Determining the ideal product solutions for developing a successful IoT product can be less than a straightforward affair. Even with consumer IoT products, strategic tradeoffs must be made between size, weight, power, and cost considerations. (The so-called SWAP-c equation.) And for IoT products intended for industrial or medical markets, this equation becomes exponentially tougher to solve.
At Pivot International, we bring nearly fifty years of experience in helping companies develop and deliver successful products. Our expertise spans fourteen industries, and our extensive product portfolio includes multiple internationally award-winning IoT innovations. With 320,000 square feet of offshore and domestic production capacity worldwide, we help our clients navigate supply chain challenges with alternative sourcing solutions, innovative engineering hacks, and other strategies for defying disruption.
When collaborating with our clients to develop a new IoT product, we invest significant energy into first building a robust use case and documenting product requirements. This provides the foundation for determining which combination of wireless and cellular technologies will represent the ideal solution for your product. (For complex products, multiple solutions will be needed, which is why it’s essential to partner with a firm with technical diversity, and the experience to match.)
Bluetooth is a wireless technology that can communicate with other devices over short distances without requiring a Wi-Fi or cellular connection. Connectivity can extend about 30 feet with an available maximum data transfer speed of up to 24 Mbps.
When tackling our client’s SWAP-c equation, power usage is an overarching concern. (The more powerful the device, the faster the battery is drained.) Bluetooth has a very low power requirement — much less than that required for a Wi-Fi or ethernet connection. The Zibrio Smart Scale — a CES Innovation Award winner that Pivot co-developed — was created using a combination of Bluetooth and other wireless technologies.
Wi-Fi is actually an entire family of wireless networking technologies. The term Wi‑Fi is a trademark of the non-profit Wi-Fi Alliance, and only products that successfully pass through its interoperability testing protocols can be officially certified as Wi-Fi proper. As its name suggests, Wi-Fi enables wireless, high-fidelity connection to the Internet without physical cables or connections. Wi-Fi functionality depends on an ethernet connection to either an internet service provider, a modem, or a mobile phone with a data package.
Compared to Bluetooth, Wi-Fi delivers a range of connectivity less limited by network frequency, transmission power, antenna type, location, and environment. For example, a typical wireless router can maintain a stable connection range of about 60 feet — twice that of Bluetooth. And while Wi-Fi is now in many ways a legacy technology, its latest incarnation, Wi-Fi 6, holds game-change possibilities for new product development.
Even though LoRa is relatively new, our teams at Pivot have successfully used it for many of the products we’ve developed. LoRa gets its name from the fact that its strength lies in long-range, low-power capabilities. Its proprietary geolocation capabilities make it central to IoT networks worldwide. LoRa devices and the open LoRaWAN® protocol support IoT applications for smart cities, municipal and commercial structures, industrial metering, agriculture, supply chains, and more — all of which Pivot has extensive experience developing.
Before delving into specific cellular technologies, it’s helpful to differentiate them from wireless ones. The main difference is that Wi-Fi (including LoRa) is much more limited by distance than cellular. Provided a device is in range of a cellular/mobile network — a collection of towers that transmit cellular signals — cellularly connected devices can operate from just about anywhere.
However, as almost everyone knows who has ever driven through a remote area of the country, cellular networks do have their limits, as becomes apparent when the connection becomes spotty or entirely inaccessible. Most mobile devices can stably connect with cellular networks up to 45 miles away, but this can vary depending on the size of the network, signal strength, terrain type, and device power-capacity. As for the rate of cellular connectivity, it depends on the speed of the network connection.
NB-IoT vs. Cat-M1
Now that we’ve distinguished Cellular from Wi-Fi let’s take a look at NB-IoT and Cat-M1, two of the cellular technologies that Pivot has deployed in many of its most successful products, including the Peek Retina, winner of a European Product Design Award for Best Design for Humanity.
Although they have distinct strengths, NB-IoT and Cat-M1 are complementary 3GPP standardized technologies. The NB in NB-IoT stands for narrow-band, making it an ideal solution for extremely simple consumer products that have no need for broad bandwidth. In contrast to NB-IoT, Cat-M1’s broad 1.4 MHz bandwidth makes it an ideal solution for products of greater complexity and cost investment.
Knowing which wireless and cellular technologies are ideal for solving your SWAP-c challenge is critical to developing an outstanding innovation. If you’re looking for a proven partner, Pivot’s highly collaborative approach, in-house DFM expertise, and diverse technology suite will make your product vision a profitable reality.
Contact us today to learn more about how we can support your growth goals and market success!