically up to 10-100 meters (varies based on environmental factors and device power)
Data Rate20-250 kbps depending on the Zigbee variant (Zigbee 3.0 offers higher data rates)
Power ConsumptionLow power consumption, making it suitable for battery-operated devices
InfrastructureZigbee requires a Zigbee coordinator (gateway or hub) to manage the network and facilitate communication between devices.
SecurityZigbee offers robust security features including encryption, authentication, and key management.
CostZigbee devices and components are generally affordable, but costs can vary depending on the complexity of the deployment and the specific Zigbee products used. Infrastructure costs may include the purchase of Zigbee gateways or hubs. Overall, Zigbee is considered cost-effective for IoT applications.
LimitationsLimited data rate compared to other wireless technologies. Interoperability between different Zigbee devices and vendors can sometimes be a challenge. Initial setup and network configuration may require some technical expertise.

IoT connectivity type 4: Cellular IoT Connectivity

Cellular IoT connectivity is an innovative technology that enables IoT devices to connect to the internet using cellular networks. Unlike traditional IoT connectivity options, such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, cellular IoT allows devices to communicate over long distances and in areas where other connectivity options may not be available, such as remote or rural areas. This technology uses existing cellular infrastructure, such as 4G LTE and emerging 5G networks, to provide reliable and widespread connectivity for a diverse range of IoT applications, including smart cities, industrial automation, healthcare monitoring, and agriculture.

FeatureDescription
CoverageExtensive coverage is provided by cellular networks, reaching remote and rural areas where other connectivity options may be limited.
Data RateSupports varying data rates depending on the cellular technology used (e.g., LTE-M, NB-IoT), suitable for a wide range of IoT applications with different bandwidth requirements.
Power ConsumptionGenerally higher power consumption compared to low-power options like Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) or Zigbee, but advancements are being made to improve efficiency.
InfrastructureRelies on existing cellular infrastructure, offering wide coverage and eliminating the need for additional infrastructure deployment in most areas.
SecurityOffers robust security features such as encryption and authentication, ensuring secure communication between devices and the network.
CostCosts can vary based on factors like data plans, module prices, and subscription fees, but competitive pricing options are available from cellular providers.
Limitations1. Reliance on cellular network coverage, which may be limited or unavailable in certain remote or underground locations.
Higher power consumption compared to low-power alternatives may not be suitable for battery-operated devices with strict power constraints.

IoT connectivity type 5: LP-WAN

LP-WAN is becoming a preferred connectivity choice for devices that require minimal power consumption due to the limited battery capacity of the device.

LP-WAN technologies such as NB-IoT are the ideal choice for devices that require extensive coverage and operate in challenging environments. With their ability to penetrate obstacles and provide reliable connectivity over long distances, LP-WANs ensure seamless communication between remote sensors and centralised systems. This makes them indispensable for a wide range of applications, including smart agriculture, environmental monitoring, asset tracking, and industrial automation. By optimising power usage and offering long battery life, LP-WANs enable the deployment of IoT solutions in areas where access to power sources is limited or impractical. As the IoT ecosystem continues to expand, LP-WANs are poised to play a crucial role in connecting billions of devices worldwide, driving innovation and efficiency across industries.

FeatureDescription
CoverageOffers extensive coverage with long-range capabilities, reaching remote areas and penetrating obstacles like buildings and foliage, making it suitable for outdoor deployments.
Data RateProvides low data rates suitable for small intermittent messages or sensor data, optimising for energy efficiency and extending battery life in connected devices.
Power ConsumptionDesigned for ultra-low power consumption, prolonging battery life significantly compared to other wireless technologies, ideal for battery-operated IoT devices.
InfrastructureRequires minimal infrastructure deployment due to its long-range capabilities, reducing the need for additional infrastructure investment in remote or rural areas.
SecurityImplements strong security measures such as encryption and authentication to protect data transmitted over the network, ensuring privacy and integrity.
InteropabilityPromotes interoperability among devices and networks, allowing seamless integration into existing IoT ecosystems and supporting diverse use cases.
CostOffers cost-effective solutions due to minimal infrastructure requirements and low power consumption, making it suitable for large-scale deployments.
Limitations1. Limited data rates may not be suitable for applications requiring high-bandwidth data transmission or real-time communication.
2. Coverage limitations in urban areas or indoor environments may require additional infrastructure or alternative connectivity solutions.
3. Compatibility issues between different LPWAN technologies and deployments may hinder interoperability in some cases.

What to consider when choosing an IoT connectivity solution?

Choosing the right connectivity solution for an IoT device is critical to the success of the application. Losing connection to the device can drive a range of additional logistical and cost challenges and in some cases, the repercussions can be severe, leading to operational disruptions, data loss, or compromised safety. Therefore, it's imperative to select a connectivity solution that not only meets the technical requirements of your or your customer’s application but also aligns with the business objectives and risk tolerance. By making an informed decision and investing in a reliable connectivity solution, you can minimise the risks associated with connectivity failures and maximise the value delivered by your IoT devices.

When choosing an IoT connectivity solution, you should consider the following factors:

Coverage and range

The suitability of each IoT connectivity solution depends on the specific requirements of your devices, particularly in terms of coverage, range, and mobility. For example, whether a device will be stationary or mobile influences the choice of connectivity solution. Additionally, the location of the device, whether in a densely populated urban area or a remote region with limited infrastructure, is a crucial factor to consider. Furthermore, the criticality of the application, especially for mission-critical devices, dictates the need for a solution with minimal downtime risk. By carefully considering these factors, you can select the most appropriate IoT connectivity solution to ensure optimal performance and reliability for your application.

Bandwidth

Each application will have a different requirement for the data bandwidth that it requires to operate effectively. Applications like sensors, asset trackers, smart meters, and wearable devices will transmit very small packets of data while CCTV, digital media screens, and video streaming applications will require higher bandwidth due to the larger amount of data they need to transmit. Assessing how much data your devices are going to transmit is critical to selecting the right connectivity solution. For applications that involve transmitting small packets of data infrequently, LP-WAN protocols like NB-IoT are the preferred choice. However, applications that require high-speed data transmission, such as video streaming or real-time monitoring, may benefit from broadband technologies like 4G/5G cellular networks.

Latency

A significant factor to determine is the level of latency acceptable to allow your IoT devices to operate effectively. Latency in IoT connectivity refers to the delay in the transmission of data from IoT device to IoT device or to the data endpoint like the cloud.

In some IoT applications, latency can jeopardise the efficacy of the device and in some applications, can present a significant risk. For example, in industrial automation, where IoT devices control machinery, even a slight delay in data transmission could lead to machinery operating out of sync or missing critical signals, potentially causing accidents or production delays. Similarly, in healthcare applications such as remote patient monitoring or telemedicine, latency can impact the real-time transmission of vital signs or medical data, affecting the ability of healthcare professionals to make timely decisions and provide appropriate care.

Each IoT connectivity solution has a different latency, for example, the roll-out of 5G cellular connectivity has significantly reduced latency compared to other cellular connectivity types. Establishing the level of latency that is acceptable for your application to inform your decision.

Scalability

Scalability can cover a range of areas in IoT deployments including the number of devices, the volume of data generated, the capacity of the network infrastructure to handle increased traffic, and the ability of the system to adapt to growth without compromising performance or reliability. It's crucial to ensure that IoT solutions can effectively accommodate expanding needs and evolving demands over time. Each type of IoT connectivity type — whether it's Wi-Fi, cellular, LPWAN, or others — must be evaluated for its scalability characteristics to determine its suitability for different IoT deployments. Factors such as range, bandwidth, and interference susceptibility play significant roles in determining how well a connectivity type can scale to support a growing network of devices.

Future trends in IoT connectivity

The world of IoT connectivity is constantly evolving, enhancing the effectiveness at which IoT devices remain connected. With each advancement in technology, new solutions which are more efficient, scalable and innovative are created. For businesses, staying ahead of these new developments is key to enhancing the productivity and profitability of your deployments and allows you to edge further ahead of your competitors.

5G connectivity

The rollout of the 5G spectrum unlocks a range of new use cases for cellular IoT connectivity. Thanks to its high speeds and low latency, 5G can connect 10 times more devices per square kilometre than 4G whilst also providing speeds that are ten times faster. The low latency of 5G is also critical, allowing for near real-time communication and enabling applications that require instant responsiveness, such as autonomous vehicles, remote surgery, and industrial automation. Additionally, the increased network capacity of 5G supports the massive scalability required for deploying large-scale IoT deployments, including smart cities, smart grids, and industrial IoT solutions.

Edge computing

Edge Computing is transforming IoT deployments by undertaking data processing tasks locally on edge devices or edge services. With the requirement for real-time insights and faster response times becoming more and more normal with the roll out of autonomous cars, industrial automation and healthcare monitoring Edge Computing plays a crucial role in meeting these demands. By bringing computing resources closer to the data source, edge computing minimizes latency and reduces the need to transmit large volumes of data to centralized cloud servers for processing. This not only improves response times but also enhances privacy and security by keeping sensitive data within the local network.

IoT connectivity, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning

To enhance IoT connectivity and optimise network performance, AI and machine learning are being utilised to automate device configuration, undertake predictive and preventative actions, and maintain connectivity. These advanced technologies analyse large amounts of data generated by IoT devices, allowing for predictive maintenance strategies that can anticipate and address potential issues before they disrupt operations. Furthermore, AI-driven analytics ensure real-time optimization of network resources, resulting in efficient utilisation and uninterrupted connectivity across distributed environments. As AI and machine learning technologies continue to advance, they will greatly enhance the capabilities of IoT connectivity solutions.

Looking for a cellular IoT for your device or to sell to your customers? Cellhire is here to support you.

Cellhire is a leading supplier of IoT connectivity suitable for a range of applications. As an MVNO of Orange France, we can not only offer a solution which offers the required connectivity resilience but also is available with competitive data rates. Our IoT connectivity solution includes:

  • Access to 4 UK networks;
  • Access to 700 international networks;
  • Un-steered solutions that connect to the strongest network;
  • VPN options;
  • Protection that permits permanent roaming;
  • Commercials that improve margin at the same rate across UK & EU;
  • A SIM management portal that provides access to live data
Last Modified: 19/04/2024
Written by: Dan McDonnell