One of the key barriers to IoT deployments is technical complexity and cost. In a recent IoT Signals Report from Microsoft, 30% of respondents cited “technical complexity” as a challenge to using IoT more. Connecting IoT sensors to the cloud network remains one of those key challenges. It requires one or more gateway devices, typically powered and networked over Ethernet, to be installed throughout a space in similar fashion to blanketing an area with WiFi. These gateways serve an important purpose in connecting non-IP devices like sensors, tags, and displays, and sending data securely and reliably to cloud applications often in Azure or AWS. The devices are typically low-power wireless such as Bluetooth, Zigbee, or LoRA, and the gateways often replace a process of using mobile phones or other handhelds to manually retrieve the sensor data.
There are some cases when a dedicated gateway is the best option for deploying an IoT solution:
Fortunately, there is another option which drastically tilts the economics in favor of Enterprise IoT. Most WiFi access points, and particularly newer WiFi6 access points, already have Bluetooth built into them. This means that many enterprises today are already capable of connecting sensors with just a software update to those devices. Many of them run docker containers capable of running the Bluetooth management software needed to link the sensor data to the cloud.
We’ve estimated deployment cost savings up to 70% when the existing network infrastructure
can be used as opposed to installing a new network, and an upfront cost reduction of 30% by removing the need for dedicated Bluetooth gateways throughout a space.
Of course every network is different, and there may be barriers to taking advantage of the existing access point network. For example, if the WiFi access points don’t yet support Bluetooth, docker containers, or are not located in a particular space where sensors will be located such as basements or storage areas. Fortunately, the traditional Bluetooth gateway can be deployed as a backup in those scenarios, and sensors can communicate and roam between the gateway and the WiFi network seamlessly.
When consulting for our customers, we walk through a decision tree that starts with understanding the current network available, the use cases and sensors being considered, and the long-term strategy for deploying new IoT use cases. From there we look at all available options to optimize the cost, time and reliability to decide on a path. These include:
· Using the existing WiFi network, as described above
· A dedicated network of Bluetooth gateways
There are also special cases we’ll discuss in future posts that lend themselves to other approaches:
· A BLE or Wirepas mesh network, which for large scale beacon deployments brings other benefits.
· A mobile router that provides 5G WAN and Bluetooth IoT connectivity in one box.
All of these options have cost and flexibility tradeoffs worth considering before moving to far into the pilot stage of any project.