IoT Connectivity: 4 Standards That Will Shape 2020 and Beyond
IoT connectivity is fundamental and it’s no exaggeration to say that the wireless technology selected has a profound impact on the success of any IoT initiative. That’s why tech leaders are constantly on the hunt for the latest wireless trends and technologies to unveil potential business values and adoption opportunities. For those looking to stay ahead of the wireless curve, in this blog we identify four emerging IoT connectivity standards that are poised to shape the digital landscape in 2020 and beyond.
1. Standard-based LPWAN
Geared for low-bandwidth, low computing end nodes, the newer Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) offer highly power-efficient and affordable IoT connectivity in vast, structurally dense environments. No current wireless classes could beat LPWAN when it comes to battery life, device and connectivity costs, as well as ease of implementation. Due to this unique combination of features, LPWAN has established itself as a key driver of massive, latency-tolerant sensors network in industrial IoT, smart building and smart city sectors.
While there are a plethora of LPWAN protocols available today, you might want to look into the distinct advantages of standard-based technologies. Given the explosive growth of IoT connected devices, Quality-of-Service, scalability and interoperability will be cardinal criteria in your wireless decision. Carrier-based standards like NB-IoT and LTE-M, together with MYTHINGS – an IoT connectivity solution based on the latest ETSI open standard for low-throughput networks, have emerged to complement proprietary technologies (e.g. LoRa, Sigfox etc.) and specifically address these requirements.
In terms of applications, NB-IoT and other carrier-based LPWAN standards are set to be a core pillar of the future smart city networks. Leveraging existing cellular infrastructure, these managed networks provide extensive coverage in urban areas, while removing infrastructure expenses. On the other hand, for industrial deployments where data security and ownership prevail costs, privately deployed solutions like MYTHINGS will rise as a preferred option. Besides, industrial facilities are often located in remote regions that are poorly serviced by network operators.
The latest cellular standard has been the subject of endless discussion and excitement across the board. And while telco service operators have successively announced the launch of early next-gen cellular networks in several countries since mid-2019, 3GPP Release 16 and with it, the “full 5G vision” is still yet to come. Planned for completion in late 2020, Release 16 will bring major enhancements on ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC). On top of that, it will introduce a host of improvements as part of the “5G efficiency” roadmap – including reduced network congestion, higher power efficiency and enhanced mobility. With that said, 5G roll-out will span over the next few years and devices supporting full features are further down the road.
Besides its destined role in the consumer mobile market, 5G is deemed to be a major catalyst for other emerging tech trends like augmented/virtual reality and connected vehicles. Providing reliable and omnipresent IoT connectivity in urban areas, the technology will also play a vital role in telehealth innovations alongside public safety and mission-critical communications.
In terms of Industrial IoT, 5G is positioned to be a core enabler of time-sensitive networking for factory automation. With the introduction of the private 5G deployment option, cellular operators aim to tackle the burning security and data ownership concerns among industrial users. Yet, the high costs and nascent hardware (i.e. base station) support still leave a big question mark over the business case of private 5G networks.
3. Wi-Fi 6
While the term Wi-Fi 6 (aka 802.11.ax) has been hovering in the air for some time, its full specifications and official launch only came later last year. Given Wi-Fi’s prevalence in our daily life, it’s no surprise that the latest generation has garnered rapt attention at the CES this year. There’s already an abundance of compatible gadgets, and as hardware prices continue to drop, 2020 is expected to be a major turning point for Wi-Fi 6 adoption.
A primary upgrade of Wi-Fi 6 over its predecessors is the greatly enhanced overall network bandwidth (i.e. <9.6 Gbps). And, while ultra-HD video streaming might be the first thing that comes across your mind, the improved throughput indeed aims to address a more IoT-specific challenge – device co-existence. Rather than enabling a single device with lightning speed, Wi-Fi 6 targets to support a much larger number of endpoints per router concurrently – without compromising data throughput per device. To do so, the router employs multiple antennas, and the total used spectrum is divided into a much larger number of sub-channels for simultaneous data streams from multiple devices.
As with previous generations, Wi-Fi 6 will be the backbone of broadband IoT connectivity in home and enterprise networks. Simultaneously, by mitigating the congestion issue, the technology is poised to level up public Wi-Fi infrastructure and transform customer experience with new digital mobile services. In-car networks for infotainment and on-board diagnostics will be the most game-changing use case for Wi-Fi 6. Yet, the development is likely to take some more time.
4. Bluetooth 5.X
Built upon the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) specifications, Bluetooth 5.0 introduces a major leap in terms of throughput, speed and range. Previously, the use of BLE was limited to low throughput endpoints like beacons and wearable only. So, you would need the classic, power-hungry Bluetooth protocol for any forms of audio transmission. Today, Bluetooth 5.0 offers a highly energy-efficient option to stream audios and send large data files without quickly draining your device battery. If speed isn’t a top requirement, Bluetooth 5.0 also allows devices to communicate at low data rates in exchange for a much-improved range of up to 200 meters, making the technology ideal for next-gen smart home gadgets.
Bluetooth 5.1 and, most recently, 5.2 are the two latest derivatives of the fifth Bluetooth generation. While not significantly different from Bluetooth 5.0, they offer compelling features for highly precise direction finding and indoor navigation services. The protocols employ innovative Angle-of-Arrival and Angle-of-Departure (AoD) techniques to enable sub-meter localization ability. On the other hand, the downside of these approaches lies in the complex and expensive hardware design of the fixed locator receivers or beacons as they require an array of antennas for signal reception or transmission.
Bluetooth 5 versions support the mesh-based architecture to enable extended range for indoor positioning systems and low-power industrial sensor networks. However, it’s worth noting that the mesh topology is inherently energy-intensive and when it comes to large-scale deployments of IoT connected devices, network planning and configuration can be a major undertaking.
Each of these IoT connectivity standards is likely to secure their place in the IoT world, and it’s up to you to decide which technology is the best fit for your digital solution and use cases. Often times, industrial and enterprise users will end up with a hybrid and constantly evolving architecture that incorporates multiple wireless technologies to fully harness the IoT potential. In this context, it’s paramount to devise a flexible, robust and backward-compatible wireless infrastructure that can seamlessly scale to meet your changing needs. And, this should be considered right from the outset of your IoT project.