October 8, 2020

    The term Internet of Things (IoT) has been in the news for several years now, but today we are seeing large adoption rates with the help of wireless lightbulbs, communicating Echo dots, connected thermostats, front door locks, doorbells, etc. The market company Statista is projecting 75.44 billion IoT devices worldwide by 2025 – a fivefold increase over a ten-year period. Applications span across all industries, including Industry 4.0, otherwise known as Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). In this blog post, Tony Testa will provide insight into the IoT landscape, outlining the way in which this market fits and communicates in the wireless world around us.


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    Tony, what is considered an IoT or smart device?

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    A smart or IoT device has the capability of connecting to the internet in any way. These devices are also integrated with technology like sensors, functional software and supporting network connections and actuators.

    IoT devices extend internet connectivity beyond desktops, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. These devices are embedded with technology to communicate and interact over the internet. They make real-time decisions and interactions with sometimes little or no input from humans. These connected devices create an ecosystem in which every apparatus talks to each other to automate homes, business, and the world around us.


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    What technologies and markets are IoT smart devices advancing?

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    IoT applications requiring global or mobile coverage will mainly focus on cellular technologies like LTE, NB-IoT and 5G. Others rely on low-power wireless access network (WAN) technologies in unlicensed bands like Sigfox or LoRaWAN (long range WAN). Most will use short-range or midrange wireless technologies with varying data throughput capabilities such as Bluetooth®, Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Thread, Ultra-wideband and others.

    Several factors are influencing market growth, such as the growing importance and use of home monitoring, the growing need for energy-saving low carbon emission solutions, and the expansion of smart home products, to name a few.

    Although the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the growth of IoT smart devices in the industry, mostly because of some production slowdown, it has also provided a springboard for some unique new applications. For example, the increase in healthcare remote monitoring, social distance location measuring, and location of essential COVID supplies. Moreover, massive increases occurred in voice/video traffic using Wi-Fi based upon work-from-home (WFH) requirements due to the COVID pandemic. Overall, IoT has gained popularity by connecting products, services, and end-users, enabling smooth data flow and the making of real-time decisions. It has proven its enhancements in efficiency, quality, and consistency of automation systems. Several large, medium, and small-scale global companies are making large investments in deployments in IoT infrastructure. With most of the businesses shifting their traditional processes toward IoT, it is expected to reach many application areas in manufacturing, lighting, HVAC, security, healthcare, and entertainment.


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    Can you provide some insight into how IoT edge computing works?

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    For some time now there has been the demand for more capacity and intelligence with our wireless networks. Because of the digital transformation there has been a new IT infrastructure paradigm where capacity, computing, connectivity, and cloud computing technologies are moving closer to the device. Thus, moving closer to the edge of the network – or edge computing.

    Edge computing is transforming how data is handled, processed, and delivered. IoT devices continue to influence edge-computing systems. Gartner defines edge computing as “a part of a distributed computing topology in which information processing is located close to the edge – where things and people produce or consume that information.” Thus, edge computing at its core is computation and data storage closer to the device where it’s being gathered, rather than relying on a central location that can be thousands of miles away. This is done to ensure data is processed in real-time and does not suffer latency issues that affect performance. Additionally, handling the data locally reduces the amount of data that needs processing in a centralized or cloud-based location. It is easy to imagine the powerful outcome of this – enabling smart devices with onboard sensors and actuators to make real-time decisions and act with minimal to no interface.

    Edge computing was developed because of the exponential growth of IoT devices, which connect to the internet to receive or deliver data to the cloud. Many IoT devices generate enormous amounts of data during the course of operation, making edge computing a must to improve the IoT network performance. Moreover, this is enabling IoT device manufacturers to increase device complexity – adding software, RF wireless communication, power administration and management.


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    What are the technology standards used in the IoT network?

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    IoT is widely diverse and multifaceted, but there is no one-size-fits-all. Each communication solution has its strengths and weaknesses based on application.

    For example, Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) provide long-range communication on small, inexpensive batteries that last for years. These technologies are built to support large-scale IoT networks reaching vast industrial and commercial campuses. LPWAN connects all types of IoT sensors enabling many applications from remote monitoring, smart metering, building controls, etc. LPWANs are optimized for sending small blocks of data at low data rates, thus are best suited for use cases that don’t require high bandwidth and are not time sensitive.

    Cellular networks are not viable for the majority of IoT applications powered by battery-operated sensors. These networks fit well in applications like connected cars, or fleet management in transportation and logistics. Next generation 5G with high-speed mobility support and ultra-low latency is positioned to be the future of autonomous vehicles and augmented reality. 5G and future 6G are also expected to enable real-time video surveillance for public safety, and real time mobile delivery.

    Zigbee, Thread and Z-Wave are short-range, low power wireless standards commonly deployed in mesh networks to extend coverage by relaying sensor data over multiple sensor nodes. These standards have a higher data rate than LPWAN and are more power efficient. Applications such as remote controls, lighting, home monitoring/sensors, remote locks, and remote blinds are well suited for this technology. They also complement the Wi-Fi mesh network for home and business automation – by simplifying the mesh network of multiple systems and utilizing the backhaul enablement of Wi-Fi infrastructure.

    Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy are also short-range communication technologies, which are well positioned for the consumer IoT marketplace. Bluetooth was optimized to Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to reduce power consumption to meet the needs of consumer IoT applications. Today BLE is widely used in wearables, smartphones, door locks and health monitoring. Bluetooth Mesh, a newer Bluetooth technology, is a spin-off from existing BLE that is more scalable especially in retail for BLE beacon networks, in-store navigation, and content monitoring.

    Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a technology that uses small amounts of data from an RFID tag to a wireless reader close by. These are heavily used in stock and production planning applications as well as for optimization of business supply chain management. This technology is helping enable and create new IoT applications like smart shelves, self-checkout, and other general retail services.

    Finally, Wi-Fi, which is well known by all, provides high-throughput data transfer for smart home and smart business environments used to connect smart home appliances, security cameras and other household gadgets. The latest generations of Wi-Fi such as 6 and 6E are further improving data throughput. Wi-Fi6/6E establishes the underlying smart home connectivity via a pod per room, allowing for robust backhaul to the cloud with full home coverage, while onboarding other local range technologies in each of its nodes – providing the connectivity mesh. It is transforming the user experience in gaming, retail, entertainment, businesses, and soon to be in car networks for infotainment and on-board diagnostics.

    Coexistence amongst these systems causes difficult RF and design challenges. To increase multi-standard coexistence, the industry continues to look for ways and implementations to simplify the end user conglomeration of devices into a common ecosystem. Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP) led by Amazon, Apple, and Google, aims to deliver specifications and open source code enabling interoperability across multiple ecosystems/technology platforms. This initiative targets one of the longstanding concerns of complexity and multiple protocols in the smart home by simplifying the communication home network to provide easy plug-and-play for consumers.


    Tony’s Final Thoughts

    IoT is not just a buzzword, it is a key enabler of digital technology. It is already transforming many consumer and businesses including creating entirely new business models and job opportunities. Its pace of implementation is moving quickly, even with the many slowdowns caused by the COVID pandemic. Overall IoT is not a technology on its own, but rather is a compilation of many technologies enabling step-by-step changes throughout our lives. IoT will be a key extension of digital technology into the physical world we live in.


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    About the Author

    Tony Testa
    Director – Marketing, Wireless Connectivity Business Unit

    Tony Testa inspires wireless connectivity product innovations for Qorvo. With his 20 plus years of experience supporting industry alliance activities and customers, he helps engineers create state-of-the-art RF solutions that have a profound impact on our daily life.