The choice of technology for connected products is one of strategic importance. In addition to the technology itself, it is a matter of which in-house resources you have and what support you need from an operator.
Internet of Things gurus usually claim that all devices that can be connected will one day be connected. Industry analysts estimate that in only three years there will be 50 billion things connected to the Internet. Whether or not this figure is correct, there is no doubt that the volume of things that will be communicating via various kinds of radio-based networks will be vast.
Choose the network that’s right for you
The question of in which way, via what kind of network, they should connect is not highlighted as often. But this is nevertheless an extremely significant issue, says Telenor Connexions CTO Martin Whitlock. He mentions two different kinds of networks, LPWA (Low Power Wide Area) and cellular networks. The benefits of cellular networks are excellent opportunities for scalability and future-proofing. While the two main benefits of LPWA devices are that they are energy-efficient and provide good coverage.
LPWA technology is suitable for enterprises that want to manage their own technology, and if global coverage and operator support are not required, LoRa is an attractive alternative.
“It’s a totally licence-free technology, which means that anyone at all can build a network within certain spectrum bands. The licence-free model does, however, also require pretty good technical know-how and plenty of resources to build and configure a network,” explains Martin Whitlock.
Operators focus on NB-IoT
Another LPWA technology, one that is closer to what operators such as Telenor normally deal with, is NB-IoT. The abbreviation stands for Narrow Band IoT, and it is similar to LoRa inasmuch as the technology is designed for solutions in which requirements for low energy consumption and a low price are high priorities.
“Devices that use NB-IoT sensors will be able to last 5-10 years without needing a battery replacement, and like LoRa are ideal for use when very little data is transmitted,” says Martin Whitlock, adding that the technology is suitable for operators who are looking for solutions with global coverage and where an established operator manages the technology.
3G, 4G and in future 5G as well are of course also on the list. A CCTV camera, for example, will presumably need to use one of these technologies to be able to transmit images and video streams in real time. And 5G is a technology that will primarily be established in parallel with other technologies and pave the way for the use of additional spectrum including high frequency bands. While 5G will thus be able to permit an extremely high transmission speed, there are also some challenges in building networks with wide-area coverage, as the signals in high frequency bands do not travel very far and are easily obstructed by physical objects.
“But in addition to a high transmission speed, it has benefits such as extremely short delay, known as latency, largely thanks to an ability to communicate with other devices in the network in a more efficient way than is possible with 4G, for example. This makes it ideal for, among other things, self-driving cars, where communication with the outside world must take place in real time,” he explains.
The choice of technology is not just about – technology. Not only does it depend on the type of application and in-house technical competence, the choice is also decisive for how well the solution works on the finished platform and how well it is integrated into a new or existing IT system.