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

The Internet of Things and Bluetooth

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer

Despite its name, the Internet of Things (IoT) is not constricted to purely internet-based connectivity. In fact, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) solutions are increasing the functionality of IoT devices more successfully than via the internet, creating a more reliable framework for further connectivity. BLE technology will enhance and optimize the overarching operability of smart home devices by creating faster communication speeds and extending signal range.

Even though using the internet to connect devices works very well, it can have inconsistencies in its connection and shorten the battery life of various devices. These issues can be resolved through the use of BLE technology. Using BLE in IoT technology will allow devices to operate for extended periods of time on small power sources. In a readwrite article, it was stated that the new updates to Bluetooth technology made it possible for a coin-cell battery to last for several months, or even several years. Implementing Bluetooth technology within different IoT devices will help make managing a smart home a very energy efficient process.

The improved functionality of the IoT with the use of BLE goes far beyond simply saving power. BLE has the ability to extend the range of connection between devices by nearly four times that of a Wi-Fi network. This makes it a more reliable method for connecting numerous smart devices throughout a home environment. Not only is there a further range, but the communication speeds are revamped and much more capable to fulfill the demands of the always on and always communicating IoT devices.

Smart devices will be able to take full advantage of increased communication speeds and range due to the fact that BLE utilizes mesh networking. This is a network topology that allows for each device to be fully connected to each other within a network, allowing each node to assist in data distribution. The consumer benefit of mesh networking is explained by NXP; “Applications for Bluetooth mesh networks include those found in most every consumer’s home: door locks, lights, HVAC systems, and white goods (washers, dryers, refrigerators, and so on).” A mesh network is reliable for maintaining a smart home environment because individual devices can still communicate if one device runs out of power or is disconnected.

An increasing amount of manufacturers are beginning to integrate Bluetooth technology within their IoT technology. BLE will improve the overall functionality of the IoT and aid in establishing much more sturdy networks that will sustain the operation of numerous devices. This will help consumers create more efficient and powerful smart home environments.

Simplifying IoT: Connecting, Commissioning, and Controlling with Near Field Communication (NFC)

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer

The Internet of Things (IoT) is in the process of transforming the way we live our lives by improving the quality of life with technological advancements in efficiency and safety. Consumers will be among the biggest beneficiaries as the home environment is one of the main platforms for the advancement of smart ecosystems. The habits of individual consumers will be detected by devices within smart home ecosystems and then that information will be used to optimize the environment. The connectivity of the IoT will enable the seamless communication among devices. Near Field Communication (NFC) can be used to help developers utilize internet-enabled devices in an effort to maximize the benefits of the IoT in daily life.

It is evident that NFC will be beneficial for smart home devices as nearly 40 billion connected devices are expected to be in use by 2020. NFC provides a simply solution for connecting IoT devices to a network. Any device that is lacking a quality user interface (UI) can be given user-friendly controls with a single tap via NFC. In addition to its ease of use, other benefits include explicit interaction through close proximity interactions, read and write capabilities, and communication with devices that are powered down. NFC is a low cost and low energy solution that will enhance the IoT experience.

Setting up networks of IoT devices clearly has several benefits, but enabling a connected smart home does pose some challenges. A pressing challenge is the difficulty of adding and removing devices within a network. The ability to manage devices can often be difficult when dealing with headless devices that don’t have a built-in UIs. There isn’t really a single way to setup various devices within a smart home environment as users are typically required to follow manufacturer-specific commissioning methods. NFC can be used to resolve these issues and improve the overall user experience.

There are many other challenges that are facing the IoT. However, NFC can offer solutions to some of the following concerns:

Commissioning Devices: As mentioned before, there isn’t a standard protocol in terms of the commissioning process for IoT devices. Users are confronted with too many different methods for adding devices to a network, especially when there are no UIs available. NFC uses a single tap, or proximity to commission a device, thus creating a standardized mechanism for adding devices to a network.

NFC-Based Wi-Fi/Bluetooth Pairing: Most IoT devices connect to a network via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth within a smart home environment, making it more important than ever that they operate with comparable efficiency. In terms of Bluetooth, the NFC Forum and Bluetooth SIG have collaborated to speed up the Bluetooth pairing process. This means that the very slow and time consuming process of device discovery and paring will be eliminated by using the NFC tap to enable an instant and secure connection. The NFC Forum also has been working with the Wi-Fi Alliance to make it easier to connect to wireless networks. Once the user taps the NFC device to the NFC tag for their Wi-Fi network, the device will configure itself and instantly connect without the user having to find the network name (SSID) or manually enter a password.

Headless Device Commissioning: Devices that don’t have a UI don’t have an easy way to add them to a network. Tapping these headless devices against an NFC tag with the networking key built-in will remove the headache of commissioning these devices. NFC is used to establish a secure and quick connection and then can erase the network key from the tag to protect it from being accessed by an unauthorized person.

Controlling a Device with No User Interface: There are a variety of smart devices such as light bulbs, environmental sensors, in-wall outlets, and more, that don’t include an integrated visual display. Even though Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can provide some IoT interactivity, there are still several issues when setting up and configuring devices. NFC offers a very simple and secure method for controlling IoT devices that don’t include a UI. Input interactions (network provisioning and configuration) and output interactions (reporting information and diagnostics) are enabled via NFC.

Access Control for the Smart Home: Environments such as condominiums and high-end apartments have multiple families living in them, which usually requires a massive amount of mechanical keys in order for everyone to enter their homes. Mechanical keys are expensive, time consuming to distribute, and can easily be copied. NFC offers a solution by giving property managers the ability to give tenants a smart card or mobile application to access their homes. Keys can be sent to friends and family members with no cost, and a record will be kept of who enters and exits the home. NFC technology will provide a secure, cost effective, and flexible rekeying solution for property managers.

Many of the current problems facing the IoT in terms of user-friendliness and accessibility will be resolved with NFC. The implementation of NFC can unlock the true power of a large assortment of IoT devices within a smart home ecosystem. NFC technology can enhance the user experience in a secure and flexible manner at a very affordable price. The potential impact that NFC will have on the IoT is widely recognized within the NFC Forum and the IoT SIG.

Bluetooth FAQ: Installing the BluePlug with the Toshiba drivers and Discovering a Firefly, BluePort, or Blueport XP.

Browse the Bluetooth CD and navigate to \BU2073J\Toshiba XP,2K,ME,98SE V3.03.06\setup.exe. This will bring up the Toshiba Bluetooth stack for Windows setup screen. Click “Install” Navigate through the prompts, including the EULA. The software will prompt you to insert your Bluetooth device. Insert the BluePlug. Let the software finish installing. When it is done you will be prompted to restart your computer.

After restarting, you should see a Bluetooth icon in your task bar. Double clicking this icon brings you to the “Bluetooth Settings” screen. This is your main point of reference for anything Bluetooth on your computer. The main window displays all of your currently installed remote Bluetooth devices, such as a Firefly or Blueport XP. You can double click on a device pictured in this window to connect to it, or you can view its properties by clicking the detail button. You can also remove and uninstall the device by clicking the delete button.

To install your Firefly, BluePlug, or any other bluetooth device, click on the “New Connection” button. You will be presented with two choices, express mode or custom mode. In custom mode you can change the port number that you will use to connect to your Firefly or Bluetooth device. You will also be prompted to ensure your devices are discoverable. This is important. If you are installing a Firefly or Blueport XP, set the switches on the outside to match the settings below. Make sure the power is off while you do this, and that you turn the power back on after. Switches changed while the power is on will not take effect. The switches are usually labeled. If they are not, consult the manuals on the CD for diagrams.

Factory Defaults: OFF
Baud Rate: 9600
Auto Master: OFF
Auto Discover: ON

Once you have set your device to be discoverable, select either custom or express install and click next. Your BluePlug will begin to search for devices and a list of discovered devices will appear. If you have a Bluetooth enabled phone with its Bluetooth capability turned on and in range, your phone and BluePlug should be discovered by each other as well. Select which device you want to connect to and click next. The BluePlug will attempt to connect to the device. If prompted, enter the passkey 1234 for the Firefly or Blueport XP.

The next screen will prompt you to select which service of the device to use when connecting to a Firefly or Blueport XP. SPP will be the only option and is the serial port profile. Click next.

When in custom mode, you can now select which Com port to assign to the device. Click next. Your setup is now complete.
On the next screen is the opportunity to name the connection to this device and change the icon for it. Make your selections. Congratulations! You’re Done! Now you can connect to your Firefly or BluePort in Hyperterminal or the Teraterm emulator included on the CD.

Bluetooth FAQ: Installing the BluePlug with Windows drivers and Discovering a Firefly, BluePort, or BluePort XP.

On a Windows computer, the BluePlug drivers should install automatically in most cases. If it does not, you can direct Windows to search for the drivers. If this also does not work, use the Toshiba software found on the included CD under\BU2073J\Toshiba XP,2K,ME,98SE V3.03.06\setup.exe and see the instructions below for installing with the Toshiba drivers.

After installing with Windows drivers, confirm that it has installed correctly by making sure the BluePlug is listed in device manager. It should be listed on the top of the installed devices list under the Bluetooth Radios. To discover a Firefly or BluePort XP with your BluePlug, go to start -> control panel -> network connections. Here you should see your “Bluetooth Network Connection”. Right click the icon and select “view Bluetooth Network Devices”. Click the add button. This will start the “Add Bluetooth Device Wizard”. Click “My device is set up and ready to be found”. Alternatively, your BluePlug could also appear in your system tray, as a Bluetooth icon. You can right click this icon, and then click “add a Bluetooth device”.

Set the switches on the outside of the Firefly or BluePort to match the settings below. Make sure the power is off while you do this, and that you turn the power back on after. Switches changed while the power is on will not take effect.The switches are usually labeled. If they are not, consult the manuals on the CD for diagrams.

Factory Defaults: OFF
Baud Rate: 9600
Auto Master: OFF
Auto Discover: ON

If you have a Bluetooth enabled phone with its Bluetooth capability turned on and in range, your phone and BluePlug should be discovered by each other as well.

Upon discovery of your BluePort or Firefly, there should be a window that tells you the BluePlug has found a device, listed in the form of “Firefly-xxxx”, or “BluePort-xxx” where xxxx can be any alphanumeric string. This is the name of the Firefly or BluePort.

If prompted at any time, enter the passkey 1234 to connect. Now the Firefly will be installed on two virtual Com ports on your machine. One will be labeled outgoing, and the other incoming. Connect to the outgoing. Use a terminal emulator, such as Hyperterminal, set to;9600,8,n,1, vt100 to connect to the Firefly or Blueport. You can also use the Teraterm Emulator supplied on the CD located under \Teraterm\setup.exe. When you type data in the terminal window, you should see the amber data light flash on the Firefly or BluePort. This will verify that it is correctly installed and communication to it is occurring.

Bluetooth FAQ: Bluetooth Product Comparison

Firefly
The Firefly is a Bluetooth class 1 Serial device with a db9 connector. It has 4 switches on the outside and 10 jumper pins on the inside for configuration. It can be connected to most serial devices and supports RX, TX, RTS, CTS, and GND. Power can come from the serial port, a standard wall adapter, or a usb port. It is available with a male or female DB9 connector.
BluePort XP
The BluePort XP is very much like the Firefly but it has a rechargeable battery. You can get 24 to 30 hours of continuous connection and transfer of data on a single charge. It supports the same serial signals and is configured mostly the same way as the Firefly. Power can come from the internal battery, a wall supply, or a usb port. It is available with a male DB9 connector.
BluePlug
The BluePlug is also a class 1 bluetooth device which attaches to a host computers’ USB port. It installs as a bluetooth device and usually installs automatically with Windows. There are drivers on the included CD that will install it as well. Since it needs drivers to run, it cannot be installed on devices that aren’t computers or that don’t have some means of installing software.
FirePlug
The FirePlug is like the BluePlug, however it installs as a serial port instead of a bluetooth device. It can also be set to pair with another bluetooth device, such as a Firefly or BluePort XP upon power up automatically. There are more features on the FirePlug product page.

Employee Spotlight: Jonathan Witthoeft, Software Engineer

Grid Connect-5509

Jonathan Witthoeft has been working with the Grid Connect team for the past five years. After hearing about Grid Connect from a friend, he applied for a technical support position while finishing up his degree in electrical engineering. After spending three years leading tech support at Grid Connect, Jon has fully transitioned to a software engineering position where he spends much of his time working on various ZigBee and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) projects.

Beyond spending his time working with ZigBee and BLE and taking the occasional tech support call, you can find Jon playing ping-pong with the Grid Connect “A” League or playing (and usually winning at) a game of Bags. Jon says that his favorite part of working for Grid Connect is the people. “Everyone in the Grid Connect family is friendly and easy to work with. It makes a great atmosphere to get work done and keeps us all happy and productive.”

Jon was married less than a month ago to his beautiful wife. In his spare time, he enjoys watching Game of Thrones with his wife and their fur babies as well as attending movies and sporting events, and spending time with friends.

IoT Design Considerations: Network

Manufacturers have many hardware and software options when it comes to network technology for their IoT-enabled products. Some devices can be directly connected to the Internet using networking such as Ethernet and Wi-Fi, which are based on the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP), a set of communications protocols providing end-to-end connectivity. Other products may use wireless technologies; some of which include TCP/IP, but will require a “gateway,” or a “hub” to convert the chosen network to either Ethernet or Wi-Fi, such as ZigBee or Z-Wave. Some of the many technologies available include:

  • Ethernet
  • Wi-Fi
  • IPv6 over Low Power Wireless Personal Area Networks (6LoWPAN)
  • ZigBee
  • Z-Wave
  • Bluetooth
  • Bluetooth Smart e.g. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Bluetooth (BT) 4.0, Bluetooth 4.2
  • Cellular

To download the complete Internet of Things Design Considerations White Paper, click here: http://gridconnect.com/10-internet-of-things-design-considerations

Grid Connect is a World Class Manufacturer

WeAre_Banner_Manufacturer_2

Grid Connect Inc. is an ISO 9001-certified, world-class quality manufacturer. Our chips, modules and products are used by thousands of companies around the world to provide a network connection to their devices. All of our products are designed, assembled, programmed and tested in Illinois, USA. All final tests, firmware loading and packaging is done at Grid Connect in Naperville, Illinois.

All Grid Connect products can be customized and private-labeled to a specific customer’s requirements. It can be as simple as a software change to increase buffer sizes or as complex as a new hardware and software design. In all cases, Grid Connect will provide your company with a fixed price quotation for the NRE/development work and the production cost for the final product. We are happy to private label your product and ship it to you with the correct labeling and documentation.

Some networking and protocol technologies that Grid Connect specializes in, include:

  • Ethernet
  • Ethernet/IP
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth
  • ZigBee
  • 900MHz
  • PROFIBUS
  • PROFINET
  • CANbus
  • DeviceNet
  • Modbus
  • Modbus TCP

Grid Connect also specialized in all serial standards, including:

  • RS-232
  • RS-485
  • RS-422
  • SPI
  • I2C


For more specific detailing of the various hardware and software options we provide, call the Grid Connect office at +1 (800) 975-GRID or fill out the form here.

IoT Design Considerations: Cost

Connecting products to the Internet of Things (IoT) is essential to manufacturers looking to stay competitive within their industry. Adding IoT capabilities allows the manufacturer to stay connected with their customer, while discovering new product uses and applications that open them up to new revenue streams. However, these added benefits come with a cost. Connected devices come with a higher manufacturing overhead, but may also be sold with a bigger price tag.

Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections can be added to products for less than $10 in bill of materials costs. Other technologies, such as ZigBee, Z-Wave and Bluetooth, can be added for a lower price, but may require a separate bridge to connect to the Internet and access Cloud services.

To download the complete Internet of Things Design Considerations White Paper, click here.