Security, Costs, Or Range: Radio technology is used if sensors are networked wirelessly for the Industry Internet of Things (IIoT). But not only the type of radio connection plays a role. We show you what to look out for.
The Internet of Things ( IoT ) and, in particular, the Industry Internet of Things ( IIoT ) lives not only from the fieldbuses to connect sensors and actuators. It is mainly sensors connected to the Internet of Things.
The traditional way to connect the sensors is via cables, the so-called fieldbuses. This makes sense and is preferable in industrial plants or environments prone to interference. Wireless technology is ideal wherever the sensors are difficult to reach or if the systems need to be connected over long distances.
It’s All A Question Of Radio Technology
Which wireless connection technology is used depends on various criteria. Entrepreneurs should ask this question when they use the right IoT connection. All systems have their respective advantages and disadvantages.
Whether low power wide area networks (LPWAN), classic mobile communications, or your building networks: the range of radio technologies on the market is diverse. It is always important to check the application for which the respective radio technology is to be used. Together with ECS, we have listed eight essential points that can help with the choice of wireless technology.
- Data: Based on the chosen use case, companies should ask how much data should be transferred, how quickly, and how often. Because the daily sign of life from a fire detector places completely different demands on a connection than the continuous monitoring of production systems or medical devices concerning a wide variety of parameters, such as temperature, noise, or vibrations, to be able to react as quickly as possible to problems, low latency times play a decisive role. Equally important can be the need for a bidirectional connection to transfer log files or software updates and individual device data.
- Range: The available radio protocols vary significantly regarding the maximum distance between transmitter and receiver. The required field depends crucially on the intended use. If there are many sensors within a manageable length, for example, in a factory or warehouse, mesh networks are an option. If a city or an industrial park is to be covered, long-range LPWAN networks are more suitable.
- Place Of Use: The location or position of use of the IoT devices is closely related to the range aspect. A transmission standard with high building penetration is required if the appliances are in underground garages or basements, such as narrowband IoT (NB-IoT). If, on the other hand, the sensors are mobile, such as when monitoring a vehicle fleet, this requires reliable wireless technology with high network coverage. This is where the classic mobile phone comes in handy.
- Energy Consumption: IoT devices and sensors often have to do without a fixed power supply. Many are battery-operated, mobile, or used in places difficult to access. For them to work for several years without changing the battery, it is, therefore, all the more critical that the selected radio protocol works as energy-efficiently as possible. This is precisely what LPWAN technology specially optimised for IoT scenarios, such as NB-IoT, LoRaWAN, Sigfox, or Misty, can do. In addition to their low energy consumption, they also shine with their long ranges. Reductions were made on the bandwidths. However, this is not important in scenarios with small amounts of data, such as data from a temperature, pressure, or frequency sensor, intelligent electricity meters, or networked garbage cans that only report when they need to be emptied.
- Availability: The best radio technology is of no use if it is not stable and scalable. It is, therefore, necessary to clarify how the network coverage looks in the planned area of application and how market-ready the individual radio technologies are. 5G or NB-IoT, for example, are still under construction. LoRaWAN is also not available everywhere and is therefore ruled out in scenarios such as theft protection of construction machinery. Some frequency bands are only available in some world areas, while others can be used license-free across several continents. In the case of international use cases, such as container tracking, it must also be taken into account that specific radio standards are not permitted in some countries, so alternatives must be provided immediately.
- Future Security: The connection technology should be selected with foresight: How likely is the provider still existing in five, ten, or twenty years? What if the network operator shuts down older networks in favor of the next generation of mobile communications, as is currently the case with 3G? Can the preferred wireless technology grow with new devices, additional use cases, and new business models? Open standards, a large ecosystem, and a high degree of dissemination of the technology speak for future security. Because that usually leads to the long-term availability of hardware, software, and experts who can still provide support years later.
- Security: Wireless data transmission involves higher security risks than wired communication of classic fieldbuses. Therefore, companies should pay special attention to security mechanisms. Important aspects are the encryption method used, the options for authentication, and the integrity mechanisms offered to protect against data manipulation.
- Costs: Finally, it is essential to look closely at the total costs of the different radio technologies. In addition to the acquisition and installation costs for hardware modules, this also includes the ongoing operating expenses, including maintenance. A significant item here can be the network usage fees. Depending on the radio technology used, these can vary in height.
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