Choosing the right wireless technology for your new IOT product

Various wireless technologies compete today to serve the burgeoning market for the Internet of Things (IoT), creating confusion and uncertainty in the mind of developers and end users, and slowing down market acceptance. The leading contenders include wide area networks (WAN) technologies:  LTE , SigFox, or LoRA which require service subscription, and local area networks (LAN) technologies: Zigbee, Thread, Z-Wave , Wi-Fi, proprietary RF, Bluetooth™ Classic and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).

This blog focuses on the role of the various wireless technologies in the LAN applications. Although the examples given come from the  connected home market segment, the largest and most visible market segment today,  similar conclusions apply to industrial or commercial products.

                                   INTERNET TRAFFIC BY DEVICE TYPEvni-hyperconnectivity-wp_2


                 GLOBAL M2M CONNECTION GROWTH BY INDUSTRIESCisco_vni_global_traffic

*Other includes Agriculture, Construction, and Emergency Services.
Source: Cisco VNI Global IP Traffic Forecast, 2015–2020

There is no doubt that legacy technologies such as ZigBee, Z-Wave or proprietary RF  will continue to be deployed in the near future,  given the number of devices using these technologies available in big-box stores and promoted by major carriers like AT&T and Verizon in the USA. However, it is unlikely that many new products will be developed based on these technologies. ZigBee and Z-Wave  will be superseded by Thread,  an IP technology that is based like ZigBee on IEEE 802.15.4 standard , that benefits from the learning of ZigBee and addresses many of its shortcomings,  including being more secure and resilient. Bluetooth low energy  is already displacing  other technologies such as ANT and proprietary RF  in devices running on coin cell.   With the addition of meshing and IP, the BLE applications could also extend well beyond wearables.

At GainSpan we are focusing our development on three wireless technologies, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth low energy and Thread, that will capture the largest share of the IOT connectivity market in Local Area Networks. These technologies are the only ones to offer at least one fundamental IOT element:  Internet protocol connectivity, which is the basis of the IOT , and smartphone connectivity for ease of use and commissioning, which is essential for IOT adoption.


In some cases the right choice is clear:

  • Only Wi-Fi can deliver the throughput required by applications such as video in video doorbell or video surveillance cameras. Similarly, Wi-Fi is gradually being adopted in music streaming applications displacing Bluetooth classic for the same reasons.
  • Bluetooth is the only  technology with a peak current that is low enough ( few mA)  to operate from a coin cell in applications such as wearables or tags.
  • If smartphone connectivity is required the choices are between Wi-Fi for longer range applications (e.g.  appliances)  and higher throughput and  Bluetooth low energy for extended battery life.

In typical sensor applications such as thermostats, smoke alarms or door locks,  the choice of the most appropriate technology is function of the selling proposition and the positioning of the products in the market:

  • Wi-Fi is the most mature, proven and secure technology, offering connectivity to smartphones and generally available infrastructure in homes, commercial buildings and cities (e.g. access points) with a long reach but a higher power consumption.
  • With better receiver sensitivity and strong meshing capabilities , Thread has the potential to extend the application reach beyond Wi-Fi range, with lower power consumption. It is a strong technical solution, but its market acceptance is still to be proven, despite the large numbers of Tier1 companies that have joined the Thread group
  • For short-range applications, Bluetooth low energy offers the longest battery life and the capability to operate from a coin cell battery.

Please let us know the reasons you chose one wireless technology over another in the development of your IOT products.