This blog was written by CommScope’s Dennis Huang.
A growing number of applications are accelerating the pace of IoT adoption. These applications are driving new benefits in many environments including intelligent buildings (lighting, HVAC, physical security, and asset tracking), healthcare (staff alerts, patient monitoring), and smart cities (smart parking and waste monitoring). But despite a noticeable increase in adoption, real-world IoT deployments are often challenged by a confusing and costly array of network protocols, equipment, and disparate management tools.
Indeed, as enterprises move to support building automation, physical security, and environmental monitoring solutions enabled by IoT technologies, the lack of centralized management and a converged network has become a barrier to wider adoption. This is because each IoT system (ex; smart doors, meters, and sensors) often requires dedicated IoT gateways to support the network protocol used by each device. Moreover, these systems often demand the installation of additional security and power infrastructure, resulting in multiple siloed overlay networks that drive up complexity, new vulnerabilities, and costs.
There is a real need to simplify overly complex IoT deployments. Proactively investing in long-term IoT solutions by an enterprise allows vendors who can deliver a simpler, less costly solution to win. Consolidating multiple radio technologies into a single platform such as an access point (AP) is one such strategic solution that effectively addresses network fragmentation at the edge. Delivering unified management tools to simplify management and control within the network for IT/OT is another. Lastly, a unified and comprehensive security framework that spans from the edge to the core can reduce the network attack surface and automate IT security oversight.
It is also important to note that IoT deployments are driving new radio requirements. Wi-Fi continues to successfully address applications where low latency and high bandwidth requirements are mission-critical such as remote health care, manufacturing, and video surveillance. However, Wi-Fi is not as suitable for long-distance, low-bandwidth and low-power applications like smart metering and smart agriculture. This is where other radio technologies like LoRaWAN come into play.
An IoT network that leverages Wi-Fi infrastructure to support LoRaWAN, along with other IoT radios such as BLE and Zigbee, is an important step towards a converged access network and one that can help simplify and accelerate IoT deployments. Wi-Fi complements LoRaWAN, with the former supporting critical IoT applications that demand ultra-low latency and ultra-high bandwidth (in addition to smartphones, tablets, and laptops). The latter is best suited to support long-range IoT applications that are low-energy and low-bandwidth. Meanwhile, BLE and Zigbee support shorter range, low bandwidth indoor applications, with each wireless technology offering benefits that address specific use cases:
- Wi-Fi: Ideal for user-facing devices such as smartphones and laptops, and ultra-high bandwidth, low-latency applications such as IP video.
- BLE / Zigbee: Great for indoor environmental sensors, asset tracking tags, and connected entry.
- LoRaWAN: Ideal for indoor/outdoor environmental sensors, asset tracking tags suited for smart parking, food services, manufacturing, and agriculture.
Wireless Technology Comparisons
Wi-FiTM is a universal radio technology that almost all of us use every day and is based on the IEEE 802.11 family of standards. In 2019, Wi-Fi celebrated its 20th anniversary and has come a long way since its humble beginnings as an unsecure, slow, and inferior network technology. Today, Wi-Fi, especially with Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6™, has evolved to become an ultra-high performance, deterministic wireless standard, driven by multiple foundational technologies including OFDMA, TWT, and 1024-QAM. Wi-Fi 6 delivers 4x the performance of its Wi-Fi 5 predecessor and places itself further into the upper left quadrant in Figure 1.
LoRaWANTM is a rich and advanced wireless protocol that focuses on long-distance, low-power, and low-data rate wireless data transitions requirements. While much younger than Wi-Fi, it has become a core technology for sensors and tags and is now synonymous with the IoT. The LoRaWAN® specification focuses on maintaining the networking layer (MAC) on top of the LoRa® physical layer. LoRa (LOng RAnge) utilizes the unlicensed sub-gigahertz ISM bands and is a smart choice for battery operated sensors in remote or outdoor locations. LoRa applications typically transmit small amounts of data measured in kilobits and consume power in microamps. Contrast that with Wi-Fi which can consume up to 100x more power (300mW vs 30mW) and it becomes clear why LoRa is a better choice for battery-powered tags and sensors. LoRaWAN falls into the lower right quadrant in Figure 1.
BLE / Zigbee
Both BLE and Zigbee support short-range, lower-power wireless applications and target different requirements. BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) is a standard maintained by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group introduced in 2011 that operates in the 2.4 GHz spectrum and targets health, fitness, and home entertainment with an emphasis on consumer applications. In contrast, Zigbee focuses on industrial applications. An IEEE 802.15.4 based specification, Zigbee is used for home automation, medical device data collection, and industrial lighting and controls. Its low power consumption limits transmission distances in the range of 10–100 meters line-of-sight and operates in the same unlicensed spectrum as BLE as well as sub-gigahertz ISM bands. Both standards fall into the lower left quadrant in Figure 1.
In conclusion, real-world IoT deployments are frequently challenged by a confusing and costly array of gateways, network protocols, and disparate management tools. Consolidating multiple radio technologies into a single platform such as an access point (AP) is a strategic solution that effectively addresses fragmentation at the edge by enabling unified management and the implementation of a comprehensive security framework. Each wireless standard targets a different set of applications, but when combined into one converged access layer, forms the foundation for universal connectivity requirements for all users, applications, devices, and locations.
To learn more about the IoT workgroup activities in WBA, please click here
To read the latest paper on opportunities for Wi-Fi with LoRaWAN, download it here