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IoT
7 minutes read

IoT Protocols: All You Need to Know

By Jose Gomez
By Jose Gomez
IoT
7 minutes read

IoT protocols and standards are essential to the overall function of IoT devices. The Internet of Things has been growing rapidly over the past 20 years, and it seems like every industry is putting this technology to use in a variety of different ways. However, everyone is focused on the communication aspects between devices, sensors, gateways, applications, and servers. 

All of the amazing communication features and capabilities that people love about the Internet of Things would be rendered useless without strong IoT protocols. Let’s take a look at the key IoT protocols and standards that are essential to the overall function of the Internet of Things and all of the connected devices. 

IoT Protocols and Standards 

IoT protocols and standards are typically categorized in two main ways: 

  • Data protocols
  • Network protocols 

As you will see, both types of protocols are important, but they deal with different aspects of the Internet of Things. 

Data Protocols 

Data protocols are responsible for the application and presentation layers of IoT technology. These standards and protocols are responsible for connecting low-power IoT devices. They provide communication with hardware on the user-side without the need for an Internet connection. 

IoT data protocols typically achieve connectivity via a wired or cellular network. The most commonly used data protocols are: 

  • Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP)
  • Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT)
  • Data Distribution Service (DDS)
  • Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP) 

Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP)

The Constrained Application protocol is designed for the application layer. It was created to handle the needs of HTTP-based IoT systems. You might be familiar with HTTP. It stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, and it is the basis for data communication on the Internet. 

IoT devices can freely access the Internet, but the issue is that most of the time, the Internet is too heavy and consumes too much power for IoT applications to be effective. Many people believe that HTTP is not a protocol that is well-suited for IoT applications. 

CoAP has addressed the shortcomings of HTTP for IoT applications. CoAP translates HTTP so that usage restrictive devices like IoT devices can effectively use it. CoAP is very light with low overheads, it has the ability to enable multicast support, and it is simple to employ. 

CoAP is the perfect IoT protocol for devices that have resource limitations like WSN nodes and IoT microcontrollers. The IoT applications that most often use the CoAP IoT protocol are building automation and smart energy applications. 

Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT)

This IoT data protocol enables simple data flow between devices. MQTT is extremely lightweight and features a publisher-subscriber messaging model. This IoT protocol is very popular and widely used because of its simple, light architecture. This light and simple architecture allow it to deliver low-power consumption for devices. 

MQTT is an important IoT protocol because there are so many small, low-power IoT devices being used in a variety of different industries. This protocol has been widely used in industrial applications. 

Data Distribution Service (DDS)

DDS is another lightweight communication IoT protocol. DDS is highly scalable, offers high-quality IoT communications, and uses the publisher-subscriber messaging model. This protocol is popular because it can be used in a variety of different settings, from small IoT devices to the cloud. 

DDS is a great choice for IoT applications that rely on embedded and real-time systems. DDS differs from MQTT in that it allows for interoperable data exchange independent of software platform or hardware. As a result, the Data Distribution Service protocol is considered a middleware IoT standard. 

Advanced Messaging Queuing Protocol (AMQP)

This IoT protocol is an open standard protocol designed to be used for transactional messages between two or more servers. AMQP’s main functions are message storage, receiving and placing messages into queues, and creating relationships between these components

AMQP is highly secure and very reliable. However, this makes it extremely heavy and not ideal for small, low-power sensor-type devices. As a result, this protocol is not widely used in the world of IoT. 

This IoT protocol is best suited for tasks that require server-based analytical environments. This is most commonly employed by the financial industry. 

Network Protocols 

Network protocols are used for connecting IoT devices over a network. Typically, these protocols and standards are used over the Internet. It is likely that you are already familiar with some network protocols. The most popular IoT network protocols are:

  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 
  • Z-Wave
  • ZigBee

Wi-Fi

This network protocol is used everywhere. The modern Internet experience for so many revolves around Wi-Fi. Despite the fact that you likely already know what Wi-Fi is, it is still helpful to explain how this IoT network protocol works. 

Wi-Fi provides devices within a specific range with a connection to the Internet. Wi-Fi relies on radio waves to broadcast information over a specific frequency. Typically, this network protocol has an average range of 20-30 meters, but in some cases, this range can be extended up to 100 meters. 

The range and speed of a Wi-Fi connection are affected by the environment. Wi-Fi networks can be created using any device that can send wireless signals. Typically, people use a router, computer, or phone, but other devices can also be used to create a network. 

Bluetooth

This is another very popular network protocol that you have likely used before. Compared to a lot of other IoT network protocols, Bluetooth tends to have a shorter frequency range. Bluetooth also uses radio waves, but it is sent in the form of packets. 

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is the latest Bluetooth network standard. It uses a higher frequency radio band compared to previous Bluetooth technology. This means it can transfer data much faster than before, and it makes a perfect network solution for IoT devices that require flexibility, low-power usage, and scalability. 

Z-Wave 

This IoT protocol has been gaining a lot of attention and popularity lately. Z-Wave is a wireless radio frequency communication technology. It has been used a lot in app development for IoT home apps. 

Z-Wave operates at a different radio frequency than Wi-Fi or ZigBee, so it seldom suffers from interference issues. Z-Wave frequencies are location-dependent. This means that you have to make sure the Z-Wave devices you buy are compatible with your country. 

Even though Z-Wave is a good network protocol, it is more ideally suited for personal, home use, not business use. 

ZigBee

ZigBee is very similar to Bluetooth in functionality, and it has already been widely adopted in the IoT ecosystem. While you might be more familiar with Bluetooth, ZigBee is actually more capable than Bluetooth

When compared to Bluetooth, ZigBee:

  • Uses less power
  • Has higher security standards
  • Has a longer range of communication (up to 200 meters)

ZigBee is most often used in devices with very low data requirements like sensors. It can scale very quickly and easily to thousands of individual nodes. ZigBee is frequently used in large IoT networks. 

Final Thoughts on IoT Protocols and Standards

The Internet of Things is a major technological advancement that only continues to get more capable and ubiquitous as it ages. Determining which standards and protocols are the best suited for your organization may be out of your hands depending on the types of devices and networks you choose to use. 

Figuring out which technology solutions are the right ones for your organization can be a difficult, confusing, and time-consuming task. If you need help, reach out to an app development partner. Not only can they help you design and build IoT apps for your network, but they can also help you determine which technology choices are the best suited for your business. 

When you need to figure out which IoT protocols best meet your needs, lean on the industry experience and technical expertise of a development partner.

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