If there is anything we’ve learned from the explosion of IoT protocols in the last several years, it’s that connectivity is the driver of innovation and progress in the modern world. While many communications solutions have become colloquialisms – WiFi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, 4G, and more – emerging technologies are constantly challenging these mature technologies for popularity and market share.
As with most things, there is a tradeoff between the latest-and-greatest, and the tried-and-true. IoT is expanding rapidly, but not without its share of growing pains. In a fragmented marketplace, businesses should embrace flexible connectivity solutions that are scalable to meet performance demands, while continuously innovating through the adoption of new applications, device types, and use cases.
The big question for businesses is, when should you be the early adopter of that new app, machine, or technology, and when should you hang back and rely on your proven communication solutions? It’s important to understand the advantages and limitations of your legacy technologies before adopting a new solution that may or may not be a better fit.
When evaluating new IoT protocols, consider the following:
Range: Historically, connected devices have run on the same networks and protocols that support cellular, WiFi, Bluetooth, and so on. As IoT hurtles into the future, more and more devices are entering the market that require different network requirements than computers, phones or tablets. These devices include smart technology, embedded sensors, and so on. These devices send small snippets of data on a regular basis, typically at a short range (in home security systems, for example) compared to the large chunks of data we consume when we stream video on our phones on a WiFi or cellular connection. Range depends greatly on density as well – some connectivity solutions will support a short distance at high density usage, and a long distance with low density usage.
Size limitations: Depending on the size of the data being transferred, some networks perform better than others. In the example above, small data packets traveling frequently between devices in your in-home security system requires much less bandwidth than large amounts of data being called to one or many devices.
Energy consumption: Battery life is still a key component in IoT. Limiting data consumption can preserve battery life, but this is not always an option. While it may not seem like a major concern for 20 or 30 devices, it becomes an entirely different obstacle when hundreds, thousands, or even millions of batteries are involved. Companies like AT&T and Ericsson have worked together in recent years to address the increasing concern with battery life, creating solutions like their LTE Power Saving Mode for commercial IoT, which allows batteries to last up to 10 years.
Energy harvesting has also become a desirable alternative for easily powering remote devices using clean energy. Energy harvesting technologies leverage power generating essentials such as solar cells, piezoelectric elements, and thermoelectric elements to convert light, vibration, and heat energy into energy that can power a device.
Cost: The average cost of IoT devices is typically at its highest at birth. Once a product has been on the market for a period of time, the cost often decreases as the novelty wears off and manufactures find ways to produce the product more efficiently. For example, GE reports that the average cost of IoT sensors has fallen steadily since 2004 (cost of $1.30 per sensor) and will continue to do so through 2020 (forecasted cost of $0.38 per sensor).
So how do you know which factors – range, size, power, cost – are most important to your IoT needs? Use case scenarios are essential in evaluating your connectivity requirements and determining a solution that solves them. Use cases can range from highly complex network designs that serve thousands or millions of users and devices, to simple closed networks that remotely control the temperature of individual rooms in your home or office. Use cases help identify a scenario in which a human will use technology in a specific way, and build a solution that allows them to do so. Creating use cases before adopting new technology, and when designing the right IoT solution for your needs, is critical to the success of your enterprise.