Communication protocols in IoT – part 1

This is the first part of the blog series “Communication protocols in IoT” by Erik Dahlgren.

Introduction

With an ever-growing buzz about IoT and new connected products constantly introduced to the market, it can sometimes be difficult to get a clear overview and understanding of all the underlying wireless connectivity technologies that enable these products and use cases. When is it suitable to use Bluetooth vs NB-IoT? What properties does Zigbee provide for a product? How is Thread different from Wi-Fi?  

In a series of blog posts, we will explain each communication protocol in a simple way and provide some insight into how and where these technologies are used in the industry today. 

 

Coverage areas and included protocols 

To provide some logical grouping of protocols/networks, it’s very common to divide them into groups describing their coverage or operating area. If you have ever taken a course in Networking/Communication, the expressions below should be familiar (Although the definitions can vary a bit): 

PAN (Personal Area Network): Very close proximity. Typically, a few square meters. 

LAN (Local Area Network): Historically a few hundreds of meters, it might also be suitable to think in terms of “sites”. E.g. your office or home most likely have one (or more) LAN:s. 

MAN (Metropolitan Area Network): Covering tens of kilometers, e.g. a city or metropolitan area. 

WAN: (Wide Area Network): Covering large distances, from kilometers out to space… 

As mentioned above, the definitions might vary quite a bit for several reason when we try to assign a technology into one of the categories above. Should LTE be considered MAN or WAN? And what about Bluetooth which has typically been a school book example of PAN? With the introduction of Bluetooth Mesh, we can today easily cover a whole building with the technology. To simplify and limit our scope to technologies that are interesting in an IoT-context, we will cover these groups, definitions, and technologies: 

WPAN (Wireless Personal Area Network)
-NFC (Near Field Communication)

WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network, not to be confused with “WiFi“)
-Bluetooth
-WiFi
-Zigbee
-Z-Wave
-Thread

LPWAN (Low-Power Wide Area Networks)
-LoRa
-Sigfox
-NB-IoT
-LTE cat M1

Hope you enjoyed this introduction of my blog series ” Communication Protocol in IoT”. Next time I will talk about NFC or “Near Field Communication” that is a wireless technology which is used for communication over extremely small distances.

/Erik Dahlgren, Software Developer at Scionova