Text written by Jan Nyrén, Product Manager IoT technologies, at IAR Systems
What should you consider when choosing a wireless protocol for an application with WPAN? There is a plethora of standards in this area and each one constantly evolving which can cause confusion. But don’t fret; the decision is not that hard.
First of all, what is a WPAN? WPAN stands for Wireless Personal Area Network and is a personal, short distance area wireless network, which is centered on an individual person's workspace. There is no unison definition when it comes to range so I choose to define it as a wireless network with a range up to 100 m between a transmitter and receiver. To name a few protocols and standards, there is Thread, Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low Energy a.k.a. Bluetooth Smart, a.k.a Bluetooth Version 4.0, Z-wave, 6LoWPAN, Zigbee, WiFi, proprietary protocols, and more. All protocols have their merits. Although confusing at a first glance, the critical criteria for selecting the right protocol are not that many and the selection is in fact quite straight forward.
The decision boils down to a selection among three main technologies, Bluetooth Low Energy, IEEE 802.15.4 or WiFi, simply because these all rely on dedicated hardware. Most of the other protocols are variants based on any of these and can be upgraded to or changed to by updating the software. For instance, if you have a Zigbee protocol (which is based 802.15.4) and necessarily need to upgrade it to IPv6 (required for Thread), then as both run on 802.15.4, adding software components such as 6LoWPAN will do the trick. The point is: The decision does not necessarily get you stuck, as long as you have made the right choice between Bluetooth Low Energy, 802.15.4 and WiFi.
Then how to select between Bluetooth Low Energy, 802.15.4 and WiFi? Consider the following criteria:
Some IoT applications examples:
Then a final word; if you have an idea that you want to realize today, go for it. Don’t wait for the standards to mature and some to become the prevalent, because if you do competition will get there first.