Connectivity of the Internet of Things

When it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT), connectivity is crucial to keep in mind due to the fact that smart technology is completely reliant upon communication. There are various communication protocols and network infrastructures that can alter the way IoT technology is used as well as its level of operation.

Network topology is important to understand because it changes the way communication protocols are used. The main IoT network topologies consist of Point to Point (P2P), Star, Mesh, and Hybrid. P2P is a link between two endpoints that allow devices to communicate on a dedicated channel. Star network configurations include multiple nodes that connect to a central device; each node can’t directly communicate with each other, only through the central device. These networks are easy to setup but if the central device fails than the network will fail. Mesh networks consist of multiple nodes, each connecting to each other. This can be used for establishing consistent connection but there is a high amount of redundancy. Hybrid networks are simply combinations of different topologies, but they are often very complex and expensive to setup.

The different communication protocols can be utilized in an effort to maximize efficiency and optimize IoT technology for any environment. The common types of communication protocols include Wi-Fi, Thread, ZigBee, Bluetooth, RFID, and NFC.

Wi-Fi: This is an extremely common communication protocol that is essentially everywhere in our lives. Wi-Fi makes it extremely easy to add/remove devices, has a lot of range, and is able to penetrate walls and other obstacles. That being said, there is lower bandwidth due to the lack of wired connection, and Wi-Fi networks are not the most secure. It is perfect for saving power and having quick and efficient communication. Wi-Fi is a star-based network; the communication goes from various wireless nodes to the wireless access point (WAP).

Thread: Thread is a communication protocol that is very reliable, consumes minimum power, and enables machine to machine (M2M) communication. In fact, it was designed for the purpose of connected home applications. The Thread protocol can use three main device types including border routers, sleepy end devices, and routers/router-eligible end devices. It is primarily based on IP, making it extremely simple to connect with other IP-based networks. Unlike Wi-Fi, if a single point goes out, the whole network won’t go down; it supports a full mesh-based topology. It is also a very secure communication protocol. However, it is not very good for DIY consumer installation in homes due to its complexity.

ZigBee: ZigBee is very similar to Thread as it is created by an alliance of several companies in an effort to maximize home and industrial automation. It fulfils the requirements of a mesh network, but can support star and tree topologies as well. The three main devices defined in ZigBee protocol are different than Threads, they include ZigBee coordinator, router, and end device. It is essentially the same thing as Thread, but it does come with some additional features. ZigBee RF4CE was developed to be a universal remote for the smart home, and ZigBee Green Power is a mode that ensure extremely low power consumption. A downside of this protocol is the fact that it has short range and low data speeds.

Bluetooth: Bluetooth utilizes the 2.4GHz spectrum in the ISM band. It is an ad-hoc type of network, thus enabling M2M communications. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is the current type being used within the IoT world, but there are three different branches of Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth Classic is the traditional type of Bluetooth, which has a higher throughput and is primarily used for transmitting files. Bluetooth Smart is essentially the same thing as BLE. It transmits information and was developed for applications with low-duty cycles. It is also important to note that Bluetooth Smart cannot communicate with Bluetooth Classic. Bluetooth SmartReady is the last classification type; these devices are essentially the devices that act as hubs, such as computers and phones. This type of Bluetooth supports both Classic and Smart.

RFID: Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) is used as a communication method for being able to identify and track various devices wirelessly. This is an extremely simple communication method that can be used for a wide range of applications. RFID tags are able to read and write information and can be either passive or active. If they are active, they have an on-board power source, giving them more range and the ability to search for a reader. Passive tags don’t have an internal power source but can be activated when touched against a reader. Readers are purely used for receiving information from tags.

NFC: Near-Field Communication (NFC) is a communication protocol similar to RFID, but there are several things that differentiate the two. NFC-enabled devices are able to communicate information from one device to another simply by tapping the two device together. This is particularly useful in smartphone technology because it reduces the amount of time and effort in connecting devices. NFC is an extremely short-range communication method, but it is probably the most power efficient protocol. NFC devices can either be the initiator (the device that starts the communication) or a target (the device that receives information from the initiator).

The IoT is continuing to grow at a rapid pace, making it more important than ever to understand the best applications of various communication protocols. Some of them are designed with the IoT in mind, while others are not. As the technology continues to grow, it is reasonable to expect more efficient uses of existing protocols in addition to more powerful, new protocols.

For more information: https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/connectivity-of-the-internet-of-things

Cloud Services are the Future of the IoT

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer

The Internet of Things (IoT) is composed of an assortment of connected devices, but without cloud computing services, these devices wouldn’t have much more functionality than the standard household device. This is because the cloud allows devices to outsource the analysis and storage of any data that is collected through their connected sensors. The cloud’s internet-based computing methods act as the brain for IoT devices, removing the boundaries of inter-device, memory and space constrictions.

The IoT is growing at an exponential rate, making cloud services more important than they have ever been before. In order for the cloud infrastructure to accommodate for the mass amount of data being stored and transferred within the cloud, it will need to be developed at a rate similar to IoT technology. The cloud was designed on the very basis of being able to store information remotely, making it the optimum environment for the interconnectivity of internet-enabled devices. If the IoT industry plans to succeed, it is critical that the significance of cloud services is recognized.

There are many benefits offered by the cloud that would enhance the world of smart technology. The ingenious decision to move the serious data processing functionality of these devices to the cloud has opened the door for further technological advancements. Using the cloud for big data storage and analytics has done two main things that have helped enable the accelerated development of IoT technology. The first thing it does is enable devices to be smaller and use less power, making them much easier to integrate within any home environment. The second is that it makes it possible to continuously update the firmware as needed, which removes the burden from consumers and allows devices to be used for longer periods of time.

The overall accessibility and user-friendliness of IoT devices can be accredited to the power of the cloud. Having devices that every consumer can deploy within their smart homes is definitely a positive for the IoT. That being said, the cloud is able to do so much more for smart technology than simply make it easier for consumers to use devices. Creating a network of devices is entirely dependent upon having a reliable method of communication. The implementation of cloud infrastructure in IoT devices enables the ability to utilize multiple devices in a single network, while communicating simultaneously. Once multiple devices are communicating within the same cloud, the information and data that is collected can be accessed by all devices, thus establishing a more synchronized system.

This always available, web-based service is a perfect vehicle for helping the IoT thrive. Current cloud infrastructure isn’t quite large enough to support the expected rise in IoT devices over the next couple of years. That being said, more advanced cloud infrastructures are being developed to help compensate for the influx of connected technology. As the network of devices continue to grow, it will be crucial that the capabilities of the cloud are maintained as it is truly the only technology available that is equipped for storing and analyzing all the data created by the IoT.

The Future of Music and Technology

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer

Many believed that the integration of technology and musical instruments reached its peak with the creation of instruments such as the electric guitar and keyboard, but the music world is continuing to embrace the power of technological innovation. Learning how to play an instrument has always been considered something that requires a lot of time to learn and perfect. The goal of infusing technology and musical instruments is to turn music into something that is much more accessible for users, making learning to play an instrument easier.

Technological advancements have increased the functionality of individual instruments. The ability to play multiple instruments with one device has created what is now called a multi-instrument. The Artiphon INSTRUMENT 1 is a great example of a multi-instrument, as it allows musicians to tap the keys of a piano, strum a guitar, loop a beat, and more, all from a single instrument. This technology-based smart instrument can be connected to a smartphone, tablet, or computer to access different music apps. It is designed to optimize the experience of playing music by letting users create whatever they want with a powerful, portable, and simple device.

Even though this device is not the only electronic instrument on the market, it captures some of the benefits of having smart, connected instruments. The INSTRUMENT 1 comes with the Artiphon app to help customize the way music is played, making it possible to do something like play a piano by strumming it. This removes a lot of the boundaries placed on specific instruments due to their design. The sounds associated with traditional instruments can be altered and utilized in ways that have never been heard before. There are also digital strings that never break and allow for the instrument to be strummed as seamlessly as the real instrument.

This device is among the many that have begun to revolutionize the way music is played. Devices are not only becoming more powerful and customizable; they are becoming more user-friendly. Instruments are now very flexible in terms of the sound they can produce, making it easier for musicians to create the music they want. Technological instruments are easier to learn and are more connected with the ability to access a variety of different apps and social platforms. All of these new instruments are assisting in the democratization of music by making it accessible for everyone to develop their own unique sound.