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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. But does this mean that IoT devices need WiFi?

IoT devices have become very popular with home automation applications. This includes heating, lighting, windows or blinds as well as devices such as baby monitors, TVs, fridges and wearable technology. These devices allow users to access and control products remotely.

Does IIoT need WiFi?

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. Within this setting the term is IIoT or Industrial Internet of Things.

This has led many companies to believe that their products should be connected and need WiFi capability built in. This is now an increasingly common request within the design process.

But is WiFi connectivity essential or even a good thing? How do you know if your product can benefit from Internet technologies with WiFi functionality? Here is our list of things to consider when deciding whether you need WiFi capability incorporated into your product.

Primary Challenge

Security – this is the biggest issue at the moment for IIoT 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 third party products to access their network due to security fears. This requires careful consideration before starting product development.

Additional Challenges

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. 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 – domestic market WiFi routers are generally considered poor quality. As a consequence, many need to be frequently reset. This may result in customers viewing the product as defective, even if the fault exists in other parts of the infrastructure.

Regulatory compliance – WiFi enabled devices have to meet different criteria for the regulatory standards. These include FCC in the US and 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-compliance services can identify issues that could arise when seeking compliance. Discovering these late can be costly and delay getting your product to market.

In Summary

Don’t believe the hype!

When designing an IIoT device, make sure that incorporating WiFi is based on customer needs and delivers a customer benefit. Just because your sales team tells you that WiFi is essential, this doesn’t mean you need WiFi enabled devices.

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. We would like to hear your product ideas and explore how our design and manufacture expertise can help your business. Call us on 01256 799080 or email sales@bitbox.co.uk to arrange a consultation.