Plunge into the world of Internet of Things with EnCata. IoT illustrated through the functioning of technologies and protocols.
The concept of 'Industry 4.0,' as it is commonly referred to, has brought us to a juncture where envisioning our lives without “cleverish facilitators” is challenging. Connected cars, refrigerators with temperature change alert systems, intelligent door locks, Wi-Fi controlled light switches. It's cool to think that the article you're reading right now could've easily been whipped up by ChatGPT in just a few minutes, which is the “Industry 4.0’s” endowment. But no worries: in this case, it was actually a human behind it after all.
All of the above-mentioned phenomena are an integral part of a human's daily routine. For the devices mentioned earlier, we're referring to the Internet of Things (IoT), a game-changing idea that has completely altered the way we engage with technology and the world in our vicinity. The relevance of IoT in the present day is indisputable. From enhancing healthcare with wearable health monitors to optimizing energy consumption through smart home systems, Internet of Things devices have brought a seamless integration of the digital and physical realms.
Internet of Things: What’s in this Thing?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a revolutionary discovery that encompasses a vast network of interconnected physical devices, objects, and sensors, embedded with unique identifiers and capable of seamless data exchange over the Internet. This interconnected ecosystem leverages various communication protocols and technologies, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, LoRa, and many more, to facilitate real-time data transmission and interaction between devices. IoT devices are equipped with cutting-edge technologies, including microcontrollers, RFID tags, and sensors like temperature, humidity, and motion detectors. All of these collect, analyze, and transmit data to cloud-based platforms or edge computing nodes, where advanced data processing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence algorithms enable intelligent decision-making and automation.
The global clamor around IoT could be easily attributed to its capabilities. IoT devices are noted for their self-sufficiency, effective transmission range and data rate.
With the current state of technological advancement, we can leverage the synergy of the 3 features, out of which only two can operate together optimally. For instance, in pursuit of an extended battery life, one must choose between sacrificing data rate or transmission range. Similarly, prioritizing speed necessitates a trade-off by either draining the battery rapidly or limiting the communication range.
Technologies and protocols in the realm of IoT
To implement the Internet of Things, numerous technologies and protocols are employed, which subsequently define the organization of the device system and influence their synergy. Protocols serve as a form of agreement between devices, outlining the rules for transmitting information among functional blocks, while technology represents the physical level of utilizing radio signals. The difference can be simply put. Imagine you would like to send a letter to an old friend of yours. The technology here is “writing letters”, while the rules you follow in your writing, namely placing the recipient's address in a specific spot, using a certain type of paper, placing the stamp in a particular corner, are all protocols. As protocols and technologies lay the very groundwork for the functioning of the Internet of Things system, this article aims to delve into the most prevalent choices, elaborate on real-world applications, highlight the merits and shortcomings, and offer glimpses into our hands-on experiences in deploying them. It is worth noting that our focus will be directed towards the wireless ways of orchestrating the Internet of Things, given their ever-growing traction in our contemporary landscape.
At the heart of the Internet of Things lies the art of data transmission. At present, there exist two distinct paths for this transmission: over extended distances and across shorter spans. Hence, our exploration shall encompass the realms of both Long Range and Short Range networks. In this article, you will find out how Long Range networks operate.
Long Range networks
Long-range networks are communication standards designed to enable long-distance data transmission between IoT devices and their respective gateways or cloud platforms. These technologies and protocols are particularly suitable for applications that require connectivity over extensive geographical areas or in remote locations where traditional short-range protocols may not be feasible. Here are some of the prominent long-range IoT protocols:
LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) protocol:
LoRaWAN is a low-power, long-range wireless communication protocol that operates in unlicensed frequency bands, such as the Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) radio bands. It allows IoT devices to communicate with gateways over distances of several kilometers. LoRaWAN is known for its low power consumption, making it ideal for battery-operated devices with long-lasting lifetimes.
- The signal transmission range reaches 10–15 km, surpassing that of other wireless technologies employed in systems for collecting and transmitting modest data packets. This extended reach is paired with low power consumption, which significantly prolongs device battery life.
- Radio signals are propagated within the sub-gigahertz spectrum, rendering connectivity feasible even with objects nestled in remote locations.
- Setting up a LoRaWAN network does not necessitate a broadcasting license.
- LoRaWAN offers limited data rates compared to some other protocols like cellular networks. This makes it less suitable for applications that require high data throughput, such as video streaming or large file transfers.
- LoRaWAN operates in unlicensed frequency bands, which means that multiple devices and networks might share the same bandwidth, leading to potential interference and reduced performance in congested areas.
- While LoRaWAN offers good coverage, obstacles such as buildings, terrain, and other radio frequency interference factors can impact signal propagation, leading to coverage challenges in some scenarios.
- While LoRaWAN supports bidirectional communication, the uplink (device to network) is given more priority than the downlink (network to device), which might impact certain applications that require frequent downlink communication.
Sigfox represents a proprietary long-range IoT connectivity solution characterized by its utilization of Ultra Narrow Band (UNB) technology, employing a transmission bandwidth of 100 Hz per message and data transfer rates of either 100 or 600 bits per second, contingent upon network configuration at various locations, for the purpose of signal transmission across the shared frequency band of 192 kHz. The frequency band allocation depends on the geographical deployment of the system, subject to local regulations and stipulations. For instance, in Europe, the frequency range of 868–868.2 MHz is employed, while in other regions across the globe, it is situated between 902 and 928 MHz.
- Sigfox demonstrates remarkably low energy consumption, thereby extending battery life significantly. A typical battery-powered device can operate for up to a decade.
- Clients have the flexibility to employ Sigfox as a backup network for any other network type, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPRS, etc., owing to its affordability and user-friendly nature.
- Sigfox has deployed its network infrastructure in numerous countries, providing global coverage for IoT devices. This global footprint is beneficial for businesses with international operations or products.
- The use of ultra narrow band technology and dedicated frequency bands contributes to reduced interference and improved signal reliability.
- Sigfox employs data encryption and device authentication to ensure secure communication between devices and the cloud platform.
- Sigfox's primary focus is on transmitting small amounts of data over long distances using ultra-narrowband technology. This means that its data rate is quite limited.
- Sigfox devices are designed primarily for one-way communication, sending data from the device to the network. This means that devices cannot receive commands or updates from the network, limiting the interactivity and control that can be achieved.
- Sigfox enforces a strict limit on the size of messages that can be transmitted, typically around 12 bytes per message. This constraint can be challenging for applications that need to transmit even moderately complex data.
- Sigfox operates on a standardized network infrastructure, which can limit the level of customization and control that businesses or developers have over their network setup.
The distinction between Sigfox and LoRa lies in the requirement of cellular service provider infrastructure for Sigfox, necessitating the presence of base stations. Sigfox cannot be utilized in remote or subterranean locations, where cellular coverage is insufficient. For instance, during underground operations like mining and tunneling, industrial and mining activities in hilly regions, and sparsely populated northwestern areas. In contrast, LoRa is devoid of geographical limitations as it doesn't rely on operator base stations, allowing you to establish and deploy your network at a reasonable cost.
LoRa can be a preferred choice when symmetrical connectivity demands authentic bidirectional data flow. LoRa is an optimal selection if you intend to harness capabilities such as network monitoring.
NB-IoT (Narrowband Internet of Things):
NB-IoT is a standardized cellular IoT technology that operates in licensed frequency bands within existing cellular networks. It provides extended coverage, deep indoor penetration, and low power consumption. NB-IoT is ideal for applications that require connectivity in areas with limited network coverage.
- NB-IoT operates on existing cellular networks, offering wide coverage even in remote or difficult-to-reach areas. This makes it suitable for applications that require extensive geographic coverage.
- Cellular networks, including NB-IoT, typically come with built-in security features such as encryption and authentication, making data transmission more secure compared to some other IoT communication technologies, particularly unlicensed LPWAN technologies like LoRaWAN and Sigfox.
- NB-IoT allows for bidirectional communication, meaning devices can both send and receive data. This is valuable for scenarios where devices need to receive updates, commands, or acknowledgments from the network.
- Cellular networks are built to handle a large number of devices simultaneously. This scalability makes NB-IoT suitable for applications involving a substantial number of connected devices.
- While designed to be power-efficient compared to traditional cellular technologies, NB-IoT may consume more power compared to some LPWAN technologies like LoRaWAN or Sigfox.
- NB-IoT is designed for applications that prioritize long-range communication and energy efficiency over high-speed data transmission. As a result, the data rates offered by NB-IoT are relatively modest.
- Implementing and maintaining cellular network infrastructure involves significant costs, which can be a challenge for network providers or businesses aiming to deploy NB-IoT networks.
- Setting up cellular infrastructure and obtaining necessary licenses might involve more complex procedures compared to deploying other LPWAN technologies in unlicensed frequency bands.
- NB-IoT operates on a subscription-based model, meaning users or businesses need to pay for data plans or access to the cellular network. This ongoing cost can impact the economics of large-scale deployments.
- Just like any cellular network, NB-IoT coverage might not be available in all areas, leading to potential coverage gaps in remote or less developed regions.
- Devices need to support NB-IoT-specific hardware and software, which might not be backward-compatible with older cellular technologies. This could require upgrades or replacements for existing devices.
LTE Cat-M1 (eMTC):
LTE Cat-M1, also known as enhanced Machine Type Communication (eMTC), is another cellular IoT technology that operates in licensed frequency bands. It is designed to provide better coverage and support for low-power IoT devices with data transfer rates of up to 1 Mbps. LTE Cat-M1 is suitable for applications that demand higher data rates and extended battery life.
- LTE Cat-M1 operates on existing cellular networks, providing extensive coverage in urban, suburban, and rural areas where cellular coverage is available.
- LTE networks, including Cat-M1, come with built-in security features such as encryption and authentication, enhancing data transmission security.
- LTE Cat-M1's bidirectional communication enables real-time interactions between devices and applications. This is vital for applications like remote monitoring, control, and response.
- LTE Cat-M1 offers higher data rates compared to traditional LPWAN technologies like LoRaWAN or Sigfox. It supports uplink and downlink rates of up to 375 kbps, making it suitable for applications that need to transmit large data payloads efficiently.
- LTE networks are designed to handle a large number of devices, making Cat-M1 suitable for applications with a high device density.
- LTE Cat-M1 offers improved indoor coverage and better signal penetration through walls and obstacles compared to higher frequency cellular technologies. This characteristic is advantageous for applications within buildings, basements, or underground environments.
- While more power-efficient compared to traditional cellular technologies, Cat-M1's power consumption is higher than some other LPWAN technologies like LoRaWAN or Sigfox.
- Like other cellular technologies, LTE Cat-M1 operates on a subscription-based model, which can lead to ongoing costs for data plans and network access.
NB-IoT shares many similarities with Cat-M. The fundamental distinction lies in the fact that the former employs DSSS modulation instead of LTE radio stations. Consequently, NB-IoT does not contend for LTE frequency bands, which translates to higher initial network deployment costs for operators.
Today, NB-IoT technology is touted as the optimal choice in terms of the balance between capabilities and deployment cost. This is attributed to the fact that the network does not require a network gateway. Unlike other infrastructure alternatives that necessitate gateways to collect data from devices before forwarding it to a central server, NB-IoT directly channels data to the main server without intermediaries. This elucidates why leading global operators favor this particular technology.
The above-mentioned long-range IoT protocols cater to various use cases, ranging from smart city deployments, agricultural monitoring, asset tracking, and environmental sensing to industrial automation and remote infrastructure management. Selecting the most suitable protocol depends on the specific requirements of the IoT application, including range, data transfer rates, power consumption, and network availability.
In this article, we have explored the essence of long-range technologies and protocols, providing detailed descriptions of the characteristics of each protocol and technology for extended coverage. Stay tuned for updates on our blog if you want to explore Short Range networks.