Network devices can include anything from our household smart devices to a complex network of sensors and machines working in a car manufacturing plant. In order to connect these devices to a network they either need to be wired to a local-area network (LAN) or connect wirelessly to a wireless LAN or wide-area network (WAN).
Advantages of wired connectivity:
Disadvantages of wired connectivity:
- High cost
For many applications connecting devices with a cable would be the ideal method of connectivity. A network cable provides a stable connection with little chances of interference.
Standard Cat 6 network cables can provide speeds up to 10 Gbit/s and have a range of up to 328 feet (100 meters) until speed and reliability starts to degrade.
The downside of wired networks is the cost. The cost of materials including copper wire can make network cables quite expensive. Furthermore, high-grade network cables that have cable jackets able to withstand harsh environments can make them even more expensive.
Lastly, when using network cables in a warehouse and manufacturing plant there can be electromagnetic interference (EMI). This can cause issues with the reliability of the data being transmitted should the connection be in an environment with a lot of radio noise.
One way to reduce EMI is to use shielded cables. Shielding is a foil and/or braided jacket wrapped around the wires used to absorb any intrusive radio waves. Although highly effective, these types of cables can cost significantly more than standard network cables.
Fiber Optic Connectivity
Another method of wired connectivity is fiber optic cabling. Fiber has similar characteristics to copper cables such as range, reliability, and security.
One advantage over copper is an increase in speed. Some deployments using fiber can transmit data up to 40Gbit/s. Another advantage is fibers are immune to electromagnetic interference opposed to copper wires thus making them more reliable in noisy environments.
However, fiber cabling has some drawbacks. For one, this technology can be expensive – not so much for the cable itself, but the devices the cables are connecting to. The technology is also quite advanced and requires specialized technicians to troubleshoot and fix issues.
Advantages of wireless connectivity:
- Long range
- Cost effective for large deployments
Disadvantages of wireless connectivity:
- Speed for high bandwidth devices
- Reliability and stability with some wireless technologies
The alternative, and rapidly growing method of connectivity, is wireless. Thousands of devices are now available with wireless capabilities simply because wireless is versatile in range and scalability. Wireless technologies can include traditional Wi-Fi, LoRa, Bluetooth and cellular just to name a few. In this article we will discuss the 2 most common, Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity.
Wi-Fi technology has been available in consumer devices for over 20 years. It is used in business environments to help connect handheld devices, laptops, printers, and other office devices. The technology is based on the IEEE 802.11 protocol standards and uses the 2.4 gigahertz (120 mm) UHF and 5 gigahertz (60 mm) SHF radio bands. Although over 1 Gbit/s can be achieved under ideal conditions, Wi-Fi works best in line-of-sight. That means walls and any other obstructions may greatly reduce range. To help broaden the range of a Wi-Fi network, wireless access points can be installed throughout a building or city.
Another common and growing wireless technology is cellular. These networks can either be public or private and provide much further reach compared to Wi-Fi. Some cellular networks can reach over 10 miles (15 kilometers).
An advantage of public cellular networks is they are widely available across cities and countries. Since these networks already exist there are no deployment costs to setup the network.
A disadvantage is the speed of cellular connectivity. The average speed can be just over 100 Megabits-per-second (Mbps). Although many IoT devices are low bandwidth therefore slower speeds provided through cellular networks are often sufficient.
There is one exception to cellular network speed and that is mmWave 5G technology, which can reach theoretical speeds of 20 Gigabits-per-second (Gbps). However, public mmWave 5G networks are still new and not deployed in many rural and highly dense urban areas.
Private LTE and Private 5G Connectivity
Private Cellular Networks (PCN) such as Private LTE and Private 5G do have deployment costs opposed to public networks. Although the technical advantages of PCNs still can outweigh the benefits of Wi-Fi when used in large warehouses and manufacturing environments. A PCN provides low-latency wireless connectivity that is exceptionally reliable and secure for enterprise-level deployments. Furthermore, because of the long range, there is little to no need to install additional equipment to cover large areas.
Related Article: Low-Power WAN: NB-IoT and Cat-M1 Cellular Networks
Related Article: Low-Power Wide-Area Networks in the Unlicensed Spectrum
Like all network deployments the factors that determine what type of connectivity to use depends on the application’s technical requirements. There are many IoT devices that will operate better when physically wired to other devices. These applications typically need to make a short connection between a device like a sensor or vision system camera to an I/O block, PLC (programmable logic controller), or gateway. These types of devices may also depend on the high-speeds and low-latency provided by wired connections.
Wireless connectivity is a much better solution when devices are several feet or even miles apart from the connecting device. Edge computing has also grown with wireless IoT devices. This type of technology allows much of the data to be processed before it even leaves the IoT device. Processing the data before it is transmitted wirelessly can significantly reduce bandwidth used by the device.
If you are not sure which style of connectivity is best for your business, Datablaze can plan and execute your next IoT deployment. Datablaze has over 15 years of experience in providing connectivity and IoT solutions.