How to Really Plug Into the IoT

The Internet of Things comprises countless wireless devices, but in many use cases, wireless connectivity is not the best approach for connecting nodes to an IoT network.
By GlenNiece Kutsch
Nov 14, 2016

Many people assume that using a radio protocol, such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, is the best choice for networking Internet of Things devices—appliances, cars, wearables and other systems—in our personal and business lives. And clearly, there will be a lot of endpoints to connect in the IoT. Industry research firm IDC predicts the IoT will support more than 29.5 billion connections by 2020. But not all of these devices are best suited for wireless connection.

When most people think of the wired network in context of the IoT, it is usually employed for backhaul communications. But there are many more applications for which wired networks should be the preferred connection type for a number of key reasons. Bandwidth tops the list of reasons for utilizing existing wired networks for IoT applications, but there are many more.

Bandwidth: The higher an application's bandwidth requirement, the more difficult it will be to connect that system wirelessly. Some applications, such as high-resolution scoreboards, may seem like good candidates for wireless connection in order to take advantage of features like live score updates, crowd prompts and interactive text messaging with fans. However, other features, such as instant replay or telestrating of plays, may require so much spectrum that wireless connection becomes prohibitive. Alternatively, if an application is static, there is no reason to use a wireless connection like Wi-Fi or 4G/5G LTE when a network cable can effectively do the job. Surveillance cameras, automated door locks and alarm systems are also good candidates for a wired connection.

Reliability: Reliable data connections are key to many IoT applications. Changes to wireless base stations or access points, increased competition for a signal and other challenges can impact wireless signal reliability in ways to which wireline networks are not subject. In addition, wireless devices are reliant upon batteries, which have limited lifecycles. It can be both time-consuming and costly to access the equipment in order to replace, recycle or dispose of batteries—not to mention the expense related to downtime if a battery fails before reaching its expected lifespan.

Power: Transceivers for IoT applications are often placed in areas that previously were never considered for equipment—in a ceiling, for instance. While there are a lot of wires around that ceiling, there likely are not any power outlets there. Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) can bring power to these systems over a wide range of cabling types, whereas a wireless connection requires local AC power.

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