How to Solve the Biggest Problems with Connected Devices

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of wireless, internet-connected devices that now includes phones, laptops, security systems, televisions, virtual reality headsets, sensors, gateways and more. While the IoT is poised to revolutionize the way we communicate, work, drive, travel, and play, connected devices aren’t without their issues. Let’s take a look at the biggest problems that connected devices face today and at how network engineers are working to solve them.

High Volumes of Connected Devices Congest Wireless Networks

As more devices become internet connected, the traffic over networks like 4G LTE increases exponentially. Ericsson predicts that, between 2018 and 2023, mobile data traffic will increase a staggering 8000%, with much of the increase coming from new devices. This rapid growth may put a strain on popular networks, like WiFi and 4G LTE, which have limited capacities.

In the next decade, 5G networks will meet much of the growing demand for mobile data. By 2023, Ericsson predicts that 5G networks will carry about 20% of the mobile data traffic. The next generation of mobile broadband will be very high capacity, which is why carriers have debuted their 5G prototypes at sporting events like the World Cup and the Winter Olympics.

Popular Network Protocols Drain the Batteries of Connected Devices

Device manufacturers have always struggled to increase battery life, which is immune to Moore’s Law. Popular network protocols, like WiFi and 4G LTE, drain device batteries relatively quickly. Using these protocols, it’s difficult/impossible for manufacturers to design products, like soil sensors, that will be used for months without a charge.

While many IoT devices connect to the internet on familiar protocols like 4G LTE and WiFi, manufacturers have begun to produce products that connect using protocols designed specifically for the needs of the IoT. These protocols include Zigbee, Z-Wave, LoRaWAN, and LTE-M, which consume less battery life than the 4G LTE or WiFi protocols.

Network protocol Battery life
WiFi 802.11ac <1 year
4G LTE <1 year
Zigbee >2 year
Z-Wave <10 year
LoRaWAN <10 year
LTE-M <10 year

Popular Network Protocols Have Short Ranges

In the home and the office, many devices connect to the internet using WiFi or Bluetooth. Unfortunately, these protocols have short ranges that make them impractical or temporary solutions for mobile connected devices like phones, cars, or location trackers.

The LoRaWAN and LTE-M protocols enable ultra-long-range communications on par with mobile broadband networks. These two protocols may be the best solution for mobile devices:

  • LoRaWAN transmits online data over low-frequency radio bands on the unlicensed radio spectrum. Low-frequency radio bands have a longer range, which means LoRaWAN can connect very remote devices, like livestock trackers, to online applications.
  • LTE-M is the first cellular wireless protocol designed for connected devices. Because it’s a cellular protocol, LTE-M could be deployed in long-range cellular towers alongside 3G, 4G LTE or, eventually, 5G NR.
Network protocol Range
WiFi 802.11ac 150 feet
4G LTE <300 feet
Zigbee 300 feet
Z-Wave 300 feet
LoRaWAN 5 miles
LTE-M <45 miles

Different Manufacturers Use Different Wireless Protocols

There is a lack of network compatibility between devices manufactured by different companies, since different manufacturers use different wireless protocols. Devices that operate on different protocols can’t exchange information easily. It’s difficult, then, to build custom systems, like smart homes, that integrate devices from multiple manufacturers.

Today, some mobile gateways support more than one wireless protocol. By connecting your devices to these gateways, you can use a single control panel to manage a number of devices from a number of different companies. Devices that use different wireless protocols can talk to each other through the gateway, which eliminates the communication barrier.

In the future, manufacturers will may agree on a single connected device protocol, in the same way cellular carriers agree on a single mobile broadband protocol. A single standard will give consumers more choice (since they can switch out devices without changing their network technology) and make it easier for manufacturers to compete with each other.

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