Present and future of IoT connectivity
04 Oct 2017 IoT General
The Internet of Things is connection, in every sense of the word. Talking about the IoT without having the different existing models of connectivity in mind is like talking about the surface without truly examining the importance that this revolution promises. What future awaits us if we consider connectivity? What opportunities do current technologies offer us? What can we expect from 5G, NB-IoT or satellite communications, among others? The IoT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona, one of the most important IoT technology events in the world, will address these and other important issues. And Telefónica will be there to discuss the present and the future of the Internet of Things.
5G + 4G, the future of mobile telephony
The fifth generation of technologies that support mobile telephony is almost here. Scheduled to be deployed in 2020, the number of resources and interests involved in this "big network" is huge. And it is the update of connectivity that the mobile sector has been awaiting for years. But that does not diminish the importance of the current 4G networks, which will continue to evolve in the years to come. For the time being, 4G is still the main support behind the connectivity that we have today. However, its transfer limitations serve as the harbinger of a change. Of course, although the plans are to replace 4G networks by 5G in some cases, in a significant number of other cases the technical and computational capacity will force 5G to share the throne with its predecessor. And indeed, 5G is not designed solely to maintain a broad network connection experience.
While 4G has pioneered the IoT spirit, 5G will lead to the interconnection and scope of resources, as the possibility of computing, identification, communication and data processing offered by this technology is much greater. This translates into new experiences. Thanks to 5G, the infusion of information, coupled with the possibilities of Big Data and the integration of wearables will create a new way of interacting or even understand our devices, which will be smarter, more powerful and much more dynamic. This includes washing machines, bracelets, watches, cars, traffic signals and more. In fact, 5G will allow these devices to become network nodes, gradually moving away from the terminal concept. But, as we mentioned above, this will not be possible for all of them; 4G will continue to support the interconnection generated by 5G, creating new opportunities. This provides a more secure context for continuing to connect our mobile devices wherever we are.
NarrowBand-IoT, growing coverage
Just like LPWAN technology, the NB-IoT has huge potential in areas where the possibilities of 4G and 5G do not reach. One of the main advantages of this technology is that it has been practically designed just for the IoT, so from the outset it has had perfect integration, thorough standardization and multiple promising projects. The NB-IoT focuses mainly on indoor coverage or hard-to-reach local areas. In addition, it allows for a connection with a minimal energy expenditure, expanding the number of devices that can be connected to the network.
This makes NarrowBand-IoT the perfect technology for connecting thousands of automatic meters, for example. The modules that support the network are battery-powered, so there is no need to access the power grid, extending its reach. The NB-IoT is a unique opportunity to monitor containers or water and gas consumption and to manage a ticket system, parking sites or even farm animals. Its very low cost and high autonomy are the major promises of this technology as its use gradually evolves as it is implemented.
Satellite communications: Where others do not go
Twenty billion connected devices are expected by 2020, including cars, mobiles, wearables and appliances. As this type of device is expanding around the world, a question begins to surface. Are we prepared for such a responsibility? There is no single company or technology capable of covering each and every market in the world, either geographically or technically. However, given the ubiquity of the IoT, satellites are becoming increasingly important: they are vital and allow us to raise our expectations. But to do so, there must be better access to services. Currently, the services offered by suppliers are almost exclusively limited to the L-band. However, the change predicted by the Ku and Ka bands promises an increase in the use of this type of service.
This increase will benefit the Internet of Things, as it will make it possible to really connect any device anywhere in the world. Without satellites, the IoT is a concept with serious connectivity problems. Satellites offer industrial solutions, remote control, monitoring of autonomous vehicles and access to banking operations, at an increasingly lower cost, with better integration and greater speed. As this technology evolves, the Internet of Things benefits more and more from the possibilities of being able to connect under any circumstances and anywhere, even where other technologies do not reach.
Other protocols that should not be ignored
Even though these three are the major groups of technologies that will determine the future (and are already determining the present) of connectivity, we cannot forget that other technologies are also running in this race. One of them is Bluetooth, which offers short-distance connection, and with very low consumption in the past few years. This protocol is one of the most commonly used in all kinds of devices to maintain a constant connection, even if only to transmit "short" amounts of information. In short distances, Z-Wave and ZigBee protocols, which were designed for various industrial uses, are also more restricted than Bluetooth and designed for more specific applications. These two technologies focus more on robustness and safety than on speed. Another major player in connectivity is Sigfox, a broad-spectrum alternative whose scope could be situated between Wi-Fi and mobile networks. Sigfox has been designed for the IoT market since its very inception. Especially useful in cases requiring little data exchange, this protocol facilitates the use of batteries in connected devices that can even last decades.