The IoT market has been quickly taking shape. One key question is which wireless networking technology is the best fit? Two options, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, have emerged as possible winners, with each having strengths and weaknesses.
In 1994, Ericsson launched Bluetooth, which originally was envisioned as a wireless communication alternative to RS232 links. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) develops standards and compliance tests, and more than 30,000 vendors have had their wares sanctioned by the group.
Bluetooth is a simple, low cost, low power networking option, one supporting many consumer applications. It has a small form factor, supports a simple network stack, and consumes 25% to 100% less power than Wi-Fi.
Bandwidth is one limitation. Early versions of Bluetooth delivered 800K bits per second of data. The latest release Bluetooth 5, which was announced in June, doubles the previous top speed to 2M bps, quadruples the range, and increases network capacity by 800%. Compliant products are expected to arrive in early 2017.
A Wireless IP Standard Emerges
Wi-Fi, which was officially launched in 1997, emerged as utilities looked for a wireless option for their IP networks. The IEEE has overseen development of the standard, which is defined under the 802.11.x nomenclature. Since 2000, the Wi-Fi Alliance has certified more than 30,000 products and billions of Wi-Fi connection have been deployed, mainly on corporate networks.
Traditionally, Wi-Fi based networks supported hundreds of M bps and even G bps transmission rates. This network option transmits information at distances up to 100m, about three times greater than Bluetooth.
The HaLow Effect
Power needs has been an area where Wi-Fi has shortcomings. Carrying more data, being able to work at longer distances, and offering robust security drains power and shortens battery life.
Many IoT devices, such as sensors, are small and have little to no access to power. To address IoT market needs, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced Wi-Fi HaLow in January at the Consumer Electronics show. One new function is a sleep mode, which helps extend battery life.
Timing is a potential Wi-Fi HaLow barrier: the Wi-Fi Alliance plans to begin certifying HaLow products in 2018.
Traditionally, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have gained traction in different areas, but IoT is drawing the two closer together. Bluetooth may work best for consumer applications, such as home energy solutions while Wi-Fi meshes with enterprise needs, like transmission and distribution networks.