IoT Protocols: Making IoT Data Communication Seamless

The protocols of the Internet of Things (IoT) technology stack are essential as, without them, the hardware would be rendered useless, and data communication would be a challenge. In this article, we will study the definition and vision of IoT protocols along with their categories and benefits. Let us begin:

Published 8 Aug 2022Updated 8 Jul 2023

Table of Content

  • IoT protocols by definition and vision
    • IoT protocols connection models
      • 1. Device-to-device
        • 2. Device-to-gateway
          • 3. Device-to-data
            • 4. Gateway-to-data
              • 5. Communication between data
              • Types of IoT protocols
                • I. IoT Data Protocols
                  • 1. Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP)
                    • 2. Data Distribution Service (DDS)
                      • 3. Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP)
                        • 4. WebSocket
                          • 5. Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture (OPC UA)
                          • II. IoT Network Protocols
                            • 1. Bluetooth and BLE
                              • 2. Cellular - 4G and 5G
                                • 3. Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi HaLow 
                                  • 4. Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs)
                                    • 5. ZigBee
                                      • 6. Z-Wave
                                        • 7. Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP)
                                      • Benefits of IoT wireless protocols
                                        • IoT Protocol Layers
                                          • 1. Network layer
                                            • 2. Application layer
                                              • 3. Perception layer
                                                • 4. Security layer
                                                  • 5. Edge layer
                                                  • IoT protocols hold much importance in this day and age.

                                                    Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know that IoT is a convergence of embedded systems, control solutions, wireless sensor networks, and automation. From next-gen healthcare and smart retail to wearable devices and intelligent product enhancements - IoT has spread its wings across industries, and for a good reason.

                                                    From a business point of view, IoT technologies transform organizations with data-driven insights, enhanced operational processes, and more efficient use of resources and workforce. No wonder the IoT industry's size continues to grow exponentially and has acquired 12.2 billion active endpoints in 2021 alone. 

                                                    Powered by AI, 5G, and Edge Computing technologies, the IoT landscape is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 18%, reaching 14.4 billion active connections by 2025. According to Deloitte, IoT is expected to have the most profound impact on organizations compared to other Industry 4.0 technologies such as Big Data, 3D printing, Blockchain, Advanced Robotics, and so on.

                                                    However, the fast-paced transition toward IoT has given rise to security concerns and a global impact on critical operations. As a result, there is a demand for concrete, uniform, and refined IoT protocols to cope with the futuristic communication challenges.

                                                    This article is written to help you understand the standard IoT protocols and power and connectivity requirements. But first, let us sort out the basics:

                                                    IoT protocols by definition and vision

                                                    IoT protocols aim to connect devices to IoT devices over a seamless and secure connection. The IoT protocols operate on four pillars - device, connectivity, data, and analytics. Their defense-in-depth security strategy shields the data transmission layer by layer.

                                                    While the business layer includes the management of billing and data marketplaces, the people who interact with IoT devices and technologies fall under the technology users layer.

                                                    The device layer comprises a combination of sensors, hardware, actuators, software, and gateways, constituting a device that connects and interacts with a network. The data layer involves the data collected, processed, stored, and analyzed in business contexts.

                                                    IoT protocols connection models

                                                    There is no set pattern for data routing, and the communication is highly dependent on the network topology. However, the fundamental models are used either as standalone or in combinations for IoT deployments, including:

                                                    IoT protocols connection models

                                                    IoT protocols connection models

                                                    1. Device-to-device

                                                    It enables communication between nearby devices (proximity) using IoT Protocols like Bluetooth, ZigBee, Z-Wave, 4G, 5G, and WiFi.

                                                    2. Device-to-gateway

                                                    In this model, the devices communicate with the data system using a mediator platform, such as LPWAN, WiFi, and/or Ethernet IoT protocols.

                                                    The core functions of device-to-gateway are combining data from sensors, analyzing it, and routing it to the destination data system (data center or cloud). Also, in case of any problem, the connection model sends back the data to the source device.

                                                    3. Device-to-data

                                                    It works on edge computing, allowing devices to connect directly with the data source. A few popular device-to-data connection models include BLE, LoRaWAN, and Z-Wave.

                                                    4. Gateway-to-data

                                                    It is the simple communication between the mediator platform or central hubs and the data center or cloud. Open Automation Software (OAS) and Universal Data Connector are the best examples of robust IoT Gateways.

                                                    5. Communication between data

                                                    This protocol connection model allows data transmission between the data center and the cloud. It includes IoT Data protocols like MQTT, HTTP, REST, etc.

                                                    Types of IoT protocols

                                                    IoT protocols and standards are broadly classified into two separate categories, including IoT data protocols that have presentation or application layers and network protocols for IoT comprising datalink and physical layers:

                                                    Types of Protocols

                                                    Types of Protocols

                                                    I. IoT Data Protocols

                                                    These protocols establish the end-to-end communication between low-power IoT devices and the hardware at the source, client, and/or user side, using only wired or cellular networks. The IoT data protocols function without an internet connection:

                                                    1. Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP)

                                                    AMQP is widely used in banking and finance as a message-oriented open standard software protocol. It comprises three crucial message components - Exchange, Queue, and Routing.

                                                    It is based on the Transmission Control Protocol and works on the architecture of "publish/subscribe" and "request/response" types. In addition, the guaranteed delivery or transaction message makes AMQP interoperable, secure, and reliable.

                                                    2. Data Distribution Service (DDS)

                                                    DDS is a UDP based "publish/subscribe" API that facilitates secure real-time M2M data sharing between the connected IoT devices. Furthermore, it works on broker-less scalable architecture (DCPS and DLRL), i.e., it operates independently of any hardware or software platform.

                                                    Its multi-purpose function simplifies IoT deployment for both small devices and high-performance networks.

                                                    3. Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP)

                                                    XMPP is a decentralized, open-source, and secure protocol developed using XML language to enable real-time data exchange. It operates as a presence indicator by reflecting the status of available servers and devices. XMPP-IoT is a lightweight version of XMPP and is the best for consumer-oriented IoT deployments as it is extensible, scalable, and flexible.

                                                    4. WebSocket

                                                    Introduced by HTML5, WebSocket is an event-triggered independent TCP-based IoT protocol or API. It establishes full-duplex real-time communication between the client and server.

                                                    Using advanced technology streamlines complexities involved in the bi-directional transmission over the internet. And, it is suitable to maintain constant connectivity across heterogeneous IoT devices. Notably, WebSocket is much faster than HTTP.

                                                    5. Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture (OPC UA)

                                                    OPC UA is a next-generation data model technology ideal for Industry 4.0 and IoT. It operates on a platform-independent, encrypted, and extensible multi-layered architecture. In addition, its service-oriented framework supports both "publish/subscribe" and "request/response" models.

                                                    As per the latest press release published by OPC Foundation, leading IoT vendors such as SIEMENS, SAP, Microsoft, IBM, AWS, and Google Cloud are already leveraging OPC UA for edge-to-cloud applications.

                                                    II. IoT Network Protocols

                                                    These protocols constitute specific standards, policies, and unified rules to establish secured communication between IoT devices over the internet.

                                                    With emerging advancements in the IoT ecosystem, these protocols utilize multiple technologies that work on network topologies. The most widely used are star and mesh topologies. Following are the extensively used IoT network protocols:

                                                    1. Bluetooth and BLE

                                                    Bluetooth is the top choice for shorter-range wireless communication, preferably for personal 2.4 GHz networks. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is its optimized version and the standard protocol for IoT architecture.

                                                    The latest version of Bluetooth is 5.3. It was released on 13th July 2021 and is still in beta. Bluetooth best suits beacons, fitness, automotive, retail, and audio IoT applications.

                                                    2. Cellular - 4G and 5G

                                                    Cellular is a wireless mobile communication network technology that facilitates large bandwidth and reliable broadband services. Currently, 3G is almost on the verge of extinction. On the other hand, 4G is leading but not suited for IoT applications due to higher cost and power consumption. However, the new-age 5G is ideal for IoT applications across industries and personal usage.

                                                    3. Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi HaLow 

                                                    WiFi is the most popular and conventional wireless network protocol for home and commercial usage. But, it is not very flexible and scalable for IoT purposes. WiFi HaLow (IEEE 802.11 ah) is a unique solution to overcome its challenges. This high-level communication protocol provides a long-range between 750 and 950 MHz with low-power connectivity.

                                                    4. Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs)

                                                    LPWANs are a new set of wireless network protocols devised to set up communication between low-power IoT applications over long ranges. They are a cost-saving option because they operate on small and affordable batteries that are long-lasting and power-efficient.

                                                    MIOTY, LoRaWAN, 6LoWPAN, Thread, NB-IoT, LTE-M, SigFox, and HayStack are purpose-built LPWANs for large-scale IoT deployments.

                                                    5. ZigBee

                                                    ZigBee is a mesh wireless communication protocol that operates on a 2.4 GHz network. It is short-range, highly interoperable, low-power consuming, and facilitates massive data transfer in a single instance with high security. ZigBee is most appropriate for small, and medium ranged IoT devices such as microcontrollers, sensors, gateways, and so on.

                                                    Notably, due to its mesh grid structural design, the connectivity can be extended over a long distance using multi-hop routing. ZigBee is best suited for commercial building and innovative home automation applications. Actually, it is the safest wireless protocol for transferring real-time patient data from a sensor.

                                                    MQTT vs. AMQP: IoT Protocols You Must Know About

                                                    Learn More

                                                    6. Z-Wave

                                                    Similar to ZigBee, the Z-Wave protocol also works on mesh network topology. However, it is most prominent for IoT home automation applications. Z-Wave is a Radio Frequency (RF) based, less power-consuming wireless communication technology that operates on 800-900 MHz and is purely location-dependent. As a result, it hardly faces any connectivity hindrance. It facilitates safe and steady data transmission with low latency.

                                                    7. Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP)

                                                    This technology dates back to the early 2000s and was designed for real-time human-to-human communication. XMPP is now used for M2M communication and for routing XML data.

                                                    XMPP supports the real-time exchange of structured but extensible data across multiple network entities, making it suitable for consumer-oriented IoT deployments, such as smart appliances and wearables.

                                                    Other than the above-stated options, the network protocols such as Lightweight M2M (LWM2M), Radio-frequency Identification (RFID), Near Field Communication (NFC), Ethernet, and Wi-Sun have contributed significantly towards setting up the sustainable connection in the IoT space.

                                                    Therefore, be it for home or commercial usage, the selection of an ideal IoT network protocol must consider the parameters of bandwidth, range, power consumption, latency, intermittent connectivity, Quality of Service (QoS), and security.

                                                    Benefits of IoT wireless protocols

                                                    IoT protocols form a crucial component of the IoT infrastructure. They serve higher data throughput with lesser complexities. Wireless IoT protocols have become the first choice solution for personal and industrial usage. The rising demand for wireless IoT protocols is because of the core benefits:

                                                    • Affordability
                                                    • Less time and energy consumption
                                                    • Robust security and data privacy
                                                    • Good network coverage and connectivity
                                                    • Automated and streamlined communications
                                                    • Faster data transfer and smoother operations
                                                    • Easy setup and deployment in the IoT infrastructure
                                                    • Simple to use while resulting in enhanced productivity

                                                    Market reports estimate the IoT market would potentially grow to 14.4 billion global connections this year, wherein WNAN, WLAN, and WPAN alone would hold 11-24% CAGR for the 2021-25 session.

                                                    IoT Protocol Layers

                                                    IoT works on various networking technologies based on the IT infrastructure requirements, and therefore, it needs architecture to establish a coherent IoT ecosystem.

                                                    IoT Protocol Layers

                                                    IoT Protocol Layers

                                                    Considering the complexities involved in the configuration, operations, functionalities, and communications, the five layers of IoT architecture are best suited for all purposes. Here is a look at how each layer helps in simplifying the structural design:

                                                    1. Network layer

                                                    Its core function is to connect the IoT devices with the network systems and servers. The network layer also helps to route and control the data transmission with the help of set communication protocols and unified formats.

                                                    Utilizing the TCP/IP stack and cellular and wireless technologies depending on the specification, the network layer helps set up secure transmission across all interconnected devices. A few examples are IPv4/IPv6, ICMP, IGMP, ARP, 3G/4G/5G, UDP, 6LoWPAN, and WiFi. 

                                                    2. Application layer

                                                    It acts as an interface between the IoT devices and the end users or any other device that requests the information over the secured network. After successful data processing, formatting, and presentation, it produces the final information. A few examples of the application layer are HTTP, FTP, POP, IMAP, TLS, SMTP, DNS, TFTP, SNMP, and TELNET.

                                                    The IoT application protocol depends on four crucial parameters - latency, reliability, bandwidth, and transportation. Considering the same, along with the correspondence of the specifications and features, the following are the top five IoT application protocols:

                                                    • Representational State Transfer (REST)
                                                    • Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP)
                                                    • Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP)
                                                    • Message Queue Telemetry Transport (MQTT)
                                                    • Extensible Message and Presence Protocol (XMPP)

                                                    3. Perception layer

                                                    It constitutes sensors, actuators, and AI-powered devices to gather valuable details about the surrounding physical objects or the environment. The accumulated data is converted from analog signals to digital format for further operations.

                                                    Its functioning includes identification, information collection, and automated control technologies to channel the digital and real worlds. A few examples of the perception layer include surveillance cameras, bar codes, portable PCs, RFID, WSN, and GPS.

                                                    4. Security layer

                                                    It minimizes the risk of potential cyberattacks on the most vulnerable areas of the IoT ecosystem. The security checkpoints occur at three significant places - the device (including hardware and software), cloud, and connection.

                                                    With the rapid digital evolution during the outbreak, the security challenges and underlying threats to the IoT architecture also grew exponentially. Therefore, the layered security approach has become of utmost importance in the ongoing scenario.

                                                    A few examples of the security layer include Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chips, multiple authorizations, firewalls, NAC, AAA, NAP, IPS encryption, and cryptography mechanisms.

                                                    5. Edge layer

                                                    It works on the edge computing framework to improve latency, bandwidth, and real-time communication challenges. The edge layer's primary goal is to fetch and process the requested information closer to the data sources.

                                                    With the ever-increasing number of smart devices over a centralized cloud system, the 'delay in response' is a significant concern. However, combined with 5G and AI capabilities, edge IoT layers perform exceptionally well for time-sensitive data and deliver faster results.

                                                    A few examples of the edge layer include electronic vehicles, smartphones, smartwatches, laptops, security cameras, V2X, public transit applications, smart cities, and green technologies. The five layers of IoT architecture facilitate the smooth functioning of the IoT ecosystem

                                                    Besides, they can accommodate expansions and handle intricacies following the latest technological advancements. The goal is to establish seamless IoT interoperability, taking care of the 3Cs - change, compatibility, and cybersecurity.

                                                    IoT protocols hold much importance in this day and age.

                                                    The IoT technology ecosystem supports dozens of IoT wireless protocols, compelling many experts to call for a global protocol standardization. However, given the fragmented nature of the ecosystem, the IoT market will probably never need an all-embracing standard.

                                                    Again - it should be noted that safe and effective device management is the keystone to the sustainable development and management of IoT networks worldwide.

                                                    The communication, data sharing, and usage of information by intelligent devices happen in a full-stack IoT ecosystem. A unified global protocol standardization thus becomes crucial to eliminate IoT fragmentation and potential security threats.

                                                    IoT protocols are the medium of communication or a shared language that helps establish connections between different smart devices and helps them interact with each other. They are essential for holistic device management.

                                                    IoT protocols consider the needs, communication, and security of the various devices integrated. Depending upon the IoT architecture, present scenario, and usage context, different IoT protocols are designed to minimize the risk of intrusion.

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