With cost and efficiency savings like these, industrial IoT (IIoT) will impact every organization’s business model. But implementing IIoT is not easy; one of the most challenging parts of the process is deciding which wireless technologies are best suited to the network. It’s likely to be a combination of several because no single technology meets all the communication demands.
Wireless standards relevant to the IIoT come in two broad categories: standards-based (for example LTE-M/NB-IoT, Bluetooth, Thread, and Zigbee) and proprietary (such as Z-Wave, Sigfox, and LoRa).
The key difference between the two is that standards-based technologies are developed, licensed, and controlled by alliances or special interest groups comprising many commercial companies, whereas proprietary technologies are owned (and promoted) by a single company.
Because they are collaborative ventures, standards-based wireless technologies tend to have a large pool of skilled engineers and resources to draw upon, encourage a sustainable multivendor supply chain, and give end-users confidence that the technology is likely to be there tomorrow. On the downside, standards governing bodies can be bureaucratic, which can slow the standard’s development, place a drag on innovation, and introduce obstacles that make it harder for new or smaller entrants to gain traction.
In contrast, proprietary wireless technologies have a much smaller pool of available talent and resources to draw upon, carry the risks associated with any monopoly, and tend to remain niche. On the plus side, however, their lack of governing-body inertia can make the firms driving the technology quicker to respond to changes in market demand.
But it also means what might work very well in, for example, a relatively low-volume medical environment won’t necessarily work well in a high-speed manufacturing application, which in turn won’t necessarily be ideal for a large-scale smart city installation. Nonetheless, wireless technologies evolve because the demands of the applications they were created to serve change. This is why no single wireless technology will solve all of the IIoT’s challenges: every application will almost certainly require a combination of wireless technologies and those that do not learn to play nicely together are going to struggle to succeed.