Internet of things (IoT) is one of the sought-after technologies, changing the way we interact with machines. Thanks to IoT technology, we are giving commands to the physical products while not ever touching them. And most importantly, these physical products follow our commands! But the thing that matters here is how physical objects get human control remotely? Of course, through the communication channel.
Every IoT product has an in-built IoT controller, which establishes the connection with the user’s mobile app through the cloud. Meaning, wireless communication is the fundamental need to accomplish any IoT project. Without creating a relationship between IoT objects and mobile app, there is no other way users can read the reading of IoT devices and control them.
Fortunately, there are a lot of communication technologies available. But unfortunately, only a few of them are available communication technologies when it comes to IoT projects. In this blog, we will compare the two most used communication technologies – Wifi and Bluetooth and find out which one is better for your IoT project. But before we discuss it, let’s first understand the role of communication technology in IoT project.
Significance of communication technology in IoT project
Imagine an office where you have installed a smart bulb. Now, when you open the mobile app on your mobile and click on the ‘on’ button, the lamp illuminates. How? Here is how.
The smart bulb accommodates a small IoT controller in it. Sometimes, the IoT controller is known as the communication controller, as it is equipped with a communication chip. This communication chip can be a Bluetooth-based chip or Wifi-based chip. IoT controllers are divided into these two types, one who is having Bluetooth chip and other, which is having Wifi chip.
With the help of a communication chip, an IoT controller establishes a connection between the light bulb and the mobile app. As soon as a user clicks the ‘ON’ button in the mobile app, a message gets transmitted to the IoT controller of the IoT device through cloud architecture. When the IoT controller receives the message, it understands the signal and turns the bulb on as the IoT controller has full control of all the features of the bulb.
Here, if you have noticed, an IoT controller can only receive the message and implement it, if it has a communication device. This means, without communication technology (Bluetooth or Wifi), an IoT project is just a fool’s paradise!
So, now, when you know the role of communication technology in an IoT project, let’s discuss whether a Bluetooth technology is better for your IoT project or Wifi technology. It is crucial to decide the communication technology before even selecting the hardware, as an IoT controller of the equipment is armed with either Bluetooth or Wifi. Moreover, both technology demands a different configuration and cloud architecture.
Feasibility of Wifi and Bluetooth as a Communication Technology for IoT Devices
Bluetooth and Wifi have been in existence before the IoT. And the reason why Wifi and Bluetooth are still purposeful is that many other communication technologies like Infrared and NFC have failed to give range and efficiency to the IoT devices.
As of now, Bluetooth and Wifi are the ideal communication technologies. However, here it is worth mentioning that older versions of Bluetooth have some limitations related to power consumption. But the latest version of the Bluetooth technology, which is known as the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), is within the realms of the possibilities.
Comparison of the Bluetooth technology and Wifi technology concerning IoT projects.
In the IoT project, IoT engineers generally actualize bi-directions data transfer. Meaning, IoT device can send the data and can get the data at the same time. Because of this characteristic, the size of data gets increased, and you need to have a communication technology that can transfer large files.
BLE is capable of transmitting a minimal amount of the data. It can only send data like sensor readings of temperature, GPC coordinates, etc. Moreover, 1 Mbps is the data transfer speed BLE technology can offer. On top of this, BLE cannot send real-time data to the server. If you wish to achieve it, you will need a unique gateway.
Wifi, on the other hand, can share data at the speed of 1.3 Gbps. It is also qualified to share large files such as images and videos in real-time. Thus, if you have a requirement to share live videos and photos (like a security cam), you have to opt for Wifi, and if you have to share just reading of sensors, it is a safe bet to choose for Bluetooth technology.
Recently, many cases of IoT device hack have been reported. And according to security experts, communication technologies are what make IoT devices vulnerable to attacks.
A Wifi technology puts IoT devices on the constant lookout for a Wifi network. Anyone can easily find the loophole and hack the IoT device. But many new security standards, protocols, and permissions are saving the latest IoT devices from hackers. Surprisingly, retailers are finding the limitation of Wifi technology very useful as Wifi lets them track their customers and send them personalized offers.
Bluetooth technology also has serious security issues, but only in its older versions. With the latest version, they have fixed every security issue. Since Bluetooth is the communication technology for the short-range, remote attack is impossible. BLE also supports encryption, which makes sure the secure data flow between IoT device and mobile app.
Accurate location detection
In the apps like the e-scooter rental app, accurate location detection of the IoT device is a must. Without it, the user experience gets affected badly, which may result in a financial loss.
BLE technology broadcasts information to another device. Once the Bluetooth receiver of the other device receives the data, it activates the location information and sends it back in the form of radio waves. Because of this way of tracking, BLE can only track the location in three models – Immediate, Near, Far. (It cannot track the exact location)
Whereas Wifi is designed to know the exact location. For that, it measures the access points of the device. Moreover, Wifi can detect the location beyond 100 feet. BLE can only track location from a maximum of 30 feet. Thus, it is advisable to implement Wifi communication technology if ‘location tracking’ is there in the feature set.
Power consumption matters in most cases as it is one of the factors to define efficiency. In BLE technology, power consumption is minimum, whereas, in Wifi technology, power consumption is high.
The reason why power consumption is high in Wifi technology is that a Wifi signal can travel 10 times more than Bluetooth signal and dispatch such a powerful signal, more power is needed.
In the more specific term, Wifi technology consumes 500µW power to relay 10 messages, and BLE technology consumes only 50µW power for the same number of messages.
This is probably the most fundamental factor in deciding preferred communication technology.BLE technology isn’t as costly as Wifi. It is self-sufficient and required a single battery for more than two years. Moreover, software implementation part of BLE technology is also pocket-friendly as it is an easy job, and IoT engineers don’t charge too much for it. On the other hand, Wifi technology requires very aggressive configuration, which requires IoT engineers to invest more hours and so, the cost of deployment increases automatically.
It is your call to know whether the Wifi version or Bluetooth version you are using in IoT devices are compatible with the mobile phones of the users or not because only specific mobile devices have Wifi signal or Bluetooth signal receivers which receive signals of the latest versions of Bluetooth and Wifi.
Generally, signals of BLE can be picked by any android device having version 4.3 or later and by Apple iPhone 4S and later. For the latest version of the Wifi technology, Android devices running on version 4.0 and later and Apple iPhone 5S and then is required.
Which one technology you have to choose? The answer lies in your business requirements and project type. If you are developing a small scale IoT project which involves tiny IoT objects (sensors) and you have less capital fund, you should consider BLE technology to establish a connection between IoT device and mobile app. But if you have business requirements to develop a relationship between large IoT devices (Security cams, e-scooters) with a mobile app, go for Wifi technology. Though it will cost you more, it will track locations precisely, share a large file, and give pleasant user experience to users.
Vishal Virani is a Founder and CEO of Coruscate Solutions, a leading Telemedicine App Development company. He enjoys writing about the vital role of mobile apps for different industries, custom web development, and the latest technology trends.