Making Sense Of Connected Devices

There are a number of ways to connect hardware to the internet. Each of them has its pros and cons. Understanding the differences between them is useful for makers, manufacturers, and it will soon be useful to you, too. I’ll list them briefly below.

First, there is cellular. You know what this is. This technology is remote, tends to always be on, and requires a high revenue stream to justify the cost of service. The technology requires pinging the nearest cell towers, which send data packets to satellites for global positioning system (GPS) and geolocation, which are obviously fairly expensive functions.

Second, you have mesh networks. The best way to understand a mesh network is that each device on the network has a couple of radios, which tether to the other radios on the network to create a closed connected system. Wireless mesh technology costs have plummeted in the last 10 years, thanks to military technology advancements, so the applications of this technology should increase soon. The problem, however, is that each device on the network needs to be enabled, so it requires fixed, closed systems in order to work well.

Third, you have WiFi. WiFi requires a network access point, like a router, to connect it to an internet network. You can use WiFi to create an ad hoc network between two devices, but if you want to use WiFi to connect to a server, or to the cloud, you need a router connected to ethernet for this to be most useful, so mobility is limited.

Finally, you have Bluetooth. This is similar to a WiFi adhoc connection, allowing you to connect two devices that are a relatively short distance from each other (measured in feet). Lately, Bluetooth low energy, a protocol that uses the same technology but in a low-power mode to protect battery life, has become a popular application of this technology, connecting phones to other devices. This only connects one device to another at a time, and also needs additional hardware to connect to the cloud.

The question you may be wondering: Why has BLE (Bluetooth low energy) gotten so much attention lately, when there are other ways of connecting?

If you look at what BLE offers, it is the most simple for mobile app-based solutions, because it can run in the background, sending data between a phone and another device near it, without much of a power drain. So for home locks, fitness tracking wristbands, or car sound systems, bluetooth is the most effective way to connect the data on a mobile app to an outside device.

But if you want to connect a number of devices at once, want to push data to the cloud, or stay permanently connected to the cloud, you may need one of the other use cases. We have had the opportunity to back a number of companies that are experimenting with ways of connecting all sorts of hardware to the Internet, starting with the Karma WiFi device, which creates a local hotspot for devices within WiFi range by creating a cellular connection. It’s a very elegant and smart way to create a hotspot on-the-go.

There are obvious implications for the connected home in security, telephony, networking, and so forth, and we are excited about how these tools can bring the offline world online, or the online world offline, so as to impact communities around the world.

Stay tuned for more on this subject!