Opting for the wrong IoT communication technology will drain your connected devices of power, cause delays in data transfer, open security loopholes, and render the whole setup a failure.
According to IoT Analytics, a market research company, there were
There are many IoT communication protocols out there, and it can be overwhelming to sift through their specifications and determine which technology is right for your application.
This article clarifies the basic terminology around IoT connectivity and introduces the most popular IoT protocols. After reading it, you will have the knowledge you need to discuss your project with
If you want to gain a better understanding of IoT before elevating your knowledge of communication protocols, check out this
A communication protocol is a set of rules that enables secure data exchange among devices and/or data centers and other storage and processing units.
Every IoT communication protocol has its distinct characteristics, which make it suitable for one project and useless for another.
Protocols vary significantly in their range, memory usage, power consumption, installation costs, etc. Some can only connect devices within one building, others can communicate across physical barriers. For example, Bluetooth, a commonly used smart home, fitness tech, and healthcare IoT communication technology, doesn’t need much memory and power to operate, but its connection range is limited.
As Bill Ray, Senior Research Director at Gartner,
IoT communication protocols enable the following connections:
Since IoT solutions are built as a stack of technologies and consist of several layers, as presented in the image below, communication protocols also operate at different layers. For example, the aforementioned Bluetooth works at the lowest layers, while Data Distribution Service (DDS) protocol works at the highest — i.e., the application tier.
To introduce the reader to the broader picture, we present some of the common IoT deployments and protocol classifications.
Wired IoT devices are connected through low-voltage or standard power lines. Every node has a unique ID and embedded software running on it. Such devices are self-sufficient and don’t depend on a central hub. They communicate via special protocols, such as
Wired deployments are reliable, but,
Unlike wireless cyber-physical systems, wired IoT solutions do not allow for adding more devices to the network on the fly, and their configuration can be a complicated task. Wireless solutions, on the other hand, do not always offer real-time access to data, so one needs to consider whether near real-time mode would suit their project objectives.
Benefits of wireless IoT communication protocols:
We can further segment IoT wireless connectivity technologies into short-range and long-range solutions.
Short-Range vs. Long-Range Wireless Communication Protocols
Short-range technologies operate over a limited range while keeping connectivity costs and power consumption down. Such protocols present a great option for smart home and commercial building automation. Some popular examples of this technology are Bluetooth and Zigbee protocols.
Long-range IoT communication protocols cover larger distances. They mostly attempt to reduce throughput to conserve power for long distance transmissions.
Popular applications of this technology are industrial site monitoring, agricultural systems, and smart cities. One example of a long-range protocol is LoRaWAN, which can
One of the most common approaches is to divide IoT communication protocols into two groups — data and network protocols.
IoT data protocols connect low-power IoT devices through wired and cellular networks and provide point-to-point communication with the hardware directly in offline mode.
Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP)
This is an open standards application layer protocol that supports messaging between systems independently of the platform used. It can guarantee interoperability between clients from different vendors. AMQP ensures secure and reliable communication even over poor networks or when one of the systems is temporarily unavailable. It specifies “forwarding addresses” where messages can be routed in case of connection failure.
This protocol is popular in settings with server-based analytical environments, such as banking technology solutions. Otherwise, its application is rather limited due to its heaviness.
AMQP integrates with Transport Layer Security (TLS), which ensures data encryption upon transfer.
Additionally, this IoT communication technology implements the Simple Authentication Security Layer (SASL) framework for secure authentication handshake between clients and servers.
Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT)
This is a lightweight IoT communication protocol. It supplies a reliable connection and operates on top of TCP/IP networks. MQTT is suitable for wireless systems with constrained bandwidth and high latency, such as mobile devices operating on an unreliable network. That’s why Facebook used it for its online chats. Another application is remote monitoring, as MQTT shines at gathering small messages from devices with limited capacity at remote locations.
Unlike AMQP, this protocol is restricted to publish-subscribe architecture and has three main components — subscriber, publisher, and broker. The subscriber mechanism generates data, the publisher offers routing options, and the broker ensures security.
It doesn’t provide device management structure or defined data representation. Hence, these parameters are vendor-specific.
Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP)
The Internet Engineering Task Force designed this IoT communication protocol to address the needs of HTTP-based systems. Even though the internet is free for everyone to use, it’s too heavy for many IoT applications. Therefore, the IoT community tends to dismiss HTTP, considering it unfeasible for IoT applications. CoAP can work with HTTP without causing overheard as it permits short wake up and long sleep states. It allows HTTP clients to exchange information despite their resource constraints. It is popular in building automation and smart energy applications.
CoAP depends on User Datagram Protocol (UDP) packets for communication and message passing. This technology is utilized for machine-to-machine applications and allows devices with limited capacity, like low availability, to join the IoT environment. It can even work with
Data Distribution Service (DDS)
Object Management Group (OMG) developed this IoT communication protocol for real-time systems. DDS offers a reliable and scalable data exchange using a publish-subscribe pattern. Its scalability is attributed to the fact that DDS supports dynamic discovery of publishers and subscribers. It works well with the cloud and low footprint devices, and provides interoperable data sharing, which is software and hardware-independent.
This protocol is believed to be the
IoT network communication protocols connect medium and high-power IoT devices over a network. This technology typically operates over the internet.
There are several ways to connect IoT devices, namely point-to-point, star networks, and mesh topology.
There are several IoT communication protocols you could use to create these types of networks.
Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
This protocol transfers small chunks of data in bursts and will have problems with larger files.
Introduced in 2010,
This IoT communication protocol is reasonably secure as it encrypts transmitted data at the application and network levels.
This protocol demands a custom gateway to control IoT devices, which is expensive, especially in comparison with Bluetooth that can operate over a smartphone.
This is a low-power wireless protocol, which is commonly used for smart home solutions and business applications.
Z-Wave is a proprietary technology managed by Z-Wave Alliance that oversees certifications. So, every Z-Wave device is compatible with every Z-Wave controller independently of the manufacturer. Also, all the specifications were released to the public back in 2016, making this standard accessible by developers.
However, this IoT communication protocol is too power-consuming and has range limitations.
Long-range Radio Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN)
This is a noncellular wireless wide area network technology that connects devices over a long range, which makes it suitable for smart cities and industrial applications that transfer telemetry data over long distances. One example is smart streetlights that are connected to a LoRa gateway operating on
A LoRa gateway gathers data from different sensors and transmits it to a server or the cloud over a standard IP protocol. LoRaWAN offers two security layers — one for the network layer and the other for the application.
This IoT communication protocol is not an option for applications that require low latency or transfer a large amount of data.
There is no single IoT communication protocol that will always save the day and work well for every task. Selecting the right technology is a big decision, and it needs to be approached carefully.
Every protocol has its advantages and a set of conditions when it shines.
When looking for the best option for your next IoT project, consider the following criteria:
Before we dive into our IoT protocol selection process, we’d like to highlight several Internet of Things projects from our portfolio to give you a better understanding of our IoT background.
Cryo chamber management for hospitals and spa salons
Initially, the customer approached us asking to build a simple mobile app that would allow users to register and pay for cryo sauna services. The sauna itself was fully manual. The scope of the project kept expanding, and after incorporating IoT hardware and software,
The mobile app, besides registration and seamless payments, would permit users to connect with their EHR systems and medical records. The facility’s staff could rely on our software to access customers’ data, draft agreements, customize prices, conduct surveys, and perform other administrative tasks. They could also view the data coming from the chamber and make adjustments remotely.
As a result, energy and liquid nitrogen consumption became 17% lower compared to the competitors’ products.
IoT communication protocols used:
Smart curtains control system
The client approached Expanice to develop back-end software for controlling
The system can manipulate smart curtains based on different patterns. For example, it can open and close the curtains at sunrise and sunset times considering the date and the house’s location. Or it can tie these actions to an alarm clock. The mobile app gives users the possibility to control their curtains remotely and open/close them at any time.
When the system was initially deployed, only a couple hundred devices were connected. The solution scales automatically as more devices are added without the need for expert interventions. Our team also managed to optimize AWS usage and save 66% on cloud-related costs.
IoT communication protocols used:
We approach IoT protocol selection by checking hardware capabilities and product features, and reviewing the budget allocated for device purchase and software development.
Afterwards, we create a list of viable IoT communication protocols, considering the following factors:
For the list of protocols that satisfy the criteria above, you should prioritize the connectivity technologies by their price and set of features offered.
Our eventual choice will be the protocol that is high on the priority list and that is the easiest to integrate with the rest of the system
To illustrate a set of connectivity-related features and hardware requirements, consider this simplified example. A typical IoT product contains the following components:
Such a product will follow definite communication patterns:
From the hardware perspective, we would answer the questions below:
By answering these questions, you’ll be able to shortlist viable connectivity options and select an optimum tech stack together with your IoT development partner.
To sum up
Every IoT communication protocol has a set of parameters that make it a success in one application and utterly useless in another.
For example, Bluetooth is a cheap and reliable option for home automation systems, where devices are located within a short distance from one another. And LoRaWAN is the go-to protocol for industrial applications as its range spans up to 15 kilometers, all with minimal power consumption.
Also, you might end up using several IoT communication technologies for one project, with every protocol being responsible for a specific task. For instance, Wi-Fi can handle large file transmission while Z-Wave can ensure interference-free communication, as it avoids the 2.4 GHz frequency band.
If you have an IoT project in mind but have doubts about which communication protocols are best suited for your needs, just
P.S. The story was originally published