With so many available, how does an organization choose which IoT mesh network protocol to use? Sift through the noise and learn about four options and their benefits.
IoT mesh network protocols-When it comes to selecting the right mesh network protocols for an IoT application, one size does not fit all.
That’s the reason so many protocols exist, said André Francisco, CTO and co-founder of Hype Labs, developer of a cloud-based SDK for network connectivity in Porto, Portugal.
Zigbee, Thread, Bluetooth mesh, Z-Wave — each is a mesh networking protocol and each has unique characteristics and benefits, depending on the application and use case. But before trying to understand the protocols, it’s important to consider that mesh networking is a different model of the way IoT devices connect.
“The traditional paradigm is that devices connect to a central access point, satellite or cell tower somewhere. This relies on expensive infrastructure,” Francisco said. “In mesh networking, the devices, or nodes, connect directly to each other.”
Therefore, instead of having an IoT node connect directly to a cell tower, which is expensive, it connects to all the other nodes on the same network. Then, when the IoT node sends content, the data hops from node to node until it either reaches the intended destination or it can find an internet exit point, Francisco said.
A mesh network topology, which can be either full or partial, increases network resilience in case of node or connection failure and generally costs less to set up than other networks, particularly over large areas.
IoT mesh network protocol options
Zigbee is a standards-based wireless technology developed to enable low-cost, low-power wireless machine-to-machine and IoT networks. Silicon Laboratories Inc. acquired Ember, the creator of Zigbee, in 2012. Zigbee offers mature application layer support for home automation, lighting and metering, said Matt Maupin, senior product manager of wireless embedded systems at Silicon Labs.
The Thread protocol is a home automation communication method owned by the Google subsidiary Nest. With Thread, IoT devices can communicate via power lines, radio frequencies or a combination of the two. Thread is the only mesh technology based on IPv6, Maupin said, which enables end-to-end routing and addressability on the same network or across networks; companies don’t have to implement any additional translation layers.
Bluetooth mesh, introduced in July 2017, was designed to address the specific requirements of commercial and industrial networks. Bluetooth mesh devices that support Bluetooth Low Energycan provide connectivity to the cloud via a tablet or smartphone.
“This, of course, is a temporary connection, as the devices would not be able to connect to the cloud to send or receive information if the phone or tablet isn’t present, requiring a gateway for an always connected experience,” Maupin said.
Zigbee requires a gateway to connect devices to the cloud, while Thread doesn’t need a full gateway because of its IP-based connectivity.
Z-Wave is a mesh protocol focused on command and control in the smart home, said Johan Pedersen, product marketing manager of Z-Wave IoT at Silicon Labs, which recently acquired Sigma Designs’ Z-Wave business. The protocol has its own consortium, the Z-Wave Alliance, made up of 700 companies that create products and services powered by the Z-Wave technology. All the products these companies release are Z-Wave-certified.