Alternatives To WI-FI for Iot Connectivity

Network connectivity is one of, if not the most important concern of any IoT deployment.

After all, the concept of IoT itself is to ensure all of these things (devices, machines, sensors, etc.) stay connected to the internet so they can directly transmit and receive data between each other without any intermediaries. 

With that being said, Wi-Fi is still widely regarded as one of the most popular IoT connectivity solutions. Wi-Fi consumes medium to low energy and can offer really high bandwidth capabilities. The trade-off? As we know, Wi-Fi can only cover a fairly small area of up to 100 ft in range. 

So, below we’ll take a look at some popular alternatives to Wi-Fi for IoT connection, each with its own trade-off but also unique advantages. 

Bandwidth VS Energy Consumption VS Coverage Range

A key concern about IoT connectivity is the fact that at the moment, an ideal connectivity solution for IoT hasn’t existed (yet). This theoretical, ideal connectivity solution should offer real global coverage, near-unlimited bandwidth, and close to zero energy consumption, and since it doesn’t exist, all IoT connectivity options we have today offer some trade-offs between these three technical factors: bandwidth, energy consumption, and coverage area. 

  • Bandwidth: some IoT devices are required to transmit and receive a huge amount of data, and some others may only require to send a small amount of data (i.e. thermostats and other sensors). 
  • Energy consumption: if the IoT devices are hard-wired and plugged-in 24/7, then energy consumption might not be a major issue (accepting cost issues). However, if the device is deployed remotely and relies on battery power, you’ll need to choose IoT connectivity with low power consumption. 
  • Coverage range: if your IoT deployment only covers a fairly limited range (i.e. smart home, school, office, etc.), then coverage range shouldn’t be much of an issue. However, if your devices are separated by a fair distance, then you should keep coverage range in mind when choosing between different IoT connectivity options. 

So, when choosing between different alternatives to Wi-Fi for IoT, you should try to answer these key questions: 

  • What is the objective of your IoT project?
  • What is the minimum performance requirement in order to achieve the objective(s)? 
  • Where are your devices going to be deployed?
  • How far away are the devices going to be separated from one another? 

With those points being said, below we will discuss the different IoT connectivity options available and their advantages. 

Alternatives to Wi-Fi for IoT Networks

  1. Cellular IoT 

Besides WI-Fi, cellular connectivity is also a very popular IoT connection solution. When specifically compared to Wi-Fi, cellular IoT consumes more energy but covers a much wider coverage area. In fact, with cellular IoT, it’s actually possible to get global IoT connectivity if you partner with the right network operator. 

Truphone for Things data plans, for example, offer coverage in more than 150 countries, and with global M2M SIM cards and connectivity platform that support eSIM technology, we can easily switch between networks without needing to physically replace the SIM cards. 

Pros: 

  • Cellular connectivity has the furthest coverage range at the moment
  • Cellular towers are virtually everywhere, so you don’t need to invest in infrastructures when scaling your IoT project
  • Easy to use, everyone is familiar with the concept of SIM
  • Excellent data security, fully encrypted and SIM data can’t be spoofed

Cons: 

  • High power consumption
  • Incurring costs for data plans can be expensive in the long-run

2. Bluetooth

Bluetooth is very similar to Wi-Fi in a lot of ways: Bluetooth (especially Bluetooth LE) offers a low energy consumption while providing a relatively high bandwidth. Also similar to Wi-Fi, it can only operate in a limited coverage range.  

Bluetooth is slightly better than Wi-Fi regarding battery consumption, but can only offer bandwidth up to 2Mbps. Its range is also more limited at below 30 ft. 

Pros: 

  • Low energy consumption with Bluetooth LE
  • Low investment cost
  • Medium bandwidth capabilities
  • Reliable

Cons: 

  • Limited range
  • Bandwidth not as high as Wi-Fi

3. Mesh Network

Mesh networks like Zigbee and Z-Wave are popular alternatives to Wi-Fi for IoT, and they essentially function by connecting a host of IoT devices so they are interconnected as nodes that are able to distribute data to any chosen device in the ‘mesh’. 

Z-Wave is slightly slower than Zigbee, but offers a slightly better coverage range (30 feet) between devices, and in general mesh networks offer low energy consumption and low range at the expense of less bandwidth than Wi-Fi. 

Pros: 

  • Cost-effective, doesn’t need extra infrastructure (i.e a router or central hub) for it to work
  • Low power consumption
  • As long as you keep adding more devices, you can scale the network

Cons: 

  • Low data transfer rate (around 250 Kbps)

4. LPWAN

LPWAN, or Low-Power Wide Area Network, is an umbrella term referring to various IoT technologies that offer low energy consumption but a very high coverage range (at least 500 meters between devices). Typically the trade-off is fairly low bandwidth. 

LoRaWAN and SigFox are popular examples for LPWAN, as well as newer technologies like NB-IoT (Narrowband IoT) and LTE-M, which are essentially modifications of cellular IoT. 

Pros: 

  • Low energy consumption
  • Very long coverage area

Cons: 

  • Low bandwidth
  • Only good for specific use cases at the moment

Conclusion

In most instances, cellular IoT remains the best alternative to Wi-Fi for various IoT deployments, especially in large-scale IoT deployments that also require high bandwidth capabilities. Cellular IoT offers the widest coverage range (potentially global coverage), the opportunity to scale, and reliable data transfer speed. Also, cellular IoT requires relatively low upfront investment and ongoing costs. 

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