The number of connected devices in the world is projected to exceed 5 billion by the end of 2015 and explode to more than 50 billion by 2020. The sheer number of devices is almost enough to usher the world into the era of the Internet of Things, the next stage of the information revolution. Almost.
The Internet of Things—an intelligent network of things capable of communicating directly or indirectly with each other or the Internet without the need for human-to-human or computer-to-computer interaction—needs more than just things. It needs a suitable communication network. Wi-Fi has been around for more than 16 years and will prove to be the best network platform for the Internet of Things.
As the Internet of Things moves from the realm of science fiction into reality, it will face many challenges. Those challenges include a lack of communication standardization, insufficient security protocols, poor device integration, limited battery life, and the rapid cycle of the evolution of technology standards.
Here are a few reasons why Wi-Fi is the technology that is best prepared to address those challenges.
Wi-Fi Offers Standardized Technology for Connecting Devices to Each Other and the Cloud
The things used to create the Internet of Things rely on embedded technology that allows them to perform their assigned functions. Whether it is sensing atmospheric or environmental conditions, capturing data, conducting analytics, or performing tasks, those things must have a way of connecting to each other or the Internet to transmit and receive information.
Currently, there are many standard and proprietary communication solutions for connecting things to each other and to the cloud. Device developers can choose to use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ActiveRFID, EtherCAT, loWPAN, ZigBee, NFC, RFID, and others. Among these choices, time and experience has proven Wi-Fi to be the most successful. It has become a widely used standard partly because of its ability to function efficiently and effectively in a large variety of devices and environments, even when there are physical obstacles to the signal.
One of the current challenges of Wi-Fi is that a typical Wi-Fi access point can only support a limited number of devices over a short range. This challenge is being overcome by a new IEE Wi-Fi standard 802.11ah that uses the 900MHz band. This new wireless networking protocol will be able to associate more than 8,000 devices across a distance exceeding a half mile.
Expected to be ratified by the Wi-Fi Alliance and available for widespread use in 2016, 802.11ah is the ideal Wi-Fi protocol for the Internet of Things.
Properly Configured Wi-Fi enables Greater Security
By its very nature, the Internet of Things will be a place where a limitless number of devices communicate with each other in ways that network or device administrators may not even realize. This sets the stage for malicious activity to take place on a scale never before possible. Protecting privacy within the Internet of Things will be an enormous challenge.
Fortunately software-defined networking (SDN) offers a natural security solution. A SDN-enabled Wi-Fi network allows for unified policy management so that a device connected to the Internet of Things can be scanned and secured at the network entry point.
Wi-Fi Is Extremely Energy Efficient
Because the devices that will make up the Internet of things need to be portable and self-sustaining, they must operate with the highest possible level of energy efficiency, regardless of the power source. Over the years, hardware developers have focused on making Wi-Fi function use very low power. Now, with the advent of 802.11ah with its ultra-low power consumption and backscatter Wi-Fi capable of harvesting power from ambient RF sources, Wi-Fi is extremely energy efficient.
Clearly, Wi-Fi is well-positioned to be the most technology choice for the Internet of Things.