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:

Humble Beginnings of the IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT), that has been portrayed as an impending revolution, is not a new concept, but is the culmination from many years of connecting objects through computer networks. Kevin Ashton didn’t coin the phrase we use today until 1999 (while referring to RFID tags in supply chains), but the idea that he was employing came about earlier in the 90s when machine-to-machine (M2M) industrial solutions offered closed networks for device communication. Although these types of connections are not new to the tech world, they have only recently gained more ground in potential applicability.

This past October, the Internet Society put out an IoT overview and marked a number of key trends that have sparked the recent interest and excitement regarding connected devices. The pervasiveness of cheap connectivity has dramatically increased over the past few years, which is visible in one way because of the ubiquity of home Wi-Fi networks. In addition, the widespread adoption of IP-based networking creates an avenue for interoperability between devices.

Advances in circuit development and its miniaturization have also drastically changed the way we think about connectivity. The smart phones that many of us have in our pockets possess the processing power which surpasses some of the supercomputers of the 90s. Implementing internet connectivity into a device is drastically more advanced compared to when Kevin Aston first praised the possibilities of RFID and can be accomplished in much more diverse applications.

Finally, the most recent developments in data analytics and cloud computing have boosted the excitement to the point it’s at today: with hundreds of articles postulating the potential use-cases and applicability of the IoT. These movements really allow for the data sharing capabilities that enables a product to be “smart” and establish the support system for powerful third-party developers.

While it is exciting to visualize what the IoT will look like when it finally arrives, it’s helpful to look back a little and see how far we’ve come already. The integration of the internet into our daily lives has been an ongoing process for many years, and a lot of the benefits of these trends are soon to become a reality.

For more information, check out the Internet Societies’ overview:

Where is the standard for the IoT standards?

The rapid progression of device communication has resulted in a formidable roadblock to the Internet of Things (IoT). Too many rival standards have emerged from big company alliances and individual expansions. While companies like Samsung, Intel, and Cisco have united around the Open Interconnect Consortium, individual corporations like Apple and Google are beginning to make headway on their own API projects.

In order for the IoT to work, every device pair must have identical network standards. Without matching protocols, individual objects won’t be able to communicate. For example, in order to play music from a smartphone through a Bluetooth speaker, the phone must connect to the device over Bluetooth, and not through Wi-Fi. This can get far more complicated than just the internet connection. In addition to network standards like Bluetooth, ZigBee, and Wi-Fi, there are also application and security standards that must also be identical. Two devices that run on Wi-Fi still can’t work together if one runs on the Apple HomeKit protocol and the other is designed for Works with Nest.

Inevitably, the jumble of standards has drawn all sorts of lines in the sand as far as companies developing for the IoT are concerned. This process has begun to follow a similar mess that occurred with the development of radio-frequency identification (RFID). It took 15 years to develop a common protocol for the RFID market, because of competing corporate interests.

Without standards, there is no possibility for interoperability, but it is important that companies work together to come up with fewer, more universal standards. Reducing the amount of these protocols opens up more avenues for product developers, and allows the consumer more product choice, rather than having to be selective based on the protocols they are already using in their home.