Within the next five years, it’s expected that the number of connected devices — that is, objects that are connected to the internet in some way — is expected to grow to more than 25 billion. Regardless of the specific function of the device, which could be anything from measuring specific vital signs to gauge health to controlling various household functions to offering new content and functionality to a game or toy, or something else entirely, the most important aspect of any Internet of Things (IoT) device is the wireless radio communication capabilities. Without the right technology, the device will not function as expected, leading to disappointment and frustration among consumers — and a failed product.
So how do you select the right wireless technology for your product? Let’s start with a short overview of some of your wireless options.
Wireless Technology Overview
When developing connected devices, designers have a few common wireless options to choose from.
Bluetooth/Bluetooth Low Energy
One of the most popular forms of wireless technology, Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy are sometimes referred to as personal area networks. Multiple devices can connect to a central Bluetooth device, such as a computer, and use very little energy. Bluetooth is a popular choice because it’s not as hindered by interference like other solutions, but it also has a smaller range, of up to a few hundred feet.
Perhaps the wireless solution that requires the least amount of power, ZigBee can be found in a number of radio-controlled devices and remote consumer applications such as car locks. While there are some advantages to the ZigBee, one of the disadvantages is that it relies on a central hub to receive the data that is uploaded to the cloud, which increases costs. However, when the ZigBee is designed with a solution like the MiWi™ Development Environment, it becomes a much more affordable solution, that uses less data and power than others.
Another common wireless solution — in fact, the most common — Wi Fi works on a larger network than Bluetooth, allowing for a wider range. However, in terms of the IoT, one of the drawbacks is that since most people connect to Wi-Fi using the interface in the device itself, like a laptop, etc., IoT objects that use Wi-Fi must also have some type of user interface to allow for a connection. This, plus the high power use and lack of support make Wi-Fi a less desirable option for some IoT devices.
Finally, some devices use cellular, which connects them to the internet using cell towers and interworking functions. However, this option uses the most power and is the most expensive (it often requires a contract with a cellular carrier and a monthly fee) so it’s perhaps the least desirable option for IoT devices.
These four options are by no means your entire range of wireless communication. Some popular alternatives include ANT/ANT+, 6LOWPAN, and Z-Wave.
What You Should Look For
So now that you have a bit of understanding about the options, which is best for your device? It depends on your unique device, but in general, you should consider the following.
- Range: How far can the transmitter travel from the receiver?
- Power consumption: Does your application require very little electrical current to operate, or does it need more power to process data or operate device features? How will the device operate — via an A/C adaptor or batteries?
- Privacy and security:. Are there concerns about the type of data that the device will collect? How much data will be transmitted? Does it need protection?
- Different wireless solutions have different costs, and you should choose the option that provides the most functionality at the lowest cost. Don’t forget to consider licensing fees or royalties for the solution you choose.
- User experience:How will users connect the device to the internet? Can you make it easy for them to interact with the device?
- Use environment: Where will the IoT device be used? Are there a number of obstacles that can impede the signal? Do you need to consider wireless technology that can function in an obstacle-rich environment?
Selecting the right wireless technology for your application can make a significant difference in the overall function of your IoT connected device and customer satisfaction. As you work through the development stage, consider all of the options and make the choice that will is cost effective and powerful enough for your device.