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Determine which of 4 IoT wireless networks fit your use case

Any organization planning an IoT deployment must meet connectivity requirements, such as range and data rates, that determine the best IoT wireless network for their applications.

IoT applications need the right type of network connectivity to succeed and might even use multiple IoT wireless networks, but administrators must sort through the technology options first.

IoT comprises devices in the physical world with network connectivity and the data gathered or generated by those devices. As a relatively new market, IoT consists of many connectivity technologies competing for their slice of the ever-growing IoT market pie and a lot of runway for continued growth. The IoT market and number of use cases will only increase over time and with new generations of each technology.

Available connectivity technologies span both wired and wireless. Organizations often select wireless technologies for IoT applications because they offer advantages in ease of deployment and configuration. Administrators must also understand the types of IoT wireless networks and which requirements each meet in an IoT deployment.

Wireless technologies consist of licensed and license-exempt technologies. One or a small set of operators of licensed technologies receive regulatory exclusivity. Mobile, or cellular, is a widely known example of licensed technologies. With license-exempt or unlicensed technologies, any technology or set of users operating within the regulatory parameters specified for the spectrum can operate equipment. For example, IEEE 802.11 Wi-Fi equipment and microwave ovens are two well-known license-exempt technologies.

Cellular IoT connectivity options

Dig into IoT wireless network technologies and market segments

Several wireless technologies claim a role in the IoT market space. For example, organizations use licensed mobile carrier services based on LTE for Machines (LTE-M) and narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) in vehicle tracking and alarm system applications. Range is often an important consideration in the selection and deployment of a technology and network for IoT. For wireless networks, lower frequency bands support longer radio frequency transmission ranges. Carrier services offer a good match for applications that require long-distance coverage, such as over roads and railways, which can be costly for an organization to build from scratch. Organizations can consider different IoT wireless network options, which can be grouped into types, including cellular, low-power WAN (LPWAN), LAN and personal area network (PAN).

Cellular. Cellular refers to licensed mobile carrier services based on LTE-M and NB-IoT technologies. 5G is the technology evolution from current 4G LTE-M systems. Carrier services offer a good match for applications that require long-distance coverage away from the corporate campus, such as vehicle tracking and alarm systems. It is not economic for an organization to build a vast network of its own. Service providers typically require a carrier subscription.

LPWAN. This technology refers to non-cellular offerings that support low-power devices at low data rates over a wide area. Data rates of these networks support from 100 bps to 27 Kbps. Ranges supported are typically from 10 to 40 kilometers. Commercial LPWAN networks include long range WAN, an LPWAN technology developed by the LoRa Alliance and the Sigfox 0G network. These are subscription services, targeted at low power sensor devices that require wide area coverage.

IoT deployments often include multiple technologies, for example Bluetooth for onboarding devices and Wi-Fi for data transfer and device control.

LAN. Technologies with LAN connectivity share a wireless link to a specific geographic area. Wireless LAN uses the IEEE 802.11 specification to support battery-powered Wi-Fi applications and IoT in the 2.4, 5 and 6 GHz bands. Low-power Wi-Fi 6 devices in battery-constrained applications will support the next-generation 802.11 technologies and IoT in the 2.4, 5 and 6 GHz. Wi-Fi 6 devices will expand the number of IoT applications and use cases using Wi-Fi because it offers low cost, low power consumption and easy access to internet applications.

Organizations that already have a Wi-Fi network are a good match to use Wi-Fi connectivity for IoT deployments because they can simply use the existing network. Wi-Fi supports seamless TCP/IP transport, higher data rates and over-the-air firmware or software updates for devices. Examples of IoT devices based on Wi-Fi and IEEE 802.11 include refrigerators, rice cookers, audio speakers and thermostats. Organizations also use Wi-Fi for HVAC connectivity in smart buildings.

PAN. PAN technology targets devices that need to communicate at short distances, typically on the order of 10 meters. Well-known examples of IoT PAN technology are the IEEE 802.15.4-based Zigbee technology, defined by the Zigbee Alliance, and Bluetooth, developed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group. Industrial control and building automation systems that use license-exempt Zigbee wireless technology have seen market growth. Smart building systems, wearable devices and asset tags also use Bluetooth. A common use case for Bluetooth IoT devices is location services and asset tracking.

How IoT wireless network technologies come together

IoT deployments often include multiple technologies -- for example, Bluetooth for onboarding devices and Wi-Fi for data transfer and device control. Consumer wireless speaker implementations commonly use both networks, and organizations often deploy multiple wireless systems, including Wi-Fi, Zigbee and Bluetooth.

Organizations use management systems to deploy and monitor multiple networks and applications. Management and security are key; the complexity of managing and maintaining large networks -- IoT or otherwise -- with tens of thousands of devices can be costly and inefficient. Network management and AI operations systems already established for enterprise Wi-Fi extend to cover IoT device onboarding, classification, management and security.

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