Your Complete Guide to IoT Protocols

A worker relies on IoT protocols so his manufacturing equipment can communicate with his applications.
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It’s safe to assume that everyone has heard of the Internet of Things (IoT) by now, and that almost everyone has used a connected device at some point or another. IoT protocols allow these devices to exchange information in organized and meaningful ways. Here’s what you need to know about those protocols and how they function:

  • They allow information to be pulled from the transferred data for the end-user.
  • They are required for IoT deployments to be useful, productive, and profitable.
  • IoT protocols facilitate communication and interaction between sensors, devices, servers, and user applications, all of which would be rendered useless without them. 
  • The protocols fall into two main categories: data protocols, which refer to the languages used by the devices to communicate, and network protocols which essentially provide the platform for communication. 

This guide takes a look at some of the most popular types of IoT data and network protocols. It explains how they work and looks at some of their applications.

IoT Data Protocols

IoT protocols may sound complicated, but it’s important to understand their basic facts. These protocols can use the internet but don’t require an internet connection, for example. They can work through wired or cellular networks, and they allow low-power IoT devices to communicate. Here are some of the most popular data protocols.

Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT)

This lightweight IoT protocol allows simple data to move between different devices. It features a basic makeup that can be layered with a TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) to standardize how computers communicate on a network. Its basic architecture is its main advantage. 

MQTT has been adopted widely, and it is most frequently used as an IoT standard in industrial applications. It was originally a proprietary IoT protocol but is now open source. It is best for constrained devices in low-bandwidth situations or on networks with a lot of latency, such as sensors in warehouses with spotty Wi-Fi. 

Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP)

CoAP works with HTTP-based IoT systems. It translates HTTP into a usable language for devices that cannot handle the heaviness and power consumption of the internet. It boasts low overhead, easy deployment, and multicast support.

CoAP also secures communication and data transmission between multiple points and is generally used for machine-to-machine (M2M) applications. It works well with low-energy devices in environments with low bandwidth.

Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP)

This is an IoT protocol that facilitates transactional messages between servers and other message-oriented middleware. It receives, queues, and stores messages, and it establishes a relationship between the servers. It is highly reliable and very secure, making it ideal in the finance industry where server-based analytics are needed. It is also used in many other industries and applications.

AMQP does not work well with IoT devices that have limited memory, and its use tends to focus on servers more than IoT. It can work well over poor networks and continues to communicate even if both systems are not available at the same time.

Data Distribution Service (DDS)

This is a scalable IoT protocol that uses a publish-subscribe pattern. It can work everywhere, from the cloud to small devices. It is ideal for real-time and embedded systems, and as a middleware protocol because it allows data communication independent of the hardware and software platform involved. DDS has high reliability and high performance, and it provides low-latency connectivity.

Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP)

This is the language used by the internet. It’s not the best to use as an IoT standard because it is expensive, heavy, and consumes a lot of power. This protocol, however, is useful in applications that need to publish a lot of data, such as manufacturing and 3D printing. It allows PCs to connect to 3D printers, for example.

Most IoT devices cannot handle the weight of HTTP, and as indicated above, CoAP is the most popular choice for breaking down HTTP into a usable standard for devices that cannot handle the weight of its raw code.

WebSocket 

WebSocket allows messages to be transmitted between a client and a server on a single TCP connection. It features a standard protocol that simplifies connection management and bi-directional internet communication. It works well in environments that need to constantly share data across multiple devices, such as libraries. 

Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP)

This IoT protocol was originally designed for real-time messaging using XML (Extensible Markup Language) between two or more network clients. It is a widely-used communication protocol and has a version made specifically as a lightweight protocol.

XMPP is very scalable and works well with consumer-oriented applications. It does not have end-to-end encryption, though. Due to that limitation, it is unlikely to be used in routine data exchanges and device management.

The IoT technology stack cannot exist without IoT data protocols. The “things” of the IoT need these protocols to communicate. Without the ability to communicate, they cannot work correctly. These protocols are just as important as the devices themselves.

a web address following iot standards and protocols

IoT Network Protocols

IoT network protocols connect IoT devices over a network, and they are usually used over the internet. Here are some of the most popular examples of these protocols.

Wi-Fi

This is the most well-known IoT network protocol, and most people use it daily. A Wi-Fi network allows any and all internet-enabled devices in its range to connect to the internet. Wi-Fi broadcasts radio signals on frequencies such as 2.4GHz or 5GHz, and allows different devices to connect on different channels to avoid overwhelming the network. 

Wi-Fi IoT network protocols are limited by their environment. For example, if there is a brick wall between the Wi-Fi router and the IoT device, it may not be able to connect. Most Wi-Fi connections can communicate with devices up to 100 meters away, but in reality, connections are often limited to 10- to 35-meters.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth is very popular for consumer-based uses, such as connecting wireless speakers or headphones to mobile phones and tablets. It has a massive user base. In addition to its popularity among consumers, Bluetooth is often used for real-time control tasks in automobile manufacturing, energy plants, supply logistics, and other industrial environments. It is very effective for facilitating communication between devices that used to require connections with ethernet or other cables.

Bluetooth uses radio waves in the 2.4GHz frequency, and it sends information in small “packets” over 79 different channels. It tends to have a shorter range than both Wi-Fi and ZigBee, and unfortunately, it is susceptible to frequency hopping.

The Bluetooth 4.0 standard is also known as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), and this new version features a 2Mhz bandwidth and 40 channels. BLE works well for IoT applications that require low amounts of power along with high degrees of flexibility and scalability. 

ZigBee

This IoT network protocol also has a widespread user base in the world of IoT. Although it is not as widely used as Bluetooth technology, it offers greater capabilities. ZigBee consumes less data than Bluetooth and has a low data rate. It also boasts a high degree of security and a longer range, working over a 200-meter distance, while Bluetooth can only handle 100 meters. Keep in mind that these ranges are only theoretical, and like Wi-Fi ranges, they are often much lower in application.

ZigBee, like Bluetooth, also sends data in small “packets,” and it is commonly used with IoT devices that have modest requirements. It can scale and work with thousands of nodes. Many IoT manufacturers are currently focused on creating devices that leverage this protocol’s self-assembly and self-healing modes.

Z-Wave

This is a wireless, radio-frequency IoT network protocol that is becoming more popular every day. It runs on the 800 to 900 MHz frequency, and because this is different from the frequency used by Wi-Fi networks, it does not suffer issues with interference. ZigBee, in contrast, runs on the same radio frequency as Wi-Fi (2.4GHz), which creates a risk of interference.

Note that Z-Wave frequencies are location-dependent, and they vary from country to country. It is most commonly used with consumer-grade IoT devices in the home rather than business applications.

LoRaWan

This IoT network protocol is a media account control (MAC). It facilitates communication between internet-connected applications and low-powered devices. Low-powered devices, as explained above, often have trouble handling the weight of the internet, and this protocol allows these devices to connect over a long-range.

LoRaWan works with the 2nd or 3rd layer of the OSI model and can function with LoRa and FSK modules with industrial, scientific, and medical (ISM) radio bands.

IoT network protocols allow devices to connect directly to the internet through an internet protocol (IP) network. They can also facilitate near-field communication using Bluetooth or other similar protocols. The right option depends on the applications’ power, memory, and range requirements.

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