BitBox News

Does my device need WiFi?

Does my device need WiFi?

Over the last few years there has been an explosion in the Internet of Things (IoT) – defined as the interconnection of physical or smart devices which can communicate with each other, exchange data and, via a wireless access point such as a router, connect to the Internet.

This has been very popular with home automation applications, such as heating, lighting, windows or blinds as well as devices such as baby monitors, TVs, fridges and wearable technology, allowing users to access and control products remotely.

Businesses have also seen advances in IoT development enable remote monitoring and control, for example enabling devices to report a fault to a central location, such as automated lighting in a block of flats. This also provides opportunities to generate management information through reporting.

This has led many companies to believe that their products should be connected and have WiFi capability built in, and this is now an increasingly common request as part of the design process.

But is WiFi connectivity essential or even a good thing? How do you know if your product would benefit from being part of the Internet of Things with WiFi functionality? Here is our list of things to consider when deciding whether to incorporate WiFi capability into your product.

Security – this is the biggest issue at the moment for IoT devices, and very topical, with hackers thought to be using smart home devices to undertake security attacks which saw Twitter and Spotify taken off the internet.

There are no common security standards with a number being developed by different organisations such as the Online Trust Alliance, the IoT Security Foundation, the Open Connectivity Foundation and the Industrial Internet Consortium. In addition technology companies are looking to develop their own standards. So this is a fast moving area, and any standard worked towards now could be replaced or become obsolete quickly, with implications for the life of your product.

In addition many businesses won’t allow 3rd party products to access their network due to security fears so this needs to be thought through carefully before you start developing a product.

Simplicity – How will your product connect to the internet? Delivering a simple connection process without compromising security can be a challenge. Businesses will have access to IT expertise but many consumers will have a low level of technical knowledge and will require a simple solution. You therefore need to consider whether a user interface may be required to make connectivity more straightforward.

Power consumption – incorporating WiFi will affect the power consumption of your device. This is a significant issue if your product will be powered by a battery as its lifetime will be compromised. If your product will be battery powered and requires WiFi it could be worth considering alternative protocols such as LORA.

Unreliability – in the domestic market the quality of WiFi routers is generally considered to be poor, with many needing to be reset frequently. If your product is WiFi enabled and customers are having to reboot their routers they may see this as a weakness of your product rather than a fault which lies with other parts of the infrastructure.

Regulatory compliance – WiFi enabled devices have to meet different criteria for the regulatory standards (FCC in the US, CE in Europe) – achieving compliance will increase costs and take longer. Therefore make sure you select your WiFi solution carefully and, if needed, get advice. For example our pre-testing services can identify issues that could arise when seeking compliance which could be costly and delay your ability to get your product to market.

Don’t believe the hype – do make sure that incorporating WiFi is based on customer needs and delivers a benefit to your customers. Just because your sales team tell you that WiFi is essential and the Internet of Things is the latest buzzword this doesn’t mean you need a WiFi enabled device.

BitBox is a leading electronics company, designing and manufacturing electronic products for a range of industries since 1993. We have extensive experience of design innovation, prototyping, pre-compliance testing and manufacture and would be happy to discuss your product ideas at the outset and advise the most appropriate solution for your needs. Call us on 01256 799080 or email sales@bitbox.co.uk to arrange a consultation.