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Wi-Fi has typically been the most popular connectivity choice for entrepreneurs’ IoT devices. It is commonly available, provides high throughput, and is the most well-known connectivity choice for IoT. But as technology advances and costs decline, more entrepreneurs are considering adding cellular connectivity along with Wi-Fi to their creations.
Cellular connectivity offers some surprising (and not-so-surprising) advantages over Wi-Fi alone. From wider coverage to more consistency, there are several benefits and use cases for IoT cellular connectivity that you might not know about.
Read on to discover more about cellular connectivity—and why it may be the best feature to add to your IoT device.
Consistent Geographic Coverage
Wi-Fi provides excellent coverage, but only within a very small area. When IoT devices are limited to accessing Wi-Fi only, they are tied to one location at a time, since they must be able to connect with a local Wi-Fi router in order to work. These Wi-Fi routers rarely have large reach; generally, a home router can reach up to 150 feet indoors and 300 feet outdoors¹.
If you are building a device that needs to retain access to the internet no matter where the user is located, cellular connectivity is a must-have. As of 2015, 98% of Americans have access to LTE networks². In other words, if your IoT device has cellular connectivity, it’s very likely that customers will be able to use it the majority of the time.
For many IoT products, cellular connectivity is critical to the product’s core function:
- Medical IoT devices, in many cases, must retain continual connectivity in case of emergency. For example, a heart monitor that can predict cardiac disturbance and send its user a warning should always be connected to the internet, no matter whether the user is near a router or not.
- Moving devices, like smart parking assistants and robot couriers, need to have consistent connectivity to function. Because they are constantly changing location, they cannot rely on a Wi-Fi router to work.
- Environmental monitoring devices cannot rely on Wi-Fi to function properly; because they often operate far from the necessary infrastructure, Wi-Fi can not reach them. These devices include snow-plowing robots and earthquake sensors.
As anyone who has had their identity stolen in a public setting knows, public Wi-Fi is almost always unencrypted. Private Wi-Fi in homes is often unencrypted, too. Even if a public or private Wi-Fi system is encrypted, individuals must diligently update systems in order for them to work correctly—and it can be risky to put one’s trust in an unknown person or company.
Cellular data is encrypted by default. Network operators hire and staff dedicated, professional cybersecurity teams specifically dedicated to monitoring and protecting your cellular network at all times, so you can be sure that your system is always operating at optimal levels. It is true that ultimately, no network can be completely secure, but cellular connectivity is the most secure option available.
Every device that connects to the internet needs to be secure, but certain IoT devices take precedent:
- Household appliances, like smart doors, must have tight security. Otherwise, a hacker could simply disarm your system and break into your home. Alarm systems are faced with a similar problem. While in the past, price and system complexity was an issue—especially for household appliance cellular connectivity—new innovations have lowered prices and empowered users with a simpler design.
- Business appliances and applications, like smart point of sale (PoS) registers, often hold customer information such as credit card numbers and business addresses. Because they hold such valuable data, they must be secure in order to prevent identity theft and other problems. Similarly, shipping containers must be secure, lest product theft occur.
If you’ve ever been scrolling through your phone in a coffee shop with a weak Wi-Fi connection, you know just how frustrating Wi-Fi can get. And if the power goes out in the building you’re in, you can forget Wi-Fi completely.
But with cellular connectivity, you rarely need to worry about a weak signal or spotty connection. In the case of a power outage, as long as cell towers are functional, you don’t lose your connection at all.
This reliability that cellular connectivity provides is invaluable. It can even be considered vital to certain IoT devices, like the cardiac disturbance detection device mentioned previously, which needs to reliably function in order to provide important medical-related updates. Similarly, home appliances, like the aforementioned alarm systems, can’t go out during a natural disaster—in fact, this is the time you probably need them the most.
Due to recent innovations, cellular connectivity is less expensive and more accessible than ever before. Considering that cellular connectivity offers better coverage, security, and reliability than Wi-Fi connectivity, it’s certainly worth considering for your next product.
Considering adding cellular connectivity to your tech product? AT&T teamed up with Arrow and Indiegogo to provide exclusive offers and support to IoT developers. Join the Arrow Certification Program at no cost or obligation to become eligible to receive a free SIM card and data plan from AT&T.
¹ Bradley Mitchell, “The Range of a Typical Wi-Fi Network,” Lifewire, April 29, 2019, https://www.lifewire.com/range-of-typical-wifi-network-816564.
² Yoni Heisler, “A huge 4G milestone: LTE is now available for 98% of Americans,” BGR, March 23, 2015, https://bgr.com/2015/03/23/lte-coverage-map-united-states/.