Most Popular IoT Protocols and Standards

Internet of Things protocols set communication standards for interconnectivity. This post is an in-depth review of the most common IoT protocols.

The Internet of Things creates an impressive connected ecosystem allowing all devices that surround us to collect, process, and share data. The possible applications of IoT span all industries and are useful both in the governmental and private sector. 

Considering the enormous potential of IoT, it’s natural to wonder what fuels its interconnectivity. Devices are capable of interacting with each other thanks to protocols and Internet of Things standards. Dozens of those have been developed, varying in bandwidth, power consumption, and range. 

In this post, we will review the most common IoT network protocols, explain the differences between them, and highlight the opportunities and limitations they provide for developers. 

Types of IoT Connections

There are several ways IoT-based connectivity manifests itself. The most common ones include device-to-device, device-to-gateway, gateway-to-data-systems, and communication between data systems. 

Here’s a detailed review on how each of those connections works, their opportunities for major industries, and drawbacks in maintenance. 

1. Device-to-device

Device-to-device communication allows hardware located in close proximity to communicate with one another. This interaction is empowered by a secure transmission protocol. There are several ways to achieve D2D-communication:
  • In case a mobile network connection is weak, two devices can create an alternative communication interface connected to the base station. This way, the quality of communication does not have to rely on a mobile network. 
  • D2D communication can be achieved through Wi-Fi offloading. Such a scenario increases data rate, reduces power consumption, and avoids traffic overload. 
  • Devices can use Bluetooth, ZigBee, or Z-Wave protocols to establish connections. 
Device-to-device communication has a wide range of advantages, such as:
  • Increasing network efficiency
  • Prolongs battery life
  • Provides network extension without having to increase hardware bases
  • Makes it possible to establish a connection without networks
  • Improves traffic load management efficiency
Having said that, device-to-device communication has its limitations. The most concerning ones are:
  • Device compatibility is required to fuel D2D-communication
  • D2D is a proximity-based protocol - thus, its range is limited 
  • Security vulnerabilities

2. Device-to-gateway

This communication model is based on connecting devices using an intermediary platform. Device-to-gateway heavily relies on a cloud system. The most common examples of device-to-gateway communications are fitness trackers that transfer data to a phone app, such as Nike+ or Samsung’s SmartThings Ecosystem. 

Device-to-gateway systems breach the inoperability gap between devices that have different communication standards. 
Such a system allows, for instance, Z-Wave and ZigBee transceivers to communicate freely. 

3. Gateway to data systems

This communications system transfers data from the gateway to an appropriate data system. There are different protocols used to fuel such a connection - you can choose one according to the traffic load (the number of parallel connections), congestion and burstiness frequencies, as well as the security requirements of a given system. 

4. Communication between data systems

A data system is a crucial part of an IoT architecture as it stores the data gathered by devices and communicates with the gateway. What’s important about it is that two data systems can be interconnected and communicate autonomously as well. This happens by transferring information within a cloud or a data warehouse. 

It’s crucial that the IoT protocol for data systems connectivity has high capacity and reliability. As a system stores a large amount of information, you must ensure that the protocol offers an easy-to-deploy mechanism of data recovery. 

Types of IoT Networks

A difference between the existing Internet of Things networks is measured by the range they cover. There are dozens of types starting from short-range nanonetworks to long distance wide-area networks capable of covering entire regions. 

Below, we’ll review the most common networks and cover the opportunities and challenges of using them for IoT-connectivity. 

1. NFC Networks

An NFC (near-field communication) network is designed to cover short distances. It can connect devices at a range of 4 centimeters from one another. 

In order to be connected to NFC networks, two gadgets have to either be touching or near one another. The connectivity standard was developed for file transfer by Phillips and Sony. Here are the most widespread uses of NFC networks:

  • Transmit the pictures taken by a phone’s camera and transmit them via a television set.
  • Transfer large files between two devices located near one another.
  • Download applications directly from a computer to a smartphone by having the two touch.
Other examples of NFC networks include contactless payment tools or keycards. 

2. THREAD

THREAD is a network designed specifically for empowering IoT devices. Its main properties include:
  • Low energy consumption - THREAD is based on an IEEE 802.15.4. standard, known to be power-efficient.
  • Seamless integration into low-powered devices.
  • Open device-to-device and device-to-cloud communication thanks to an IPv6 protocol.
  • Offers security at the network layer.
THREAD is widely used by more than a few IoT leaders - Nest, Apple, Siemens, Qualcomm, and so on. 

2. BAN Networks

A body-area network (BAN) works by being fixed on a user’s body, located at a close distance to it, or implanted inside. 

The most common example of BAN network is a wearable device - smartwatches, headsets, tools like Google Glass, and more. 

BAN networks are widely used in healthcare as they empower sensors and actuators for health data monitoring. The opportunities provided by the connectivity standard are crucial as it collects real-time data about a user. This way, healthcare and wellness professionals can predict illnesses, and sports professionals can ensure that their training inflicts no physical damage. 

3. PAN Networks

A personal-area network connects devices centered around your workplace with a fairly short-range connectivity standard covering about 10 meters of space. 

This network is often used for personal convenience - for instance, you will be able to interconnect all the devices at your desk. Businesses can benefit from PAN Networks by creating a comfortable working environment for employees. 

According to the MIT scientists who created PAN, its applications will allow us to interconnect personal digital assistants, pagers, smartphones, and other devices. Such a network will allow people to get to know one another better as they can exchange each other’s emails, social media profiles, and other data using PAN. 

4. LAN Networks

Local-area networks are one of the most common connectivity IoT standards and protocols as they empower entire buildings, including small offices or living spaces. With LAN, computers and other devices located in a specific area share both resources and network storage. 

LAN Networks are commonly enabled using ethernet cables. Less popular technologies include Fiber, Distributed Data Interface, and ARCNET. 

5. WLAN

WLAN has similar properties as LAN in terms of coverage. The main distinction between the two lies in the fact that the former is empowered by Wi-Fi, not ethernet connection. To build a connection between devices, a base station is required (in most cases, it would be a wireless router). As the popularity of wireless devices steadily increases, so does that of WLAN. 

As the network is not limited by the number of physical ports, it can support hundreds of devices simultaneously. 

Finally, unlike traditional LAN, the wireless one is easier to upgrade as upgrading a router is all it takes. 

8. WHDI

Wireless Home Digital Interface is a connectivity standard that allows streaming high-definition video to a wireless radio source. Using WHDI, you will be able to view a smartphone or PC-based footage on a compatible display device. 

Lately, the applications of WHDI have increased with the introduction of smart home devices. According to CNet, Amimon has sold over half a million WHDI chips that will wirelessly connect LCDs, multimedia projectors, PC to TV adapters, DVRs, and so on. This will allow people to create a united entertainment system at home that will be faster and easier to manage. 

9. RFID

RFID (radio frequency identification) is a type of connectivity that encodes data into a tag or a smart label. All stored information is captured by a reader using radio waves. 

While a system has noticeable similarities to traditional barcode scanning, its main advantage is in the fact that RFID tags can be read out of the line of sight, whereas it’s important to have the barcode aligned to the optical scanner to read regular tags. 

As soon as a reader scans the label, all the data is transferred to a host system. This information will be stored and analyzed later. 

Top IoT Protocols Reviews

It’s important to understand that the Internet of Things goes way beyond traditional connectivity and equipment. Due to a large number of embedded technologies, there’s an equal amount of IoT protocols used for project implementation. Here’s an in-depth IoT protocols comparison. 

1. Bluetooth

Bluetooth is one of the most basic short-range protocols for file transfer. However, its later versions have evolved and provided developers with new opportunities. Bluetooth 5, for instance, has increased its range by four times and improved the speed. The data broadcasting frequency is now 800% of what it used to be. 

In a typical IoT architecture, Bluetooth acts as a communication layer. It creates a bridge between other layers of the system and connects sensors with each other or with the gateway. 

The advantages of using Bluetooth as a protocol include:

  • Cheap deployment
  • Enables wireless online connectivity
  • Creates a PAN if proper infrastructure is unavailable
  • Low interference
  • Standardized protocol

2. GSM

The Global System for Mobile Communication, known as GSM, is a mobile network widely used in Europe and other regions. 

The protocol compresses and digitizes data and sends it down user data channels. 

The network has the following integral parts:

  • A mobile device
  • A base station subsystem
  • A network switching subsystem
  • Operation and support subsystem 
Extended Coverage GSM IoT is a variation of the system that has additional tools for projects that use the Internet of Things. 

 3. 3G/4G

Out of all IoT wireless protocols, 4G seems to be the most rapidly developing. Most telecommunications services providers strive for implementing high-speed services, that’s why the range of 4G coverage is constantly increasing. 

Its predecessors (3G and 2G) are both expected to shut down in the near future. In Europe, 3G will likely be the first to shut down while the US will soon be likely to pull the trigger on 2G. 

Using 4G for IoT projects is a solid choice because of the large network coverage. Moreover, in case there’s no 4G connection, a developer has a fallback with 3G.

4. LTE-M1

This protocol allows IoT devices to connect to 4G directly without using IoT gateway protocols or batteries. The main properties of LTE-M1 include:
  • 156 bB MCL coverage
  • Long battery life (10 years for 5 WH batteries)
  • Low device costs
LTE-M1 is a relatively new network. Nevertheless, there are already more than a few use cases of the protocol, including: 
  • Asset tracking
  • Low-density sensors
  • Meter readers automation

5. BLE

Bluetooth Low Energy is available in the fourth and higher versions of Bluetooth and can help IoT developers reduce data rates and transmitter power. BLE is often used for asset tracking - however, a developer should keep in mind that it won’t work underwater. It also wouldn't be a solid choice for applications that want to transmit video, audio, or biometric data. 

Altogether, BLE is one of the most energy-efficient Internet of Things protocols out there. It’s more efficient than ZigBee in terms of power consumption and data rate. However, the protocol has a small coverage - up to 50 meters. 

6. ZigBee

ZigBee is a protocol based on a personal-area network IEEE standard. It has been used for over a decade and is considered among the viable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth alternatives. While ZigBee has a limited range, it doesn’t consume much bandwidth. The technology is a great fit for low-powered applications - sensors, smart home appliances, and so on. 

The technology operates using a mesh network. Unlike protocols that use point-to-point communication (Bluetooth, for instance), ZigBee supports a large number of nodes (over 60,000) and provides higher connection stability. 

ZigBee is widely used among home innovation companies. Phillips, for one, uses it to interconnect light bulbs

7. LoWPAN

Unlike Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, which are constrained when empowering a large combination of devices, LoWPAN was designed specifically to manage those kinds of situations. The protocol allows devices to interconnect using IP networking. 

For developers, LoWPAN has no constraints - you’ll be able to use standard HTTP and CoAP protocols. 

One of the benefits of LoWPAN is that it has been recently backed up by Android - there’s an API for building apps with LoWPAN, creating and joining mesh networks. 

Our Experience

At Ardas-IT, we have worked with all common networks and protocols. In our experience, choosing a fit for your next project derives from your business needs. Companies that plan to deploy IoT applications indoors should consider sticking with a cellular protocol. 

Wireless mesh is better to run tests on a small scale before deploying it for global commercial applications. Be sure to create precise criteria that would allow you to compare IoT protocols more efficiently. 

When choosing between IoT communication protocols, keep in mind the type of connectivity you’re interested in, the coverage of your application, the objective you’ll be using the data for, and the type of service you’re launching. 

Conclusion

As a bottom line, IoT developers should understand that there’s no black and white answer when it comes to choosing a protocol for deploying the Internet of Things. Assessing the pros and cons of each option in the context of your project is the wisest approach a developer can take. 

In case you’re looking forward to launching an IoT project, Ardas-IT is the right team for you. We are a team of professional developers experienced in deploying innovative technologies - including IoT, AI, and Big Data. We will brainstorm your project idea, design a step-by-step development strategy, and come up with precise time and budget estimates. A dedicated account manager will then provide you with status updates on each development stage. 

 

Take a look at our portfolio to see what kind of projects Ardas-IT has been working on. To discuss an idea with an IoT developer, contact us today.