In IoT projects, IoT connection or IoT connectivity refers to a method to connect all the elements in the IoT ecosystem. These elements can include the IoT devices (sensors, appliances, machines), routers, gateways, platforms, servers, and other systems.
In practice, IoT connection refers to the different types of network solutions like cellular, Wi-Fi, satellite, and others, which can be differentiated based on their coverage range, bandwidth consumption, and energy consumption.
Why Are There Many Different IoT Connection Solutions?
Simply put, different IoT projects vary in their technical requirements, so they’ll need different IoT connectivity options based on their needs.
This is because, at the moment, a perfect connectivity solution that can accommodate all these projects’ needs simply doesn’t exist (yet).
An ideal IoT connection should fulfill three key criteria:
- Consumes as little energy as possible
- Can cover as wide an area as possible (ideally, total global coverage)
- As high a bandwidth range as possible
As we can see, we don’t have such a solution, at least at the moment, and this is why all IoT connections always have their trade-offs.
The idea is to choose which trade-off(s) you are willing to make depending on the IoT project’s needs based on five core considerations.
Five Considerations When Choosing IoT Connection
- Energy Consumption
If your IoT device/sensor can be plugged in 24/7, then energy consumption probably won’t be a major issue (accepting the cost). However, if the device is battery-powered like in many IoT deployments, then energy consumption will play a key role in the connectivity solution your project uses.
On the other hand, to wirelessly send a lot of data across a wide area would require a lot of energy, and so typically we’ll need to either sacrifice coverage range or bandwidth (data speed) if we want to maintain low energy consumption.
How much data needs to be transmitted at a time? If, for example, your IoT sensor only needs to send a small amount of data, then you won’t really need that much bandwidth. On the other hand, if your IoT deployments rely on a high amount of data transfer, then you’ll need a connectivity solution that offers high bandwidth capacity like cellular or Wi-Fi.
- Coverage Range
How wide is the area covered by the IoT connection solution? Solutions like Bluetooth LE can transmit quite a lot of data at a time while using low energy, but as we know it can only cover a limited area (below 100ft). On the other hand, cellular connectivity can provide international and even global coverage if you get the right data plan. Truphone for Things IoT cellular connection plans offer coverage in more than 150 countries, and with eSIM technology, you can easily switch between different providers without needing to physically replace your SIM card.
Figure out how much range you need to be covered (including plans for future scalability) before choosing an IoT connection solution. The more range it covers, the more you’ll need to sacrifice either energy consumption or bandwidth.
In IoT deployments where automation is key, reliability is a crucial aspect to consider. You’d want to avoid downtime as much as possible, and here you shouldn’t only consider different types of IoT connections, but also choosing the right provider/partner that can guarantee close to 100% uptime.
If you plan to scale your IoT deployments in the future, then you should also consider future costs rather than solely focusing on your initial investments. In large-scale IoT projects, connectivity can become your biggest expense, so ensuring cost-efficiency as early as possible is a must.
Check the versatility provided by the connectivity solution provider. For example, how much they’ll charge whenever you add a new device/sensor to the network, as well as whether the solution offers a data aggregation feature.
Choosing Your IoT Connection
The first thing you’ll need to do when choosing between different IoT connectivity solutions is to identify your project’s needs and future scalability plans. Closely consider the price of the connectivity solution that can fulfill these needs while weighing up the following factors:
- Data Security
Your IoT network may circulate sensitive and/or regulated data, and thus your connectivity solution needs to be secure. Or else, every single device in your IoT network may compromise the whole network, and the bigger the network gets, the harder it will be to protect them. Make sure your connectivity solution of choice cares about data security and has followed cybersecurity best practices.
- Coverage Quality
When discussing coverage, we shouldn’t solely discuss quantity (i.e. how wide of an area is covered), but the quality of the coverage. The connectivity solution should provide a reliable connection, especially in essential areas. Also remember that in IoT connectivity, the price of the solution doesn’t necessarily reflect coverage area and quality, and other variables might affect costs.
In large-scale IoT deployments and applications involving mobile IoT machines (i.e. autonomous vehicles), roaming connectivity is a must. Make sure to consider cost-efficiency as you roam multiple networks to ensure that when your devices are outside your home network’s coverage, they can maintain connection without breaking the bank.
This factor affects things like how long it would take for the network to recover after a blackout, whether your data is secure when the devices lose connectivity and others. A resilient network should maintain close to 100% uptime and should take as little time as possible to recover during any incidents.
The key in choosing the best IoT connection for your IoT project is to understand your needs, so you can choose the right solution that can fulfill the unique requirements of your project. You should also consider the project’s limitations, as well as plans for future scalability when choosing between different solutions.