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Connecting Devices to the Internet of Things

The growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) is impossible to ignore.  Some of the biggest names in the industry – Microsoft, Google, Intel – are investing huge sums into product development to ensure that they are riding the wave of the IoT.

With all these big names in the fray, it would be easy for smaller companies to be intimidated.  The reality is that the potential marketplace is so rich, and the demand for connected devices so high, that it is easy for smaller manufacturers to be part of the IoT story.

The main hurdle that designers must negotiate is the newness of the market itself.  We are still in the early days of the IoT, and we can compare it to the Wild West.  There are legions of pioneers who are creating their own paths of discovery, but it means there is no single, universally accepted protocol for creating a connected device.  However, by finding the answers to a few key questions, designers can become part of the IoT revolution.

Range

The first question to answer is the range over which the device is to connect.  Some equipment is designed to communicate over short distances, making Bluetooth a suitable solution.  Other devices will form part of a Wi-Fi network, or might even be installed remotely which will require a cellular connection using the latest 5G technology.

Modular design techniques are making it easy for manufacturers to adopt the right connection technology for their design.  As a result, smaller companies will find it easier to offer competitive IoT-enabled devices.

Topology

It is important to determine how a connected device will form part of a network, the shape of which is described as the network’s topology.  The simplest topology is a Peer-to-Peer connection, in which a single device connects directly to another.  An example is the infotainment system of a car that connects to the driver’s cellphone.  The car does not have its own internet connection but instead relies upon the functions of the phone to provide access to the wider world.Fig 1:  An example of Peer-to-Peer Topology

Another common arrangement is the Star topology.  In this model, a number of remote devices (known as nodes or clients) connect to a single point (known as the central network station).  The perfect example would be the cellular infrastructure of modern mobile phones.  In the cellphone network, each phone (node) connects to a cell tower (the central network device), not to other phones.  The advantage of the star topology is that the network will continue to work, even if any of the nodes fail.Fig 2:  An example of Star Topology

At first glance, the Mesh topology appears to be more complex, but in fact it is simply a number of peer-to-peer connections arranged into a network.  Any single device can communicate with any other within the same network, allowing the entire network to share information.  This arrangement would be ideal for Industry 4.0 applications – the Industrial Internet of Things – where machines are networked together to create a versatile and flexible manufacturing facility.Fig 3:  An example of Mesh Topology

Power

Connected devices are often installed in remote or hard-to-reach locations, so important decisions must be made about how a device will receive power.  Choosing battery power for equipment might seem perfect for a remote site, but the maintenance burden must be considered.  If the device drains a lot of power, the battery will need to be changed frequently.

The alternative choice is to connect the device to the power grid, but it is important to understand power consumption.  With energy prices rising all the time, a power-hungry device might become uncompetitive when the through-life costs are calculated.

Want to know more?

Molex has a wide range of products from board-to-board solutions and wireless antennae to power connections and network cabling.  Molex is your ideal partner when designing for the IoT.

Brad Eissler from Molex will be joining us for a webinar on the 24th of January to talk about how Molex can help you embrace the Internet of Things and create the next generation of connected devices.

Register for this webinar 

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18 Dec 2019, 16:24