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IoT Standards: The End Game

Only time will tell which standards will be the most successful.
By Cees Links
Apr 28, 2019

Quite regularly I get the question: with all these standards around, what should I choose? Zigbee, Thread, Bluetooth Mesh, or Wi-Fi? Or maybe LoRa? Or is it better to wait for 5G and NB-IoT?

Of course, these questions create confusion and slow down the adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT). Part of this confusion is because it's isn't always clear what standards are suitable, as shown in the figure below. In addition, marketers make unsubstantiated claims about new standard capabilities like latency ("in the milliseconds!"), as if that's really important. Not so. Most applications can deal with a latency of seconds; even live TV delayed a few seconds is still live TV.

So, how does one answer the question, "What standard should be used?" Usually, I answer this question with, "How can you make money?" Typically, the determining factor isn't the radio standard. In regard to radio, most apply "good enough is good enough," and making money is determined by the value created by the application that runs over wireless. Wireless is just wireless, like a wire is just a wire.

And keep in mind: whatever wireless standard is leading the pack today, in five to 10 years, things will have changed anyway, so upgrading your network will be important. But waiting for "the final and ultimate" wireless networking technology will take a long time.

Nevertheless, can we peer into the future and develop a sense of where things are going? I believe we can, but first, let's create some perspective.

The Relation of Technology and Psychology
Our smartphones have three radios (4G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth). Why three, and not two (like a tablet), or one, or four? There is a reason—and it's linked to technology, as well as the psychology of how we experience our living space. Let me explain.

First, technology. Three factors largely determine the performance of a radio: range (how far away you are from a base station—cell tower, router, hotspot, etc.); data rate (from a simple voice call to watching video); and battery life (the longer the better).

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