The Internet of Things (IoT) has enormous potential to improve the way we live and work, however, for it to operate, those IoT devices need network connectivity so that they can send and receive the data they need in order to work effectively. Here, we will look at six of the most important connectivity technologies that the IoT relies on.
Wi-Fi is the most common form of technology used by IoT devices to send and receive data from the internet. These devices use a wireless local area network (WLAN) to connect with other devices within a range of around 20 metres. The WLAN router then transmits the data, via a broadband connection, over the internet. When broadband isn’t available, it is possible to use phone networks to send the data instead.
One of the biggest advantages of Wi-Fi is that there are so many Wi-Fi enabled devices which can make use of its technology, for example, intelligent personal assistants like Amazon Echo, smart thermostats, video doorbells and smart bulbs. The list is long and with Wi-Fi being reliable, inexpensive and secure, the number of devices is growing rapidly.
For a long time, we have use satellites as part of the telecom network. When we telephone someone, the call is transmitted to a local antenna and, from there, bounced up to a satellite. The satellite then relays the message back to the person we are calling.
Today, IoT devices and their central servers use satellites in the same way to transfer data between each other. In a sense, satellites act as a bridge that enables data to be sent quickly and efficiently over very large distances.
Useful for transmitting low data volumes, typical satellite uses could include sending data from smart meters, fleet management and cargo tracking.
Low energy radio frequency (RF) communications offer one of the simplest ways for devices to communicate with each other. This can be achieved by building a low powered radio transmitter into a device. Internet connected readers can then collect the signal transmitted from the RF device and send it to the central system.
RF is highly suitable for large-scale deployments, such as in industrial and manufacturing settings where many IoT devices need to be locally managed. Typical examples of use include warehouse inventory management, wireless lighting control and traffic management systems.
Radio frequency identification (RFID) is one of the most popular connectivity technologies around, using radio waves to send signals over short distances between a reader and a tagged object. Tags are small chips embedded into items such as labels, smart cards and wristbands. We even put them in our pets when we chip them.
When a tagged object comes within range of a reader, it is activated and sends a signal identifying itself. As each tag as a unique identifier, this makes it an ideal technology for monitoring and tracking objects. It can be used to track assets and inventory in industrial settings. The data collected by the RFID reader can be transmitted via Wi-Fi over the internet for processing.
Near Field Communication (NFC) is a specialised form of RFID. Although it works in the same way as RFID, it uses high frequency radio waves that only transmit over a very short distance, just a few centimetres. This makes it ideal for secure transmission as the reader and tag need to be in close proximity for the data to be transferred. This is why NFC is commonly used for access control, cashless vending and contactless payments.
Internet connected readers include smartphones, payment terminals and access control scanners. The latter, for example, can be attached to the entrances of business premises and access is authorised by swiping an NFC enabled card, such as those made by Universal Smart Cards. As the readers are IoT enabled, data about who is on the premises, what time they arrived and where they are can be collected remotely over the internet and processed for security, HR and payroll purposes.
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), is a wireless technology used for exchanging data over short distances up to around 50m. BLE works using a beacon, a small battery powered device, that emits a Bluetooth Low Energy signal. A reader within the range of the beacon is able to pick up the signal and connect with it. Once this is done, the beacon can transmit information to the reader.
BLE has become widespread in fields such as retail, banking, healthcare and events management where it is often used for locating assets, such as monitoring the movement of medical equipment in a hospital or tracking the location of inventory in a warehouse. This data can then be sent over the internet to a remote, central system where it can be stored and analysed.
In retail, BLE can also be used to send information to visitors’ mobile phones when they are in store. For example, by fixing a beacon near a display of new products, the store can send push notifications to the phones of shoppers nearby, telling them about the display or giving them a special offer.
IoT devices come in a wide variety of forms and have a wide range of uses. However, for them to work effectively, there needs to be a network through which data can travel between each device and the cloud-based system that processes the data. That network relies on a range of different connectivity technologies, hopefully, you will now have a better understanding of them.