What Is an IoT Network?
An IoT network refers to a collection of devices such as sensors, gadgets, appliances, and software that communicate with each other and exchange information and data without the need for human intervention.
If you’ve ever turned your lights on from your phone or told Alexa to play your favorite song, you’ve experienced the power of an IoT network. But IoT networks do a lot more, especially for big businesses.
Through the power of cloud and edge computing businesses can now collect new insights from devices through IoT networks. This bridges the gap between the digital and physical world and allows organizations to monitor environmental, geolocation, and atmospheric conditions in real time. When paired with automation, businesses can instantly react to changes in an environment, allowing for less downtime, better insights, and improved efficiency.
How Does an IoT Network Work?
With the basics covered, let’s explore how exactly IoT networks work, what sensors do, and how administrators manage them.
IoT networks rely on small inexpensive sensors to collect information about the environment. For example, farmers use IoT sensors to monitor moisture levels while industrial plants use similar sensors to monitor pipe pressure. IoT sensors are highly configurable and can monitor hundreds of different changes.
A few examples of what IoT sensors can monitor include the following:
- Fluid levels
- Temperature, humidity, and other atmospheric conditions
- Electrical currents
- Data packets
- The presence of particular gases or chemicals
IoT sensors continuously send data back to the cloud or an edge computing device for processing. IoT sensors typically use little power and send small amounts of data rather than large streams of information. Businesses that require the lowest latency and fastest response time often opt for edge computing as it shortens the distance between the sensor and the server.
Depending on the technology and use case, businesses can choose from various IoT networks to meet their goals. The two most common ways sensors send their data are through Wi-Fi or cellular connection. We’ll touch more on the different types of networks and their advantages later on.
Once the data is collected, software processes and records that data in the cloud or on an edge server. Many platforms use artificial intelligence and machine learning to take action when specific data is sent from a sensor.
For example, if moisture levels reach a certain threshold, artificial intelligence can send a command to turn on overhead fans or deactivate a water source. The beauty of this process is that it’s done without the need of human intervention.
Enterprises pair IoT networks with automation to orchestrate device management in a way that’s affordable, predictable, and highly scalable. IoT management systems can process data from various systems allowing enterprises to monitor everything from machine maintenance to the weather outside.
Administrators simply set rules for the software to follow and teach the software what actions to trigger when certain conditions are met. In some cases where automation isn’t appropriate, the software can automatically alert a human when a specific event occurs.
For instance, in an industrial IoT setting sensors can automatically create a maintenance request to change a machine’s oil when it reaches a certain level. If that request isn’t fulfilled and the device is in danger of overheating, the sensors can send a more urgent alert and shut down the machine to prevent significant damage if needed.
The back-end interface allows administrators to set conditional rules and service levels to shape how monitoring and automation occur. These interfaces have come a long way since the early days and are much easier to use and navigate.
Types of IoT Networks
There are a few different ways administrators can design their IoT networks. One of the biggest differences is what protocol sensors use to share information. Keep in mind a single IoT network can use a combination of these options for different applications. Below we’ll explore some of the most common types of IoT network designs and look at the advantages of each.
Wi-Fi is a popular choice for IoT networks since many businesses already have Wi-Fi coverage across their organization. Wi-Fi is a solid option for stationary IoT sensors that need to share data across a medium range.
Administrators using Wi-Fi should segment IoT sensors on a different subnet and implement quality of service to help provide better reliability to their sensors. However, Wi-Fi IoT networks aren’t without their drawbacks.
Due to their power limitations, Wi-Fi networks don’t offer as much coverage as cellular networks. Wi-Fi networks also don’t process device handover as smoothly as cellular networks, meaning mobile IoT sensors might experience connectivity issues on Wi-Fi networks. Wi-Fi IoT networks are best for the following uses:
- Small- to medium-sized networks
- Indoor areas with few obstructions
- Serving stationary IoT sensors
Cellular networks offer long-range reliable connectivity for both stationary and mobile IoT sensors. Autonomous vehicles can rely on public cellular networks for latency connectivity and very large area coverage across cities.
Since the advent of private mobile networks, more enterprises are choosing to build their IoT networks using private cellular networks. Private 4G LTE / 5G connectivity allows businesses to untether themselves from commercial carriers and control every aspect of their cellular network, apply the appropriate network security policies, much like how enterprises control their own Wi-Fi.
This change gives businesses unprecedented control over their cellular coverage, budget, and resources. Businesses can opt for a 5G connection for low latency IoT networks. Industrial plants, safety systems, and emergency sensors can rely on 5G wireless performance standards for the most sensitive connections.
Since private cellular networks operate on a different frequency than Wi-Fi, both networks can coexist in the same space without interference. This allows enterprises to segment their traffic and reserve their private 5G implementations for critical IoT infrastructure.
The improved reliability, coverage, and capacity private cellular networks provide make this design a popular choice among large enterprises and businesses that must meet strict service-level objectives for IoT connectivity and performance. Private cellular IoT networks are best for the following uses:
- Strict service level requirements for QoS, throughput, packet error rate and latency
- Very large area coverage indoors and outdoors
- Clean interference free operation next to existing Wi-Fi networks
Bluetooth has been around since 1994, but that doesn’t make it any less viable for IoT networks. Bluetooth offers an affordable way to connect stationary IoT sensors to edge devices over short distances.
In most use cases, IoT networks using Bluetooth can send signals up to 25 feet away using very little power and bandwidth. While Bluetooth isn’t the most popular choice, it does have its place in IoT networks.
Bluetooth IoT networks are best for the following uses:
- Short distances
- Low-power consumption requirements
- Low-bandwidth applications
Low-Power Wide Area Networks
An LPWAN uses specialized cellular connections that provide ample coverage while serving low-power devices. These networks offer coverage similar to that of cellular networks but are limited in terms of bandwidth and data rate.
Oil fields, agricultural operations, and rural job sites can leverage LPWAN for their low-power IoT sensors. While these networks tend to be less expensive, businesses that want to expand their IoT network to include high bandwidth sensors often switch from LPWAN to a full cellular solution.
LPWAN IoT networks are best for the following uses:
- Low-power sensors
- Low data rates and bandwidth
- Rural areas with limited infrastructure
The Future of IoT Networks: 5G LAN
In recent years 5G has changed the way people and businesses build IoT networks. In particular, private 5G has changed how IoT networks scale and how they are controlled. Much like how 4G ushered in the smartphone era, 5G is paving the way for real-time monitoring and wide-scale IoT orchestration.
By blending the reliability and control of a traditional LAN with the performance and coverage of 5G, Celona has developed a new type of IoT network design called 5G LAN.
5G LAN architecture provides unmatched visibility and control for enterprise IoT networks that integrate seamlessly with existing applications and infrastructure. Administrators can control and orchestrate their IoT sensors from a single management console and even synchronize existing service level objectives into their new 5G LAN.
5G LANs use MicroSlicing to give administrators granular application-level control over their cellular resources. Unlike traditional QoS, MicroSlicing adheres to detailed latency and throughput requirements. Machine learning algorithms enforce these rules by continuously monitoring network conditions and changing settings to reflect your service level requirements.
This same technology allows for self-healing networks, automated provisioning, and application-aware onboarding. Simply put, 5G LAN is the first network designed specifically for enterprise applications and demands.
The Celona Solution
Celona partners with enterprise organizations to provide private cellular IoT networks as a seamless turnkey solution. Sensors can be quickly deployed throughout the facility, while proactive monitoring ensures network service levels, such as throughput and latency requirements, are consistently being met.
Celona uses cloud networking principles to make implementing private 4G and 5G networks an out-of-box experience. Onboarding can be done alongside existing wireless and IT infrastructure, without interrupting business operations.
If you’re building your IoT network for the future, check out our network planner to estimate the size of your private cellular network, or test-drive the Celona 5G LAN solution for yourself with a free trial.