Wi-Fi Versus Cellular: Everything You Need to Know about Internet of Things Connectivity

For a long time, internet connectivity was limited to computers and cell phones. Now that’s no longer the case.

Increasingly, everything from cameras to refrigerators participates in the Internet of Things (IoT). Businesses leverage the IoT to improve their products and services, optimize their supply chains, and create real-time data streams that enable them to operate more efficiently.

With so many IoT devices requiring 24/7 connectivity, the network you choose has to be robust. But which is better, Wi-Fi or cellular?

Here’s everything you need to know to choose the right network option for your company.

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things is an interconnected network of objects. These objects contain embedded sensors, software, and other technologies that enable them to capture and transmit data.

Internet connectivity enables that data transmission, making it foundational to the Internet of Things. Every time you hear about a “smart” version of something, that means it’s part of the IoT.

As smart gadgets proliferate, the IoT is rapidly becoming one of the most important technologies of the twenty-first century. It’s everywhere: from baby monitors to refrigerators to cars, the IoT is becoming ubiquitous. In fact, an average U.S. household has over 20 IoT devices.

It’s not just households either. Forbes recognizes the IoT as a critical component of the fourth industrial revolution, and businesses of all types stand to gain. However, businesses investing in the IoT are faced with a major implementation issue: how do we ensure our IoT network is up and running at all times?

There are two major methods of connectivity to consider: Wi-Fi and cellular. Here are the pros and cons of each.

The benefits and challenges of Wi-Fi connectivity

By definition, Wi-Fi functions as a local area network (LAN). If those IoT devices require cloud connectivity, they’ll need an internet connection via an internet service provider. This could take the form of fiber, copper, cellular, or satellite connectivity.

The most immediate and obvious benefit of Wi-Fi is that it’s reliable, especially in small or urban areas. This means you can connect as long as you have power. There’s a good reason why Wi-Fi has become so ubiquitous.

Not only is Wi-Fi consistent; it’s powerful. High-speed Wi-Fi can boast bandwidth of over 25 megabits per second (MBPS). However, the challenges of this networking tech rear their head as soon as you start to move around.

Think about how, when you leave your house, favorite coffee shop, or place of work, your device loses connection to that Wi-Fi source. A minor inconvenience for personal device users, this issue poses a significant design limitation for IoT developers.

In fact, limited mobility is the central issue for many businesses that use IoT, such as those in the transportation industry. To the question of limited mobility, cellular may have the answer.

The benefits and challenges of cellular connectivity

Coverage is one of cellular’s greatest benefits. With infrastructure across the country, cellular offers mobile IoT businesses unparalleled connectivity.

For a long time, Wi-Fi boasted a significant bandwidth advantage over cellular. That’s no longer the case. Ever since 4G LTE, cellular can compete in the bitrate race. Coupled with a low latency of under 30 milliseconds, 5G and beyond will continue to contend with cutting-edge Wi-Fi. Even when it comes to high-bandwidth applications like video, there’s little difference between the two.

As cellular works through a series of interconnected towers, it provides greater range. This means that mobile IoT developers have a lot more flexibility when it comes to design possibilities.

Range can still be an issue, however, when dealing with multiple providers across regions. No one company covers the whole country. So, for a long time, the go-to solution has been to juggle multiple subscriptions.

However, without a proper platform like Datablaze Voyager, managing multiple cellular subscriptions can be a hassle and an expensive one at that. Cellular, at least compared to Wi-Fi, is not cheap, especially if you’re trying to scale your IoT business. To get a better sense of which you should choose, let’s further examine the respective strengths and weaknesses of each.

Internet of Things Use Cases

Wi-Fi excels in small, static locations. In-store devices, such as scanners, security cameras, and self-service checkout machines thrive on Wi-Fi. All of these devices rely on a consistent connection to function.

However, there’s no reason any of them would ever leave the premises. So Wi-Fi is perfectly suitable.

Cellular networks, on the other hand, excel at supporting highly mobile IoT devices. Fitness trackers, mobile refrigerators, or asset tracking devices, such as GPS, also need constant connectivity. However, Wi-Fi simply will not do the job to ensure these devices remain online. These devices require a network with a larger area to ensure availability.

Future Trends and Hybrid Solutions for IoT Connectivity

For some businesses, determining which connectivity solution to use is a challenge. Thankfully, there are promising industry developments that could make relying on just one network obsolete.

Ideally, navigating between multiple networks should be as easy and convenient as using one. And that’s exactly what hybrid IoT networking solutions solve. These hybrid solutions leverage the strengths of both Wi-Fi and cellular to ensure dependable connectivity.

Automatic failover is just one advantage of hybrid solutions. Say, for example, you want your security system to keep functioning if the Wi-Fi router or ISP service drops. Wi-Fi can serve as your primary network and, if it fails, the devices switch over to a cellular backup.

These hybrid solutions are increasingly important and necessary for numerous industries. By the end of 2024, Forbes projects that there will be 207 billion interconnected devices. That’s a lot of devices and, more importantly, a lot of people relying on them to work flawlessly at a moment’s notice.

The more robust your IoT network is, the better your business will be poised to meet those demands.

Choosing your IoT Connectivity

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to IoT networks. Wi-Fi is well-equipped to provide high, reliable throughput in a local area, whereas cellular can handle comparable loads over greater distances.

Keep in mind that IoT manufacturers continue to develop better and better networking packages that combine the best of Wi-Fi and cellular. These hybrid solutions provide better overall coverage for businesses that rely on both static and mobile-friendly networks. And they’re competitively priced.

Related articles you might be interested in