Offering IoT solutions inevitably leads to a discussion on the choice of connectivity – which technology is the best choice? What are the value drivers when choosing a technology? Will the chosen technology work in all the markets you are present in?
There is a wide range of available connectivity technologies. To keep it simple we divide between the standard GSM/GPRS communication, which is the 2G/3G/4G or even 5G networks, which primarily focus on delivering data for technologies transferring large amounts of data. Furthermore, there are also other types of technologies, which are the ‘Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) such as LoRa, Sigfox, LTE-M, and NB-IoT, and these seek to provide data for technologies with low power consumption and run off batteries. Alternatively, you can also find solutions based on setting up a Wi-Fi network for your devices or Bluetooth solutions.
We all know the GSM/GPRS technologies from our mobile phones, and these networks have proven their worth for years. As the technology has increased the need for real-time data transfer, so have the networks developed in order for us to send large amounts of data in real-time using the 5g network. However, technology has also developed devices that are more stationary in nature. Some technologies only send small data packages at given intervals and need for long battery life. This demand has led to the development of data communication, which has a low power consumption. Furthermore, the technology can provide a signal strength better than what is achieved in the GPRS technology. For these needs, the LPWA technologies are increasing their footprint in the market.
With the increased coverage of LPWA solutions and the fact that the 2G network is planned for the termination in most countries, it is becoming more and more urgent for IoT solution providers to start implementing the LPWA solutions in their IoT products.
Which LPWA technology fits your needs?
What LPWA technology should you choose? Well, that depends on the need of the product and the expectation of the customer. In general, the connectivity cost of the LPWA networks is lower than traditional GSM/GPRS networks, but there is a difference in cost dependency on the choice of LPWA technology. And how is the end-user/customer able to compare the costs without being an expert on the matter? In TrapMe’s industry, which is pest control, we often have to have a dialog with a potential customer on why we don’t offer a Wi-Fi solution, which is perceived as ‘free’ or a Lora or Sigfox solution, which is cheaper than our offered 2G and LTE-M solution.
So, we try to guide the customer based on these points:
- Do you need to monitor and send a large amount of data like updating sounds on a bird alert device or transfer camera images?
Then you need to look at a GSM/GPRS solution, potentially a 5g solution, but these are costly when it comes to connectivity. On the positive side, you can easily find a vendor with a connectivity partner that provides roaming in almost any country on the globe. The roaming agreements on GSM/GPRS have existed for years and are in most regions seamless, but be aware that some countries have more strict regulations on roaming.
- Do you need to be able to monitor and combat pests in several locations? And would you like to be able to move your devices in an easy manner between locations and add new locations?
If that is the case, then you should NOT look at a Wi-Fi solution. A Wi-Fi solution might have a zero-connectivity cost, but the solution is often expensive to acquire and set up as you would need one or several routers to cover your entire location and if you have more than one location you need several routers. A Wi-Fi solution also makes it more difficult to make changes to the installed devices. But yes, the connectivity cost is “free” and could make sense to use if you have a location/facility where the devices are installed permanently. In the case of UV, insect traps a Wi-Fi solution might be a good choice.
- Are you looking for the possibility to change the location of your devices once in a while and do you need alerts and not constant image and video real-time monitoring?
Then an LPWA solution would be preferable, but which should you then choose? If you are operating in more than one country, then you have to consider if LoRa or Sigfox is the right choice. Even though these networks are deployed in a lot of countries, you will still not get the same coverage as with GMS communication, as these networks dependent on the distribution of gateways. Also, the different countries might have different providers of these gateways, and as such your, LoRa or Sigfox solution might work in for example the Netherlands, but not in Germany. This can make it difficult to take your solution into multiple countries. We, therefore, recommend that you look at the LTE-M or NB-IoT solutions.
Choosing the best technology can be difficult and it is highly dependent on the context and purpose it has to fulfill. If you are only operating in one or a few countries and need to send small amounts of data, LoRa or Sigfox might the right choice. However, if your devices are located in the same spots, but need to send more data than the non-cellular solutions can provide, then Wi-Fi is better. No technology is fitting all needs, but one solution is definitely more fitting for a specific type of situation than another.
- Chase, R. (2020, August 20). What’s the difference between LTE, 4G, 5G, CAT-M1, LTE-M and NB-IoT?
- Clayton, T. (n.d.). Sunsetting a Product or Technology – What it Means for OEMs.
- Telia. (2020, July 1). What’s the fuss about cellular LPWA? Here’s what you need to know.
- Telit. (n.d.). Cellular LPWA and Mobile IoT Modules.
- Zaidi, A., Ullerstig, S., & Kuhlins, C. (2019, February 7). Know the difference between NB-IoT vs. Cat-M1 for your massive IoT deployment.