Will Wi-Fi be reliable enough for the future of IoT? Or will enterprise IoT require something more performant? We’ll explore IoT Wi-Fi and its alternatives. The big question is what will be the role of Wi-Fi in IoT?
Today, Wi-Fi plays a major role in IoT since most IoT devices run on Wi-Fi networks. Consumer-grade IoT devices will continue to work just fine on Wi-Fi, but enterprise and industrial IoT may require deterministic performance from private cellular networks for critical applications. Almost all businesses will continue to use Wi-Fi for many existing applications.
What exactly are the Internet of Things (IoT)?
Term IoT is used to describe a network of different devices that are all sharing information through systems over the internet. This can be anything from Wi-Fi-enabled “smart” light bulbs to special sensors that can email the maintenance department when a factory machine is running low on oil. In general, the “Things” in the IoT operate without much human intervention.
The range and use cases for IoT sensors are vast, and this typically is highlighted best when analog hardware can be brought on to the network through a series of sensors. Many manufacturing companies rely on older robust hardware on the factory floor to help create their product. A big challenge, in this case, is gathering insights from these machines that lack the ability to be connected through the internet.
Even on the oldest machines, a level of interconnectivity can be achieved by applying sensors to different areas along the production line. These small sensors are designed to measure and report dozens of other metrics such as vibrations, fluid level, electrical input, pressure, gas, and temperature, just to name a few.
By deploying these sensors across archaic machinery, you can uncover new insights that help decrease downtime, aid in preventative maintenance, and increase overall efficiency, all without having to purchase new equipment. These small IoT sensors or devices wirelessly communicate with IT systems to generate alerts, reports, and even execute automated actions.
IoT in the Enterprise
IoT has been a buzzword in the enterprise space for a while now, but for good reason. IoT-enabled businesses really begin to show massive benefits at scale, especially in industries where any amount of downtime is a serious problem.
In hospitals, IoT sensors can be applied to critical medical equipment such as defibrillators, crash carts, and glucose meters to provide extremely accurate real-time tracking of the facility's most vital tools. This same technology can also be used with medical personnel to help managers easily see when certain wings are under or overstaffed.
IoT Wi-Fi in College Campuses
IoT Wi-Fi-enabled sensors can be integrated into numerous devices to help both students and maintenance staff. Large campuses often operate as their own micro-city, with IoT sensors helping monitor HVAC units and lighting systems across campus to allow maintenance staff to prioritize tasks and proactively replace faulty equipment.
Hardware sensors can also improve student life by being integrated into their shared space. Smart laundromats can notify students when their clothes are done, and smart parking meters can help students find and pay for parking from a mobile device. Through a mobile application, students can utilize IoT location tracking to find the nearest source of transportation based on their location.
IoT in Transportation & Logistics
IoT has also completely transformed the transportation and logistics industry as small sensors can be placed on shipping containers and fixed positions worldwide to help track shipments and provide automated updates to customers.
Rather than using Wi-Fi, these sensors can use a combination of private and public cellular networks to achieve consistent tracking down to the meter. Real-time fleet tracking can be paired with backend software to provide down-to-the-minute shipping estimates, route optimization, and improved delivery times.
It’s clear that the Internet of Things can be applied to many different verticals. Let’s review exactly how these devices achieve a connection using Wi-Fi connectivity.
Connecting IoT Devices on Wi-Fi
One option to enable connectivity between all of your IoT sensors is to use the existing wireless network. For home users, this is as simple as plugging in your Wi-Fi password and loading an app. For enterprises, it's a bit more complicated.
Even if you have existing Wi-Fi signals across your building, you’ll want to ensure that the wireless signals are strong enough to support Wi-Fi networks in different locations. Additional wireless access points may be needed to fill dead zones where the signal may drop.
Ideally, each sensor will have a strong connection at all times. However, in some places with IoT Wi-Fi, this just isn’t possible. You’ll have to review how often this sensor needs to share data and if its latency will impact productivity. A proper heatmap should be constructed of the coverage area to help plan additional access points and determine the best placement for new sensors.
Due to the sensitive nature of IoT Wi-Fi devices, network administrators will want to segment their network to isolate IoT device traffic. Creating a separate wireless subnet ensures that devices that control critical aspects of businesses operations are never mixed with employee or guest devices. Using separate subnets in conjunction with MAC address filtering and port shielding helps keep devices secure, as well makes troubleshooting networking issues a lot less complicated.
Even in small IoT Wi-Fi deployments, administrators will want to utilize a wireless controller to help manage their access points that support these sensors. This not only aids in quickly troubleshooting access points, but also allows for networking prioritization. Wi-Fi alone cannot prioritize traffic, and this must be done either through a wireless controller or firewall appliance. Setting a Quality of Service (QoS) level ensures services such as Netflix don’t take priority over alerts from production equipment.
IoT Wi-Fi Challenges
Even with the latest Wi-Fi 6 release, there are some particular challenges enterprises face when deploying IoT Wi-Fi networks. Some of these issues are more prevalent in specific industries, while others are a side effect of how Wi-Fi was designed.
Wi-Fi has a finite range that requires investing in additional hardware to expand the range of the signal. While this isn’t an issue for most businesses it does present a challenge for devices that need ultra-reliable service over long distances. As businesses expand, the ability to keep a consistent wireless network throughout multiple locations can even require additional fiber optic installations which can skyrocket budgets very quickly. This issue of coverage becomes even more pressing as you scale the physical size of the enterprise.
In the agricultural industry where farming operations need acres of coverage, wireless networks simply can’t cover enough ground. The cost alone to run network cabling across those distances would send most enterprises searching for other options. In these cases, more businesses end up comparing private LTE vs. Wi-Fi to weigh their options better.
Wi-Fi architecture also struggles to support fast-moving devices, which can pose a real challenge to businesses who are in the transportation industry, or who need to track production across busy assembly lines. As devices move through the IoT Wi-Fi network they will leave the range of one access point to connect to another.
IoT Wi-Fi Alternatives
New technology in the private cellular space is helping bridge the gap where IoT Wi-Fi is not a realistic option. For the first time, enterprises now have the ability to deploy their own private LTE and 5G cellular wireless networks that allow for superior coverage, speed, and reliability to their IoT devices. Enterprises can now use their existing IT network infrastructure to deploy cellular base stations across their coverage area and broadcast a private cellular signal with up to four times greater coverage when compared to Wi-Fi.
Much like your mobile phone, you never notice when your service switches cellular towers. This same technology in private LTE / 5G wireless offers better reliability for IoT devices by offering larger coverage zones and providing smooth transitions from one cell tower to another. Preconfigured SIM cards authenticate and identify each device allowing only those whitelisted to access the network. SIM authentication is much easier to deploy either physically or virtually and is a much less attractive target than a wireless network.
The Celona Solution
Celona partners with enterprises to help build, manage, and grow their private mobile network to support IoT devices reliably. Through a combination of software, hardware, and AI technology, every aspect of a Celona 5G LAN is designed to work out-of-box, providing the only true turnkey solution in the private mobile network space.
If you’re looking to build or scale your network for critical IoT infrastructure connectivity, we can help. Check out our Network Planner or experience the power of private mobile networks through our free trial offer.