Too much choice can be a dangerous thing but, the vast diversity of IoT applications and business models depend on appropriate functionality being available at varying price points. George Malim examines the options.
LTE, 5G, Cat M1, Cat 1, satellite, low power wide area networks (LPWANs), narrowband IoT (NBIoT), Sigfox, Bluetooth, ethernet and more, the list of connectivity options for serving Internet of Things (IoT) applications and services appears to be almost endless. However, the decision about which to select is simplified by the nature of the market. Some technologies are simply too costly, too slow, too unreliable, too power hungry or just unavailable to support the needs of applications and their business models.
At the high end of the market place, satellite communications can be used to assure universal coverage but this is not suitable for a massmarket with continuous communications needs. LTE, and much later 5G, don’t have complete coverage and, while the security and bandwidth attributes are attractive, the cost isn’t.
This leaves providers of mass market, high volume, low value IoT services looking outside satellite and high-end cellular communications to find the right connectivity to support their offerings. A relatively new wave of options in low power radio and the lower reaches of the cellular range is emerging. Principal among these are three groups of technologies: LPWAN, NB-IoT and Wi-SUN. Each has its advantages, although NB-IoT and Wi-SUN are in their infancy.
The challenge therefore for users is to identify which technology most closely serves their customers’ needs and the goals of their businesses. “You cannot compare a set of usage of one company to the set of usage at another company in another industry,” says Christophe Fourtet, the founder and scientific director of Sigfox, an LPWAN technology with operations globally. “It’s a very long process to compare these technologies but we’ve been trying to accelerate it. Since the beginning of Sigfox we’ve had the same target of shooting for the massive low-cost IoT market. Instead of being focused on technology and performance, we have aimed more for an extremely simple device that costs very, very little so you can deploy massively.”
The decision also hangs on your role in the market place. Are you a user or a deployer? “There are two perspectives to consider, one relating to organisations deploying radio technologies and the other those adopting or using them,” says Ken Figueredo, an IoT strategy industry advisor to InterDigital. “The first category applies to network operators or connectivity service providers. Their legacy investments and technology roadmaps govern their decision process. In practice, connectivity service providers will see demand for hybrid solutions that combine different approaches due to the heterogeneity of end-user needs.”
The number of issues to be considering is significant. “Which technology to select depends on many questions,” acknowledges Phil Beecher, the chairman of the Wi-SUN Alliance. “What is the reliability you need? What security? What latency and do you need local control? should all be considered. Another consideration is the business model. Do you want to spend capital on […]