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Connectivity Challenges In IoT

Optimal Connectivity For Connected Devices

The Internet of Things (IoT) or Machine to Machine (M2M) communication is the next technology evolution that is expected to change the way we live and do things now and is currently at the top of Gartner Hype Cycle. IoT/M2M promises to connect every object on earth (living or non-living) to the internet, providing immediate access to the information about the physical world and objects therein. This is leading to the development of innovative services and solutions that increase productivity and efficiency in our day to day life.

The possibilities of applications using IoT/M2M are enormous. There will be a huge jump in the number of devices that get connected to the internet. According to a recent study by Juniper Research the number of connected devices will rise up to 38.5 billion in 2020 from 13.4 billion in 2015. This rise of over 285% will be mainly due to the surge in connected industrial and public service applications like retail, manufacturing, agriculture, smart buildings, smart grids, smart meters, followed by eHealth and automobiles.

This large spectrum of IoT/M2M devices also come with a number of different wired and wireless internet connectivity options. Different types of IoT/M2M devices and applications have different characteristics and requirements for mobility, latency, reliability, throughput and capacity. For devices used in applications like smart homes, smart grids, health monitoring, agricultural and industrial monitoring, the data-rate (throughput) and latency is not an issue. Whereas, a smart city camera solution or a smart car infotainment system will need a much higher data-rate. On the other hand for a self-driving car or a mission critical broadcast solution, high data-rate is probably not as important as extremely high reliability and low latency. Then, there is another category of devices which need very low power consumption. Just to give an example you would want the smart pacemaker implanted on your body to work for years without the need for battery replacement. Because of such diversity in requirements it is very important to choose the right network connectivity for an IoT/M2M device based on the device characteristics and application use cases.

Over the past many decades a number of different wireless connectivity standards have evolved using both licensed and unlicensed spectrum. Connectivity solutions like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, 6LoWPAN, LoRaWAN operate on unlicensed spectrum, whereas Cellular networks like GSM, CDMA, UMTS and LTE or satellite based communications work on strictly licensed radio space. Wi-Fi connectivity provides high data-rates but it can be used only within a short range (few 10s of meters). Cellular is a Wide Area Network with the ability to cover few miles and provides high mobility and data-rate. However, data is more expensive in a cellular network and also devices are very power hungry. This makes a cellular network not very suitable for low power IoT/M2M devices. For low-cost, low-power wireless networking, ZigBee is the most popular technology right now in the market. ZigBee and 6LoWPAN are designed for devices that need low data-rate (ZigBee provides fixed 250 kbps data-rate) and also should consume very low power to provide years of battery life. However, due to the low transmit power the coverage of ZigBee is small and often requires repeaters or high density of nodes to achieve the required coverage.

To address the specific needs of devices needing long range communication with very low power consumption, a new Low Power Wide Area Network specification known as LoRaWAN is proposed. LoRaWAN data-rates range from 0.3 kbps to 50 kbps. With LoRaWAN an entire city can be covered with few base stations and this makes IoT/M2M possible with minimal connectivity infrastructure investment. The LoRaWAN standard is driven by LoRa Alliance, an open non-profit association formed by different industry leaders.

Link Labs is one of the few companies offering Base Stations and Gateway equipment for Low Power Wide Area Networks based on LoRaWAN standard. Link Labs’ Symphony Link LoRa Gateway (LL-BST-8) is optimized for use with Link Labs Symphony Modules and other modules compliant with LoRaWAN standards. This is an easy to use inexpensive gateway that can communicate with thousands of devices at a range of many kilometers. The gateway can be connected to a backhaul network via Ethernet, Wi-Fi or GSM technology. Link Labs also offers a highly integrated transceiver module (LL-RLP-20) that allows device manufacturers to quickly bring Long Range (LoRa) communication to their devices. Apart from this Link Labs also offers a development kit and evaluation board for quickly prototyping IoT/M2M application using Link Labs Symphony LL-RLP-20 or LL-RXR-27 modules.

All these different network technologies are trying to solve various issues specific to IoT/M2M. However, looking at it purely from an adopter point of view, it raises concerns related to operability, serviceability and interworking apart from adding a lot of complexity to the whole IoT/M2M paradigm that makes decision making a tough task, as it requires a great deal of consideration and self-analysis to make the best selection for a business. Therefore, the need of the hour is to work on a standard defined, access agnostic, convergent core network that can bring all such heterogeneous wireless technologies under the umbrella of a single services layer.