The Internet of Things protocol is the network language used by IoT system nodes and is critical to the overall viability of deployment. The agreement defines the scope, format, and complexity of IoT solution communications and plays a major role in determining cost and functionality.
So if you are interested in deploying your own IoT, how do you choose the right protocol – an agreement that fits your needs and size? There are two main factors to consider here:
Power: Does the sensor need battery power to support working for days, months or years? How often do they need to be reported? Do you consider using disposable devices, or can you use a replaceable or rechargeable battery?
Connectivity: The scope of communication needs to be covered, and how much data does each message need to send? Can the network provider guarantee your connection needs?
If the demand for IoT deployments declines with actual application scenarios, it usually indicates which protocols they should consider and the expected costs. The smallest and least demanding IoT settings – for connected homes or offices – can run on a regular Wi-Fi network and all components can be powered continuously. Other options for short-range network connections are Zigbee, Z-Wave, and Bluetooth.
Each approach has different strengths and weaknesses in terms of power consumption, range, and cost.
Independent low-power wide area networks (LPWANs) are the perfect solution for larger areas such as farms, campuses, or cities that require small amounts of data transmission—LoRaWAN and SigFox are the two most popular LPWANs. Cellular protocols like NB-IoT or Cat-M may seem more useful when it comes to coverage and crossing boundaries.
If you manage large projects such as construction projects, refineries, or any similar operations that require tracking of people, equipment, and hazardous conditions over a wide area, you may have considered launching your own IoT deployment. Maybe you run a factory or warehouse; maybe you are responsible for supervising pastures or other agricultural areas; maybe you maintain a large school or government park. All of this is where the Internet of Things seems to be expected to produce lasting business impact – creating more efficient processes, saving money and generating new revenue. For networks with a larger connection area than a single small building, LPWAN is usually the most meaningful.
If you deploy an LPWAN like LoRaWAN instead of connecting to a cellular IoT, you are likely to pay the same or less, and you will have more elements in your deployment. While the cost-benefit model will vary depending on your business model, LPWAN typically provides you with a proprietary regional network of coverage areas: you have all the devices, networks, and data that is transmitted over the network.
If you build your own LPWAN, you will be responsible for monitoring, supporting, maintaining, and repairing the failures that occur, and you must also determine how to protect your network. For these reasons, it is highly recommended that you deploy an LPWAN that includes the entire solution. This means that a company creates sensors, gateways, clouds, and applications instead of being pieced together. The advantage is that everything is pre-integrated, designed to work together securely, and you always know who to call when you need support and maintenance.
Another significant difference is that, unlike cellular data packets, LPWAN transmissions are not always waiting to receive acknowledgments. This can be a benefit and a burden: you can get more traffic on your system without confirmation, but sometimes you lose data due to network congestion.
The two most popular LPWAN protocols are LoRaWAN and SigFox. Among them, LoRaWAN and LoRa technologies have the fastest growth in recent years, and the growth potential in the next five years is huge. But this does not underestimate SigFox, which is primarily up and running in Europe, and each device consumes less power than LoRaWAN. SigFox’s data payload is also smaller than LoRaWAN, making lower power consumption possible, but it also limits some of the industry and key features that SigFox users use with LoRa technology, such as support for actuators and field updates.
The simplest example for LoRa and LoRaWAN is their broad support, versatility and prospects. More than 500 leading technology companies have joined the LoRa Alliance. LoRa technology continues to evolve to meet changing Internet of Things approaches and new application examples.
Perhaps we will see more IoT companies moving to a protocol-independent model where you don’t have to choose a protocol to deploy an IoT solution. Your sensor can support multiple protocols.
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