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The ABCs of the Internet of Things

Patrick Thibodeau | May 7, 2014
What it is, how it works and why it may not succeed

Why is low power and low bandwidth important in IoT?

Some IoT devices will get power from electrical systems, but many, such as door locks and standalone sensors, will use batteries. These devices send and receive small amounts of information intermittently or periodically. Consequently, the battery life of an IoT device can range from 1.5 years to a decade, if the battery lasts that long. One IoT maker, Insteon, uses both radio and powerline communication, which can send data over existing electrical wiring as well as via a radio, which it says will offer an increased measure of reliability.

What is a mesh network?

Devices in a mesh network connect directly with one another, and pass signals like runners in a relay race. It is the opposite of a centralized network. The transmission range of an IoT device on a mesh network is anywhere from 30 feet to more than 300 feet.

Since mesh network devices can hand-off signals, they have an ability to connect thousands of sensors over a wide area, such as a city, and operate in concert. Mesh networks have the added ability of working around the failure of any individual device. Wireless mesh IoT protocols include the Z-Wave Alliance, the Zigbee Alliance, and Insteon, which also has an alliance of vendors. These protocols aren't directly interoperable, although there are workarounds via hubs (more on this later).

ZigBee is an open protocol, but its critics say that not all of its implementations are necessarily the same. ZigBee runs a certification to ensure standard deployments. Insteon and Z-Wave are proprietary, which may ensure standardization of implementation.

What's the best wireless network for the IoT?

Today, no wireless technology has a dominant market share in IoT applications. Nick Jones, an analyst at research firm Gartner, said more than 10 IoT wireless technologies will "get significant traction" in IoT applications. These wireless technologies include cellular, satellites and new communications such as Weightless, which uses "white space," or unoccupied TV channels. More importantly, no one wireless technology will meet every need and circumstance. A connected car, for instance, will use a cellular network to contact your home network.

Will I need a gateway or hub in the IoT?

A gateway, bridge or hub provides a connection point between your home network and other devices. The hub works with your home router and provides communications to the machines, devices and sensors that are part of your IoT universe. You will want, by default, your Zigbee smart meter to communicate with your Z-Wave or Insteon thermostat. This will also be true for the washing machine that is connected to a smart metering system and starts a wash only when electric rates are at their lowest point. These connections will be established through hubs that support multiple wireless technologies.

 

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