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.

Will Net Neutrality Impact the Future of IoT?

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer

The debate over net neutrality has the potential to transform the current infrastructure of the internet. Net neutrality is primarily focused on whether Internet Service Providers (ISP) should be able to provide “fast lanes” or throttle speeds based on bandwidth consumption, and as a measure to provide quality internet speeds. Certain corporations such as Netflix provide services that consume mass quantities of data, which can drastically slow down internet speeds for other users. If situations like these enable ISPs to be able to charge large data consumers for quality service, then there will be an impact on a corporate level that could trickle down to the level of individual consumers. Net neutrality has the potential to alter the future of the Internet of Things (IoT) as more internet-enabled devices are generating data and using bandwidth.

The issue of net neutrality has been around for a several years at this point, but IoT technology has barely been a part of the discussion. Most wireless devices haven’t reached the surface of the net neutrality debate due to the fact that most devices consume minimum amounts of data and require very little bandwidth. This is beginning to change as internet-enabled devices are increasing in quantity in an effort to create truly integrated smart homes. Even though individual devices don’t utilize that much data on their own, IoT devices can use a moderate amount of bandwidth when multiple devices are unified within a network.

Large networks of smart devices can have a minor impact on internet speeds for in-home Wi-Fi, but IoT devices are unlikely to consume enough data to drastically affect wireless communication on a larger scale. These devices may not be data-heavy, but they do rely on internet speeds to optimize functionality. Brian Kelly, co-founder of Golgi, stated, “When it comes to connectivity, speed is everything. Eighty percent of smartphone users now expect apps to load in three seconds or less” (TheNextWeb). This is synonymous with IoT expectations as most smart devices are integrated within smart phone applications. The speed and convenience of the IoT is what makes it unique and accessible for the average consumer.

Most consumers are opposed to ISPs being able to charge for better service. The current IoT infrastructure could increase in complexity if the government allows ISPs to throttle internet speeds and limit bandwidth consumption for internet consumers. However, the government, and a majority of the consumers and small businesses, are against tampering with internet speeds and that is unlikely to change. Title II of the Communications Act, which was established within the past couple years, bans throttling, blocking and paid prioritization of any type.

It is safe to say the IoT will generally be unaffected by the issue of net neutrality. The ability to freely use the internet is something that is coveted by most internet users, thus it is unlikely that there will be any successful dismantling of the Communications Act. Even in the improbable event that ISPs were given the power to control the internet, there wouldn’t be any dramatic impacts for the IoT. This is due to the fact that these networks of devices are not consuming bandwidth in quantities even remotely close to that of companies like Netflix. The future of the powerful, efficient, and internet-enabled smart home is in good hands.

 

Wireless Connectivity: 900MHz, Wi-Fi, and BLE

Deciding which type of wireless connection to implement in a device can be a cumbersome task. Each solutions allows for communication without sorting through an abundance of wires. The 900MHz, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) wireless communication tools can be used to resolve limitations in budget as well as situations where wire placement is troublesome. None of these connections are necessarily any worse than the other, but some connections are better suited for certain environments and uses. The specifications and practical applications for each wireless connection are as followed:

900MHz: 900MHz is part of the UHF radio spectrum and allows for communication in a very local setting. This issue with radio waves is that they can be subject to some interference, so it may be beneficial to check for similar and existing frequencies in potential environments, but a majority of the time it won’t be an issue. The radio-enabled wireless connection can have more range than 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi and has the ability to travel through walls and objects with much more success due to its low frequency. This wireless option is the most applicable if efficient and quick communication is needed. 900MHz can typically communicate with desired devices in under ten seconds.

Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi is a very practical solution if instantaneous communication is not a concern. Most devices that operate with Wi-Fi are able to operate while offline and can be updated periodically via the internet. Wi-Fi typically has a greater range than BLE, but consumes a good amount of power while operating. Setting up a Wi-Fi connection is also more tedious than it may be with BLE or 900MHz. If security is a concern, Wi-Fi has a more complex encryption than the other options. Wi-Fi removes the locational restraints and allows for greater command over a network of interconnected devices.

BLE: BLE connection is very useful when communication is occurring between multiple devices that are near each other. The speed and data transfer rates of BLE are not great, making it best suited for low-bandwidth use. BLE devices consume low amounts of energy; this can be beneficial for long-term use as operational costs will be very low. This connection assimilates very well with consumer applications of the Internet of Things.

Before any wireless connection is used in a device, there are several factors that need to be reviewed in order to maximize functionality. Manufacturers need to consider the context in which the wireless communication will be occurring. For instance, elements such as speed, signal range, reliability and accessibility, power consumption, security, and user-friendliness are some of the critical things to consider when analyzing applicability of a wireless connection.

The Internet of Things and Networking

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer

The Internet of Things (IoT) is continuing to grow at a rapid pace as more devices are becoming connected. However, the IoT is rendered useless without a system of networking to support it. As WiFi-enabled devices increase in popularity, the demand for networking will expand substantially. IoT-based technology is disrupting the current networking market due to vast amount of data that is collected and the quantity of devices connected to the Internet. Companies will be expected to have extremely efficient networks that will allow for real time analysis. In addition to this, simply having faster Internet speeds is essential in supporting the rise of IoT devices.

One of the developing applications of IoT devices is found within the smart home. Smart technology devices require extremely fast networks. The IoT-enabled ConnectSense sensors and Smart Outlet rely on networking to enable machine-to-machine communication. Your ConnectSense products collect large quantities of data in order to provide you with accurate and efficient analysis. Improving the ConnectSense cloud is one of the ways Grid Connect is able to help you adapt to the implementation of IoT devices in your home. The best way to fulfill the necessity of having a fast network is by creating quicker router speeds and ensuring that WiFi is able to be accessed everywhere in the home with a more advanced networking framework.

A strong network is essential for the use of various IoT products, whether it’s a smart home device, a piece of wearable technology, or even if it’s for an industrial application. Managing your network can be accomplished with the use of a Grid Connect gateway device to improve USB, serial, or custom sensor connections. Gateways and other networking devices can help improve networking abilities in order to support the demanding nature of connected and data-driven devices. Finding a perfect network configuration will compensate for whatever quantity of data your IoT devices are bringing in.

It is clear that the impact the IoT is having on networking is only going to expand as the demand for a more connected and efficient world continues to increase. Having quality control of networks will allow for an improved customer experience. Creating networks that can handle a great deal of traffic and data will allow you to be prepared for the IoT’s disruption of the networking market.

New Product Alert: HF-A21 High Performance Embedded WiFi Module – 802.11 b/g/n

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The HF-A21 module is a compact high performance WiFi module providing 802.11b/g/n 2.4 GHz WiFi networking for a printed circuit board device design. With a rich feature set and an industrial temperature range, this surface mount embedded module is well suited for many applications even in harsh environments. A small footprint makes the HF-A21 easy to use in handheld devices.

Available with 2 antenna options, the HF-A21 module provides design flexibility to meet specific application requirements or can be used in existing device designs.

The interface with the HF-A21 is via 10/100 Ethernet and high speed UART. Using either the user-friendly web page or an AT+ instruction set, this module is easy to configure. The HF-A21 can operate in Infrastructure Station (STA) mode, Soft Access Point (AP) mode or AP+STA mode. Support for Ethernet-to-WiFi Router/Bridge mode networking is also provided.

HF-A11 Ordering Summary:

Part # Antenna/Connector Type
GC-HF-A21-SMT-EXT U.FL/I-PEX Antenna Connector
GC-HF-A21-SMT-INT Internal PCB Antenna

Call for Volume Pricing.

Support:
The knowledgeable and experienced engineers at Grid Connect provide complete technical support for the HF-A11 and the High Flying line of embedded WiFi modules. We offer phone support and on-line chat support during regular business hours.

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IoT Design Considerations: User Interface

Today’s consumers and business owners expect to access and control the world around them. How are your buyers going to interface with your product? Options range from using a smart home panel or gateway to an on-product display that can be paired with LEDs or push buttons. In addition, apps that monitor and control connected devices can be available for on-the-go consumers with smart phones. The type of product and its possible use-cases are important considerations when designing a product that can communicate information to its user.

Wi-Fi-enabled IoT devices have the ability to act as a soft access point (soft AP) which allows a user to “join” its network locally with a smartphone, laptop or tablet. Soft APs make product LED/LCD displays unnecessary since the screen of the connected device will serve the same purpose.

Using a soft AP does not preclude the module from connecting to the Internet and cloud-based services. This dual-mode is very attractive because the user can access the product remotely and locally, depending on the features of the product.

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

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

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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.