The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the hottest trends and talked about subjects in technology today, and is projected to grow exponentially over the coming years; Gartner projects that by 2020 there will be 20.8 Billion connected things globally.
Regardless of industry and organisation however, deploying a successful IoT strategy is not an easy feat, with many considerations and implications – one of the foremost being how to connect the desired “things”.
Wireless technology is, on the whole, the most suitable for IoT deployments because of its pervasive nature; flexible and easy to connect to, it is essential for connecting sensors and other things which make up the IoT. Within wireless itself though, there are many options to choose from; WiFi®, Cellular, Bluetooth, ZigBee, SigFox and NFC to name a few. So which is the right path?
In reality, it will come down to the application itself; it’s physical environment and conditions as well as necessary capabilities both factor into this, making one wireless technology more suitable than another in each situation. That said, most IoT connectivity options are all striving towards two common features; low power and wide-range.
So while it is clear that all wireless communication standards will have a role to play, which has the most potential to dominate?
HaLow: WiFi’s Answer to the IoT
Just over a year ago the WiFi Alliance® announced the latest WiFi standard, 802.11ah, and named it “HaLow™”. Although the certification will not be available until 2018, products supporting the specification have already started to enter the market. Designed specifically for IoT applications it operates on the 900MHz band, and is therefore suited to small data packets and power-optimised devices. In these features, it is very similar to other low power technologies such as Bluetooth, but the comparisons stop there.
Besides the fact that it connects directly to the Internet, which some other low power options do not, it also has a much greater reach with some estimates ranging as high as 1 Kilometer; most other low power RF hardware solutions only offer a 100 Metre or less range as a point of comparison. HaLow is also more robust in challenging environments and, because of its low frequency, can easily penetrate barriers which would typically “block” today’s WiFi such as multiple concrete walls.
HaLow provides the ideal solution for connecting parts of the IoT such as sensors, which require this low power, wide range capabilities. In addition, the existing WiFi standards that we’re familiar with today (the most recent commercial standard being 802.11ac Wave 2) can also connect more data-demanding IoT applications such as remote monitoring and control of systems – meaning a range of IoT applications can be standardised to the same wireless technology, with many HaLow devices expected to operate in the 2.4 and 5 GHz ranges, as well as 900Mhz.
The high use of WiFi across multiple applications besides IoT, also contributes to its reliability as a connectivity solution for this sector. With so many new wireless technologies entering the marketspace, and a lot of unknowns around how these will perform on large scales and even if they will survive, WiFi offers the security of being a well-established standard which has demonstrated its ability to progress with requirements.
Why WiFi Has the Potential to Dominate
A successful IoT deployment must meet several key requirements:
- Ease of connecting “things” to the cloud
- Security challenges of an ever-expanding network edge
- Integration with existing systems and standardisation
- Capability to manage and monitor the network easily
- Ability to evolve quickly
This last point is highly important but easily overlooked. The IoT has only just started, and it changes, progresses and evolves all the time. Without bearing this last consideration in mind, enterprises could build an IoT network to only discover that by the time they’ve completed it, it’s already obsolete.
WiFi can answer each of these requirements.
Commissioning IoT devices is often problematic and OEM manufacturers and hardware vendors go to great lengths to ensure that the device connects to the cloud reliably and, most importantly, securely. Using WiFi in IoT has distinct advantages here, with its ability to connect directly with a recognised secure key exchange, and without the need for additional physical layer protocol bridges and gateway hardware – reducing cost and network architecture complexity.
WiFi is a well-known and standardised technology; building an IoT network over such is therefore less challenging than with some other wireless options as it ensures a consistent approach. Most enterprise networks already incorporate WiFi and developers should see no difference between existing IP and HaLow devices, meaning integration of the new HaLow standard is simplified – the same communication stacks in devices, browsers and apps should all work seamlessly. Beyond this, leveraging WiFi in IoT means networks can also scale very easily, making it ideal for future expansion.
Security and policy extensions in IoT strategies cannot be met by WiFi alone, but it does easily integrate with leading options such as cloud management and software-defined networking (SDN), which can enable these things across the network – and all from one central management platform. In addition to securing the network, cloud management and SDN also help to reduce time to market for new features and upgrades (important for an evolving network of things), as well as helping to optimise performance and enable administrators to manage and monitor the network on an ongoing basis.
The ubiquitous nature of WiFi further means that global roll out and certifications are simplified, ensuring standards are adhered to for consistency. Another benefit of this for the enterprise is WiFi’s leading role in consumer applications, and the amortisation of the research and development effort associated with such, reducing the overall cost for silicon, chipsets, and so forth – helping to make WiFi a cost effective solution compared to some other wireless technologies.
WiFi: The Gateway to Mobile IoT in Connected Transport
As well as demonstrating clear capabilities for connecting IoT applications across the board, WiFi is also an entry level application for many mobile IoT use cases.
The need for in-vehicle connectivity is primarily driven by the need for passenger WiFi, and is the core business case for many organisations investing in this technology. Connected over 4G LTE, in-vehicle hotspots do not only deliver to this WiFi requirement though.
Many enterprise-grade 4G LTE in-vehicle routing solutions, such as those from Cradlepoint and Sierra Wireless, not only provide 4G LTE to WiFi connectivity, but can also provide Ethernet, USB and Serial. This means that a single solution can unify all in-vehicle communication needs and enable multiple mobile IoT applications, such as connected:
- In-Vehicle and Body-Worn CCTV
- E- and Mobile-Ticketing
- Temperature Monitoring
- Near Real-Time Telematics
- Business Intelligence, e.g. customer behaviour analytics
- Point of Sale
- Digital Signage
- Asset Tracking
Opening up the enterprise’s mobile IoT capabilities, WiFi is not only a dominating technology for connecting the IoT, but also for providing a gateway to it.
Just as the Internet of Things will continue to grow and evolve, WiFi is set to do the same and become a primary connectivity option and driver for IoT applications – dominating over other wireless standards as it becomes more expansive in its capabilities, and more pervasive in its availability.