6 Most Common IoT Communication Protocols Analyzed
(IoT) is a real-time connection and synchronization of various electronic devices. The IoT implementation depends on a reliable network that interconnects all its components with a central controller console. This article discusses the most important IoT communication protocols that can be used while designing IoT hardware, including ideas on where to use and when to use these protocols.
IoT Devices and Their Applications
The IoT devices find applications in a wide range of categories. They bring on immense value into our lives by automating all the household and industrial appliances. IoT is a network of embedded devices that are connected to the internet and connected among themselves, so they can collect and exchange data with each other.
For an example consider an industrial automation project, the sensors detecting temperature, pressure and other factors are placed at appropriate places to obtain data. These sensors have to communicate among themselves and also have to communicate with the central console or a server over the internet to share the data. This is where the communication protocols come into the picture, to share this data with the user over the internet or a central decision making console.
Most Common IoT Communication Protocols used in modern IoT Devices
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Wi-Fi is a wireless communication protocol based on IEEE 802.11 standard. Wi-Fi is a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN). Wi-Fi range is about 60–150 meters based on the type of router used. This is one of the most popular IoT communication protocol, due to its universal availability, especially in houses and office spaces. Wi-Fi broadband devices provide up to several 100Mbps throughput. In recent times, even Gigabit capable Wi-Fi routers are available.
The Main advantage of Wi-Fi is that it is generally available in almost every building and public places. The Wi-Fi infrastructure is already setup & readily available in most places for IoT connectivity. In terms of security aspects, Wi-Fi provides highly robust & secure communication as well. The major disadvantage of Wi-Fi when used in IoT devices is its power consumption. But techniques can be adopted to turn on Wi-Fi, send data quickly and turn off to converse power in battery operated devices.
Long-distance wireless communication requirements can be performed using GSM/3G/4G/LTE cellular communication. With 5G technology not quite introduced into consumer use, 3G/4G/LTE are used widely in consumer IoT applications. This technology is ideal for sensor-based IoT devices that are operating in the field in remote areas.
Recurring cost is a major hindrance in cellular communication as the SIM needs to be recharged and maintained with healthy balance for data to be available. The power consumption of cellular modules are also quite heavy, restricting battery operation for long duration. Several advancements have been made and the LTE CAT-M1 standard has been introduced to address the power issues. This is a low band width IoT exclusive network which provides low power with the same coverage advantages of the 4G/LTE network.
LoRaWAN is Long Range Wide Area Network. LoRaWAN is designed as cloud-based medium access control (MAC) layer protocol. They provide low-power WAN intended for long-range wireless battery-operated IoT devices, such as smart cities application, where large network with millions of devices interconnected to each other and has to function with less power and memory.
The main principle behind LoRaWAN is spread spectrum modulation technique which derived from chirp spread spectrum. The frequency used for LoRaWAN varies between regions and the most popular bands are 433MHz, 868MHz, 915MHz & 923MHz. The major disadvantage of LoRAWAN is that, in the most power efficient mode, it can receive data from the cloud only when the devices (nodes) transmit the data. Also the data rates are very low with each payload limited to just a few hundred bytes.
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is an important protocol when it comes to short-range communication. In the consumer market sector Bluetooth holds the edge due to ease of handling & interoperability between devices. It is primarily used when a handheld device such as a smartphone has to communicate with an IoT device.
Bluetooth 5.0 is the latest standard, with Bluetooth Low Energy mode or the Smart Bluetooth mode designed to reduce power usage at both ends of the communicating devices. i-Beacon is the Bluetooth protocol for apple products. The range of Bluetooth 5.0 is about 240 meters. The main advantage of Bluetooth is that every smartphone has Bluetooth and the technologies compatibility. The main disadvantage is that a hub or edge device (like Smartphone) is necessary to relay the data from the IoT device to the cloud platform.
Zigbee is based on IEEE 802.15.4 standard and it is the most prevalent short-range wireless communication protocol used especially if there is sensors the IoT setup. The Zigbee operates at the frequency of 2.4GHz with a 250kbps data rate. Zigbee is an example for self-organizing ad-hoc digital radio network. The range is around 20 meters and Zigbee allows connection of around 1200 nodes enabled with 128 bit AES encryption. The main advantage of Zigbee is the low-power consumption and it can work in low data rates. The latest version of Zigbee is Zigbee pro.
Zigbee is suitable in home automation and industrial applications. Zigbee provides multi-hop mesh networking capabilities which is its biggest advantage. Power consumption can also be reduced by using special sleep modes. The disadvantage being it needs a central hub or an edge router to relay the data from IoT devices to the cloud platform.
Z-Wave is a radio frequency based low-power consuming communication protocol and similar to Zigbee it is based on IEEE 802.15.4 standard. The operating frequency of the Z-Wave is 900 MHz, and the range is around 50–100 meters. Z-Wave is the simplest among all the protocols and stands good for small devices such as lamp control and other household consumer applications. This makes the Z-Wave implementation and use very easy. In India, the country specific Z-Wave frequency is 865.2 MHz.
Best option vs Best suitable option
All these protocols have their pros and cons. When it comes to short range communication BLE is the clear winner, it provides good data rate and is compatible with almost all smart devices.
Wi-Fi is best suitable for home and office-space based IoT devices and applications that require large amounts of continuous data to be transferred and also, Wi-Fi provides high security compared to other protocols. LoRaWAN is the most effective in wide area range applications such as smart cities, street traffic management and so on.
Zigbee is effective in the management cluster of sensors such as in industrial setup to acquire and process data. So, rather than deciding on one best option to implement, the selection should depend on the type of application to be designed.
At Xekera Systems, we have hands on experience with almost every discussed technology and hence we can help you make the right selection!