Over 19 IoT Radio Protocols Drive the Need for Integration APIs

Mike Fratto

Mike Fratto

Summary Bullets:

  • With over 19 Internet of Things (IoT) radio protocols in use today, the need for consolidation is clear.
  • Short of consolidation, integration of IoT devices will occur at the application layer with robust APIs.

Many of the ‘things’ in the IoT like lights, sensors, switches, HVAC controls, and other actuators will be connected via wireless gateways because rewiring a building is expensive. I counted over 19 wireless protocols between standards-based protocols, proprietary protocols, and protocols that have a basis in both standards and proprietary protocols.

The sheer number of RF protocols means the only hope of pervasive device integration is via APIs that can be used to connect applications with devices in useful ways. The table below lists a number of commonly found IoT radio protocols and provides a short description. I’ll be using this table as a jumping off point for future IoT blogs.

Technology

Description

6LoWPAN

Defines IPv6 support in RFC 4944 for connectivity using 802.15.4 low-throughput networking. Includes mesh, routing, and compression capabilities.

802.15.4

An IEEE standard defining low-data rate networking using international unlicensed frequencies. A special focus is on long battery life and low protocol complexity. Throughput is constrained to 250 kbps.

ANT

ANT is a proprietary protocol primarily focused on health and fitness devices developed by Dynastream, a wholly owned subsidiary of Garmin, Ltd. The focus is on low energy consumption.

BLE/Bluetooth

BLE is part of the Bluetooth 4.0 specification and is similar to but not interoperable with Bluetooth. BLE offers up to 1 Mbps transmission and up to 100 meters.

Dash7

Dash7 is a closed community of European colleges and companies that put together a protocol specification designed for low-power, lightweight, asynchronous operation.

DigiMesh

DigiMesh is a proprietary protocol of Digi International that supports low-power applications and offers features like hop-by-hop extension and self-healing. All nodes can be a transmitter, receiver, and repeater simultaneously.

EnOcean

EnOcean uses a low-power node and repeater network connected to a packet network like IP using a network gateway. It uses ISO/IEC 14543-3-10. EnOcean differentiates on energy harvesting to prolong battery life.

Insteon

Insteon is a proprietary protocol that uses powerline and RF to communicate with devices. All devices can repeat messages.

ISA100

ISA100 provides support for its own wireless protocol as well as support for other wireless protocols using an object model and allows for backward compatibility with existing devices. This relies on 802.15.4 for its own wireless networking. The organization expects more than 33 certified devices in 2015.

ISO/IEC 14543-3-10

This wireless protocol is specifically designed to keep the energy consumption of such sensors and switches extremely low. The nodes are a transmitter, receiver, and repeater.

Thread

Thread uses 802.15.4 and 6LoWPAN as the underlying transport. The focus is on home use. The Thread Group has a large number of vendors in the consumer space, which bodes well for adoption.

Weightless

Weightless is designed to be a low-cost, low-power, long-range IoT protocol using unlicensed spectrum in the sub-GHz range. The group claims to be free and open, but access to the spec requires membership. The specifications are expected to be finalized in 2016.

WirelessHART

WirelessHART extends the HART protocol over a wireless network using IEEE 802.15.4. The protocol supports HART commands as well as providing access to data stored in the devices that aren’t otherwise accessible.

ZigBee

ZigBee uses 802.15.4 in unlicensed spectrum globally. Like Z-Wave, ZigBee is primarily targeted for home automation but is also showing up in offices. ZigBee is also being targeted toward industrial use cases.

Z-Wave

Z-Wave uses the unlicensed sub-GHz bands around 865 MHz, 868 MHz, and 900 MHz ISM.  Z-Wave creates a mesh network of devices that can pass messages to devices.  Like ZigBee, Z-Wave is mostly used in the home but is also showing up in offices.

About Mike Fratto
Mike is a senior analyst on the Business Technology and Software team covering the Enterprise Networking and Data Center Technology markets. He has extensive experience reviewing and writing about enterprise remote access, security, and network infrastructure products.

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