In the last decade, the Internet of Things has had a huge impact on our lives. Wireless, connected devices have made our homes, workplaces, and public spaces more efficient, secure, and productive. There is infinite potential for the development of IoT solutions, with one report estimating the economic impact to be as high as $11 trillion per year by 2025. However, the one roadblock standing in the way of ‘massive IoT’ is connectivity.
We’ve come a long way
There’s no doubt that broadband connectivity has come a long way. From the now archaic dial-up service to the impressive speed of 4G, our online experiences are faster and more agile than ever before. Except where the Internet of Things is concerned. The cellular networks that are commonly used today, including LTE, 3G and 4G, were designed to improve the smartphone experience, by increasing mobile data service and speeds. While this has helped to support a new era of mobile technology, it has proved limiting to devices that only require small amounts of data to be sent infrequently, which is the case for many IoT solutions. Cellular networks operate on high bandwidth ranges that use significant energy to transmit data, which greatly reduces device battery life, and the cost and complexity can be prohibitive for scaling many IoT solutions.
New protocols give IoT new life
To combat the problem, new network protocols were created under the umbrella term “low power, wide area” or LPWA. Low power, wide area networks refer to wireless connectivity that covers a long range, uses minimal power, and sends data at a low to medium rate. First to arrive under LPWA header were unlicenced solutions such as SigFox and LoRa.
Sigfox is a company based out of France that builds and maintains its own network using patented technology. LoRaWAN, on the other hand, is an open standard governed by the LoRa Alliance, which has about 400 members worldwide. Their business models may be different – Sigfox sells subscriptions to their networks while LoRa sells hardware and enables companies to build their own networks - but ultimately they both fulfill the promise of longer-range service and lower power consumption. However, despite mitigating some of the constraints faced by IoT, issues of interference, reliability, Quality of Service and, in some cases, cost still remain.
As discussed in my previous blog post, the two LPWA protocols most recently designed by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), LTE-M and NB-IoT, are expected to solve the remaining connectivity issues for many IoT solutions. Both protocols enable IoT solutions to cost-effectively transmit short, infrequent bursts of data over reliable, secure licenced cellular networks. With low power requirements, LTE-M and NB-IoT can help prolong device battery life to over 10 years in some cases.
The road to "massive IoT"
Once the new protocols are fully in place, the infinite potential of IoT could very well become a reality. Almost every industry would benefit from connected solutions. From asset tracking and condition monitoring to predictive maintenance, smart logistics, and smart… well… everything, we could see a large scale transformation in government, healthcare, education, industry, agriculture and retail - to name a few. To see what this could look like, check out this infographic.
Looking to the future
Solutions developed for LTE-M and NB-IoT will be compatible with 5G, which is expected to offer unprecedented speed, security, and Ultra-Reliable and Low Latency Communications (URLLC). For developers and IoT companies, this means low interference and minimal delays for your solutions.
This is an exciting time for IoT development and deployment.
To learn more about the TELUS LTE-M network, visit telus.com/lpwa.