What is Internet of Things (IoT)?
There is a lot of hype around IoT and how it can benefit us, from self-driving cars to detecting glucose levels for better human health.
At it’s simplest form, a fitness band used to monitor physical activity is an example. Other complex use cases involve managing HVAC systems for energy management, factories using IoT for operations and equipment optimization and smart cities using IoT for public safety and transportation.
According to McKinsey, “the potential economic impact of IoT is as much as $11.1 trillion per year in 2025 for IoT applications”.
Businesses are looking into strategic value of implementing IoT to solve complex problems. They are working with technology vendors, network providers and hardware manufacturers to ensure that the IoT devices and systems work together to realize the full value of the IoT applications. This includes not only optimizing business processes but also using predictive data analytics for business benefits.
It has been reported that the rate of adoption of IoT is 5 times faster than electricity or telephony.
While most of the use cases are true, the fact is that the technology is constantly evolving, designing and implementing these systems would involve ramping up your technology capabilities.
How is Internet of Things (IoT) implemented?
The things in the “Internet of Things” refers to a network of devices that can communicate with each other through the Internet. These devices have the ability to also send and receive data. When connected with a computer or smart phone, they have the ability to automate processes and form a network of integrated applications. Some of the examples of these “things” are smart meters, fitness trackers, home appliances, medical devices and even shoes or clothes using sensors. Any object embedded with a computer chip can form a system in the IoT.
The minimum things required for an IoT application to function are the hardware device, the software, device unique identifier or IP (Internet Protocol) address, Internet connectivity and a cloud platform.
The device hardware usually consists of sensors or embedded chips. These are very small inexpensive devices with varying CPUs, operating systems and memory. These are placed in various locations like buildings, factories and cities or even inside animals for data collection purposes.
The IP address is the most important element of the device. This unique identifier allows you to identify the device sending or receiving the information.
Communications or Internet connectivity allows the device to communicate with each other. The Internet connection can be wired, through Ethernet cables, or wireless, such as a Wi-Fi or cellular network. Communications technology is advanced to the extent that it makes data sharing and data access simple and seamless.
Since the volume of data collected is more than 100 Exabytes per month, a cloud platform that offers low-cost storage is essential.
Finally, the cloud applications or the data analytics software is crucial to converting this data into actionable insights that has a powerful impact on your business.
Communications or Internet Connectivity:
With the advent of smart buildings and green building initiatives, IoT is increasingly used to measure, analyze, monitor and control Business Energy Management system (BEMS). Facility and building managers are now able to monitor energy equipment and systems in real time and use the data to optimize and control.
Many building technology implementers are unsure about the best network connectivity – wired or wireless, for IoT implementations.
Wired and Wireless have both advantages and disadvantages when it comes to network connectivity. Understanding these benefits and drawbacks will help you make an informed decision when implementing an IoT solution.
IoT technology is deployed in many ways so no single network solution is right. It depends on the situation and where the devices are located. Some of the factors affecting the selection of the type of network are network range, network bandwidth, power usage, interoperability, intermittent connectivity and security.
A wired network uses Ethernet cable to connect to the network. The Ethernet cable is in turn connected to a DSL or cable to the network gateway. The wired networks are mature technology and it is easy to get plugged into if you already have phone lines, power lines, and coaxial cable lines.
Even in the case of wireless network, those networks are usually connected to a wired network at some point; hence the most commonly used network is a hybrid of both wired and wireless network connectivity.
Some of the benefits of the wired monitoring devices are:
- Reliability: Ethernet connections have been in existence much longer than Wi-Fi technology, which makes it much more reliable. They are less prone to dropped connections and are more reliable without constant debugging.
- Speed: Wired connections are less affected by local factors like walls, floors, cabinets, length of the room, interference from other electronic devices etc. This enables wired connectivity to be much faster than wireless. Wired data transmissions are not sensitive to distances and placement of devices does not have any adverse effect on the performance of the connection.
- Security: Wired connections are usually housed behind your Local Area Network (LAN) firewall and hence it allows for complete control of the communications system. This means there is no broadcasting data that can be hacked into.
Disadvantages of Wired Connections:
- Cost: Wired connections are more expensive than wireless due to the cost of the wire, labor costs for installation. In the event of a damaged cable, the repair or replacement costs are also extremely high compared to relatively low-maintenance wireless networks.
- Mobility: Wired networks would need to be buried in walls, floors and ceilings in order to reach the sensors that need to be connected to it. Since the sensors are small and can be placed anywhere in a facility, it would sometimes be physically impossible to reach them.
- Scalability: Building and extending wired networks requires planning and a budget to construct it. Wired systems need hardware to be purchased, installed and configured before it can be fully operational. Scalability would be an issue not only for networks to be up and running quickly but also for the planning and cost purposes.
Wireless IoT Implementation:
As most wired networks tend to be bulky and expensive, Wireless IoT implementations are the common solution. Setting up a wireless network is a simple process that involves configuring it to get it up and running in no time.
There are 4 common communication models used by IoT 1. Device-to-Device, 2.Device-to-Cloud, 3.Device-to-Gateway, and 4.Back-End Data-Sharing.
The type of wireless implemented will depend on the communication model.
- Device to Device uses Bluetooth, Z-Wave or Zigbee as it involves transmitting small amounts of data.
- Device to Cloud uses WiFi or Cellular technology. Cloud connections allow users to obtain access to the device remotely.
- Device to Gateway uses the network of your smart device like a smart phone or a smart watch. Examples of this are fitness trackers that upload data into your mobile app.
- Backend Data Sharing extends the single device to cloud communications to authorized third parties. This can use any network connectivity like WiFi, Cellular or even satellite. It all comes down to the use case of your business.
Advantages of Wireless:
- Scalable: Wireless networks do not require any hardware installations. They typically involve configurations and can be up and running in a short time. They can also be extended very easily without considerations of obstructions in the facility. Newer wireless technologies use plug and play including auto-discovery that helps with reduced installation times.
- Cost-Effective : Due to advancement in wireless technology as well as the number of manufacturers, the cost of the wireless has been decreasing over the last few years. Moreover, most wireless sensors come with nodes that can be extended by adding additional nodes as per requirements.
Disadvantages of Wireless:
- Interference: Electronic devices in the vicinity of wireless networks can easily interfere and can cause loss in connection or reduced quality of connection. This can lead to loss of productivity until the issue is identified and fixed.
- Slower speed: When dealing with real-time data, it is imperative that data is transmitted and available as fast as possible. Wireless networks are susceptible to increased latency and signal interference that impacts the speed and consistency of the data.
In conclusion, while it is important to know the advantages and disadvantages of the wired solution compared to the wireless, the right solution often depends on your business use case.
Understanding the specific needs of your facility and how continuous monitoring will help reach your goals is the most important aspect when weighing out the pros and cons of wired versus wireless network solutions.