Navigant Research Blog

IoT and Wireless Communications

Christina Sookyung Jung — March 7, 2016

Network switch and ethernet cables,Data Center Concept.Whenever the Internet of Things (IoT) and building automation solutions are considered, the topic of wireless communications protocols is bound to enter the discussion. Wireless technology is gaining traction for a host of reasons—there’s no need to run wires, buy conduit, or drill holes into walls when going wireless. It also costs less to install wireless systems compared wired systems. Plus, a wireless system makes a compelling economic case in retrofit situations.

While going wireless may be an easy decision to make, there is a myriad of wireless communications protocol options from which to choose. Depending on the application, factors such as range, data requirements, security, power demands, and battery life often dictate the choice of a wireless communications protocol.

Wireless Communications Protocols

Wi-Fi has been the ubiquitous means for delivering connectivity for most in-building applications. However, Wi-Fi is not necessarily well-suited for IoT applications—it requires too much power and provides too much bandwidth for many applications. Over the past few years, several competing wireless standards have emerged to enable communications between devices for an IoT world. Currently, ZigBee is seemingly emerging as a leader through several collaborations. The standard and its proponents are cutting through the myriad of associations and alliances and attempting to establish a foothold in IoT communications.

Notably, ZigBee inked an agreement with the Thread Group to implement the former’s application library over the latter’s IP networking layer. Additionally, ZigBee and EnOcean announced a collaboration to develop interoperable, self-powered IoT solutions over the 2.4 GHz frequency band in December 2015. This is important because if industry coalesces around a single standard and IoT really takes off, the shipment volume of whatever that standard will be has the potential to dwarf the shipment volume of Wi-Fi.

ZigBee and EnOcean Collaboration

The collaboration between ZigBee and EnOcean is an exciting endeavor. Considering that ZigBee is more prominent in North America and EnOcean is more popular in Europe, the technical specifications that combine the ZigBee solution with the EnOcean equipment profiles will allow wireless device manufacturers to access both the North American and European markets. These manufacturers will also be able to explore additional fields of applications to grow their business for self-powered innovations. The definition of this technical specification is pending completion by the second quarter of 2016.

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