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When To Combine Cellular with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth Connectivity for an Industrial IoT Solution


Sierra Wireless

Sierra Wireless

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) market opportunity is huge, and organizations are racing to develop and deploy IIoT solutions they can use to increase revenue, streamline operations and gain valuable insights that increase profitability.  According to Accenture , the IIoT could add $14.2 trillion to the global economy by 2030, and 84 percent of business leaders say they are ready to create new service-based business models using the IIoT.

However, the success of any IIoT solution depends on having robust, reliable internet connectivity. Given its unique combination of security, flexibility, coverage and long-life, cellular is the preferred wireless technology for connecting industrial equipment to the cloud. However, adding the shorter-range connectivity offered by Wi-Fi or Bluetooth can increase the solution’s flexibility and functionality in ways that generate significant value. In order to make the best connectivity decision, manufacturers developing IoT solutions should consider the advantages that have made cellular a very popular choice for the IIoT, while also evaluating the benefits of adding Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to their solution as well. 

Cellular for Industry 4.0 Solutions

Cellular offers several advantages for IIoT solutions. As a global standard, cellular technology enables IIoT solutions to take advantage of its wide coverage just about anywhere in the world and scale solutions quickly across regions and continents. When it comes to reliability and security, cellular leads as well because cellular service providers are contractually obligated to deliver Quality of Service (QoS), and cellular uses data encryption by default. Cellular is also a requirement in solutions with devices that move around a lot (such as tracking the location and status of heavy equipment) or with devices in rural locations (such as monitoring the health of remote assets for preventive maintenance). 

Cellular also provides different options for real-time transmission at both high and low bandwidths, so it can be used for any type of data transmission, from simple location or temperature data to large images and video. In particular, a relatively new cellular technology, Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA), is becoming an increasingly popular choice for remote IIoT monitoring solutions because it offers more extensive coverage and better battery performance than other cellular technologies. The cost of LPWA devices is also lower than other cellular devices. In addition, because LPWA is a 3GPP standard and part of the 5G roadmap, it offers enterprises a reliable, cost-effective choice for the long-term, while still providing an easy migration path to higher-bandwidth services, such as video, when the need arises.

Finally, cellular is simple and easy to deploy. A single device is all that is needed for equipment to connect directly to the network, by using either an embedded cellular module or a gateway. This makes it ideal in environments where no local network is available.

Reasons to Add Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to Cellular

However, there are situations where combining cellular with Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth can make an IIoT solution more useful and functional by increasing its versatility

For example, if you were adding an IIoT solution to an HVAC system in a factory that already has a strong Wi-Fi network, it might make sense to use both cellular and Wi-Fi. The IoT solution customer could use Wi-Fi as their primary communications network, reducing costs related to cellular network data charges. Meanwhile, being more dependable, cellular would be an excellent back-up network for mission-critical data if the Wi-Fi goes down. Emerging data orchestration technologies could even enable the IoT solution’s edge devices to determine what data to send on which network given the type of data, network conditions, or other factors, providing additional benefits. 

In a similar way, combining cellular and Bluetooth provides all the benefits of cellular while also enabling equipment to connect to smartphones, sensors and other local Bluetooth devices. Such connections allow local Bluetooth-connected sensors to deliver data to other machines in a factory. Or it could be used to deliver data to a customer’s smartphone app, from which they can configure, manage, or even diagnose problems with a machine. In addition, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), a popular format for mesh networks, can be used to monitor mobile equipment. For example, when a bulldozer at a construction site or a vehicle in a rental fleet is returned to a designated parking area, its arrival can be logged using Bluetooth beacons. This information can then be transmitted to a gateway, which sends it to the cloud using a cellular connection. 

What Should Enterprises Consider When Combining Connectivity Technologies?

When combining cellular connectivity with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or both, there are several benefits in choosing Sierra Wireless solutions, including:

  • Solutions that can be mixed and matched – Sierra Wireless offers cellular and Wi-Fi/Bluetooth modules with similar form factors. This makes it much easier to mix and match the modules for a solution, which increases design flexibility and lowers design costs. 
  • Expertise in reducing interference – Cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth all rely on protocols that may conflict when combined on a single device. For years, Sierra Wireless has worked with its customers on engineering techniques that minimize any interference and reduce other impacts related to using multiple protocols, which reduces the likelihood of encountering problems down the road with the IIoT solution. 
  • IIoT portfolio compatibility – Sierra Wireless offers customers a mature and comprehensive IIoT portfolio of modulesgatewaysIoT services and software that are designed to work together. This comprehensive device-to-cloud solution decreases development complexity, increases solution flexibility and lowers solution design and maintenance costs. It also makes it easier and faster for enterprises to develop new IIoT solutions using the same basic design and code as an existing IIoT solution. 

Whatever types of connectivity make sense for an IIoT solution – cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or a combination -- Sierra Wireless’ mix-and-match solutions, expertise in reducing interference resulting from multiple protocols, and comprehensive device-to-cloud platform make it the right wireless connectivity provider to partner with to develop the solution.

Read the Sierra Wireless white paper, Wireless Technology Considerations for Connecting Industrial Equipment and Start with Sierra to learn more about when to combine short and long-range connectivity in an IIoT solution and how Sierra Wireless can help you develop a long-term IIoT strategy that enables you to thrive in today’s connected economy.

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