Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept commonly presented as the next stage of the computer and network revolution, that leads towards the dispersion of network modules and the information itself and where each object in the real world can automatically connect to the network and communicate with any other module connected to it. IoT currently covers a number of technologies and research areas that are aimed at using and extending the existing Internet as a communication platform for various types of objects, devices and modules found in the human environment.
In order for IoT ecosystem to be fully operational it needs
to have a good communication protocol at its disposal.
What is a communication protocol?
Communication protocol is a set of strict rules and steps that are automatically performed by communication devices to establish communication and exchange of data. In the case of telecommunications or IoT protocols, a communication protocol is a regulation system that allows two or more units of the communication system to send information of different types of physical quality. These regulations (standards) define syntax, semantics, communication synchronization, and possible methods of fixing errors.
At present, there are at least a dozen or so communication standards used for in IoT that can be divided into four main groups:
- WAN (Wide Area Network) — network covering a large
area. Not that long ago, the devices belonging to WAN needed continuous power
supply due to the fact that WAN was based on GSM networks such as 2G, 3G and
4G. Using new communication methods dedicated to IoT such as LPWAN (Low Power
Wide Area Network), devices working only on their battery power can send small
amounts of data over long distances.
LPWAN communication standards are used by all types of devices that send diagnostic data — from small sensors to larger devices such as gateways. The most popular wireless communication standards in this group include: Sigfox and LTE-Cat1 as well as NB-IoT, LoRA and LTE-M. LPWAN standards are relatively new, which is why the prices of communication modules that support them are quite high compared to the prices of modules supporting communication over short distances (ZigBee, BLE, WiFi). In due time, however, the prices will drop to no more than 5 USD, which should result in the popularization of these communication methods.
- PAN (Personal Area Network) and HAN (Home Area Network)
— as the name suggests, HAN is a network contained within the user’s home. It
enables communication of personal devices (e.g. sports watches, sleep quality
bandwrists, heart rate monitors) and household appliances (e.g. thermostats,
sensors). PAN, on the other hand, is also a short-range network used for the
same purpose but usually revolves around one person which doesn’t necessary
means the entire home. The main feature of devices working in these networks is
a very long battery life which is a result of scarce power consumption.
As for their range, when used for example with the NFC protocol, it will be reduced even to just a few centimeters (NFC), while when working with WiFi, ZigBee, Bluetooth Low Energy it can reach even several dozens of meters.
- LAN (Local Area Network) — a network covering a larger area, e.g. a workplace or an office building. Internet of Things devices working over LAN are mainly various types of sensors and gateways that enable the transmission of data to the Internet. Wireless communication in LANs requires a range of several dozens to several hundreds of meters. Commonly used communication protocols in LANs are WiFi and Bluetooth 5.0.
Who will emerge winner?
As Internet of Things is in great need of minimizing the energy consumption of its “things”, it seems that low power wide area (LPWA) technologies will be used to support communication in IoT. There’s no doubt that these communication protocols are able to ensure provisioning of communication services and data transmission over long distances with reduced energy consumption. However, the question remains which of the standards belonging to the LPWAN will win the market share.