Cellular Networks and Technologies for the Internet of Things

Machine to machine (M2M) communications infrastructure is evolving to support the rapid growth of the Internet of Things (IoT).  While it is agreed that wireless is essential for the IoT, there is debate on how the IoT will be best accommodated – whether this is best achieved by reusing existing wireless networks and technologies or by establishing new networks and technologies dedicated to the IoT.

The utilization of existing cellular networks and Wifi platforms reduces the investment needed for the IoT.  One of the main drivers for M2M is the widely deployed wireless communications infrastructure supported by declining data costs and availability of connected low-cost devices.  Mobile operators are preparing for the opportunity of IoT and the revenue derived from the growth in M2M communications. Expanding their approach to M2M, mobile operators are value adding by offering end-to-end solutions for key applications in target markets. Wifi is also being used to support a range of M2M applications in healthcare, logistics and manufacturing industries.

Revenue models for traditional cellular networks are based on the high bandwidth demands of many cellular data applications and real-time connectivity required for mobile voice and video services.  These revenue models will require radical revision or a new approach to accommodate the low bit rates and periodic short bursts of data adequate for many M2M uses.

New cellular networks are being promoted to support the IoT and offer low cost entry with cheap data rates and low cost hardware for high volume, low bandwidth data throughput.  Other capabilities offered such as long range and long battery life further improve the feasibility of M2M/IoT.  An example of a new cellular network being promoted is SigFox (Fr.), which offers a service dedicated to low throughput M2M/IoT applications with a $3 yearly data rate.  Another example is the Weightless (U.S.) SIG which is developing a wireless radio standard using TV white spaces spectrum that is ideal for IoT with low cost data and long range capabilities of up to 10km.

Helping the future development of the IoT is the use of harmonized, licence-free spectrum for short range devices in keeping down the costs of M2M communications. Use of the vacant portions of spectrum between TV channels meets the main spectrum requirements for the IoT – low cost, sub-1GHz frequencies, global harmonization and enough bandwidth to support billions of machine devices.

The ultimate vision of the IoT is all-IP M2M networking, achievable using mesh networks.  Some RF mesh networks already take advantage of IPv6, the latest version of the IP protocol.  Ultimately, meshed M2M networks for M2M applications could become fully integrated into existing cellular networks bringing the scalability of cellular to very cost-sensitive narrowband applications.

Even when successfully addressing the primarily cost-conscious requirements of much of the potential for the IoT, it is debatable whether the existing communication platforms can entirely meet the diverse demands of a myriad of IoT applications.  Many M2M applications have different needs and new networks and new technologies are being developed to meet these needs and to reap a share of the revenue that billions of connected devices is expected to generate.  The evolution of the infrastructure of M2M communications to support the IoT is in its infancy – stay tuned.

5 thoughts on “Cellular Networks and Technologies for the Internet of Things

  1. iotism2m says:

    M2M devices are like toys. The better they are, more they are used. The more they are used, the more data throughput is necessary. The more data is needed, the bigger bandwidth is necessary. As of today, the M2M model is a low-consumption one. However, five years from now, this may change, like the DSL changed the modem-based internet access.

    Even if today M2M devices use the mobile networks, I think they will switch to wire connections, because of many factors, like speed, security, radio spectrum pollution, and so on.

    1. m2m connectivity says:

      Bigger bandwidth for high throughput data will continue to be a necessary feature of M2M devices in the future. Consider though, that the IoT landscape of the future will consist of diverse demands of many applications, all with different needs. In this context, a good many of these applications will only require low bandwidth data throughput suitable for low bit rate and periodic transfers of data. There will be a place for cost effective low energy, local area applications in the IoT.

      Wireless is perceived as essential for IoT because of the impracticalities and expense of hard wiring the many billions of objects connected in the future. Some applications are expected to rely on fixed network connectivity all the way to the device end point e.g. some smart grid applications – the monitoring of power generation plants demanding high network availability.

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