An almost disconcerting choice of connectivity options is available to electronics engineers and application developers working on products and systems for the Internet of Things (IoT).
While many telecom technologies are well known, starting with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, and 2G/3G/4G cellular technologies, there are also emerging new networking options, including Thread for home automation applications, and Whitespace TV technologies currently deployed in major cities for IoT-based use in wider areas.
Depending on the application, specific factors, such as range, data requirements, safety and power issues, and battery life, will determine which technology or technologies to use. Developers have a choice of the following main telecom technologies.
Given the ubiquity of Wi-Fi in the home automation environment within local networks, Wi-Fi connectivity is often the obvious choice for many developers. It does not require lengthy explanations, except to remind us of the obvious: the vast existing infrastructure, the fast data transfer and the ability to manage large amounts of data.
Today, 802.11n is the most widely used Wi-Fi standard in both private and professional environments. This standard offers high throughput, in the order of hundreds of megabits per second, ideal for file transfers, but perhaps too energy consuming for most IoT applications. RS offers a series of RF development kits designed for creating Wi-Fi applications.
Having established itself in the IT sector and various consumer product markets, Bluetooth technology is a critical player in short-range telecoms. It should make a significant contribution to portable products, in particular, once again facilitating connection to the IoT even via a smartphone.
The new Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) technology, now called Bluetooth Smart, is an essential protocol for IoT applications. Offering a range similar to that of Bluetooth, it has been designed to reduce power consumption significantly.
Like Bluetooth, ZigBee has a large installed base of operations, especially in industrial environments. Among the available ZigBee profiles, ZigBee PRO and ZigBee Remote Control (RF4CE) are based on the IEEE802.15.4 protocol; operating at 2.4 GHz, this industry standard wireless network technology targets applications requiring relatively infrequent data exchange at relatively low transmission speeds over a limited space and within a range of 100 m (e. g. residence or building).
Z-Wave is a low-power RF telecom technology, mainly designed for home automation and products such as lamp controllers or sensors. Optimized for reliable, low-latency communication of small data packets with transmission speeds up to 100 Kbit/s, it operates in the Sub-GHz band and offers total resistance to interference from Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies in the 2.4 GHz range, such as Bluetooth or ZigBee.
With the ability to control up to 232 circuits, it is highly scalable and supports full mesh networks without the need for a coordinating node. Z-Wave uses a simpler protocol than other technologies, offering faster and easier development. However, it can only rely on one circuit manufacturer, Sigma Designs, compared to several sources for other wireless technologies such as ZigBee, in particular.
Thread is a brand new IPv6 network protocol based on IP, designed for the home automation environment. Based on 6LowPAN, and similar to this technology, Thread is not an IoT application protocol, like Bluetooth or ZigBee. However, from an application point of view, this technology is primarily designed to complement Wi-Fi; indeed, although it recognizes all the advantages of Wi-Fi for many consumer circuits, it knows its limitations in the context of home automation.
6LowPAN (IPv6 Low-power wireless Personal Area Network) is a significant IP technology. Unlike Bluetooth or ZigBee, 6LowPAN is not a protocol technology for IoT applications, but a network protocol that defines the encapsulation and compression mechanisms of headers. Allowing the choice of a frequency band and physical layer, this standard can also be used on different communications platforms, including Ethernet, Wi-Fi, 802.15.4 and IS band.
NFC (Near Field Communication) is a technology that promotes simple and secure two-way interactions between two electronic devices (smartphones in particular), enabling consumers to make contactless payment transactions, access digital content and connect to electronic devices. Its main action is to extend the functionalities of contactless card technology, to allow devices to share information at a distance of less than 4 cm.
Also similar in some respects to Sigfox and Neul, LoRaWAN targets extensive area network (WAN) applications and is designed to provide low-power wide area networks whose features are essential for secure, low-cost mobile two-way communication in intelligent urban and industrial applications, as well as IoT and M2M. Optimized for low power consumption and supporting large networks with several million circuits, transmission speeds range from 0.3 Kbit/s to 50 Kbit/s.