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Internet of Things: WIFI vs. ZigBee vs. RFID


Internet of things technology refers to interconnection of physical objects through a distributed network. The things are capable of collecting a variety of data on conditions in environments, for example, temperature, humidity, pressure, and motions. These objects send these data to each other and across other computer systems. There are many network technologies used for linking objects. Wi-Fi, ZigBee, and RFDI are some of the commonly employed ones. These network technologies differ in their functionality and capacity. Therefore, the difference as well lies in the types of applications they can support. Internet of things is an evolving technology which is projected to transform the economic landscape by increasing efficiency and cost saving in delivery of services. Nevertheless, a number of factors slow down its evolution. These factors are based on standards and interoperability, allocation of radio spectrum, security, and data privacy. These challenges should be addressed to fast-track the development of Internet of things technology. Further, investments should be directed to bolstering innovation and research



Internet of things technology denotes a wide range of physical objects that are imbedded with software, sensors, as well as electronic and network connections that allow these objects (things) to gather and exchange data. It enables remote sensing and control of objects across a network infrastructure. Thus, it creates a situation where the physical world is integrated into computer based systems and ultimate efficiency, precision, and economic advantages. Augmentation of Internet of things with sensors and actuators advances the technology to a cyber-physical system which comprises technologies such as intelligent transportation, smart cities and homes. One essential aspect of this is communication networks. Once the physical objects are linked, they require networks to facilitate communication with other objects and computer systems. Wi-Fi, Zigbee, and RFI are some of key network technologies used to develop Internet of things technology. Each of three network technologies has the strength for particular applications.


Development of Internet of Things Technology

The Internet of things technology has evolved over the years due to a combination of a number of technologies, including wireless communication, the Internet, and embedded systems. The concept of a network of smart devices was born in 1982 when a Coke machine was modified to become a pioneer for the Internet linked appliance, with capability to issue reports on its inventory and temperature of newly laden drinks. In 1994, the principle of IEEE Spectrum emerged. It was described as small data packets to large sets of nodes that would allow integration and automation of virtually everything (Lee and Kim 34). However, the idea of Internet of things gained its popularity in 1999 due to a number of publications of the topic. Kevin Ashton envisioned Radio-frequency identification (RFDI) as a fundamental networking tool for this technology. In the subsequent years, other network options, including Wi-Fi and ZigBee, have been seen as potential enablers of the not fully-fledged technology (Lee and Kim 34).

Internet of Things Enabling Technologies, i.e. WIFI, ZigBee and RFDI

Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi technology enables the connection of electronic devices to a wireless local area network (WLAN) , which is often password protected. However, it can be open to allow devices within the certain proximity to have an access to network resources. A number of electronic instruments including personal computers, tablets, smartphones, and digital cameras can be Wi-Fi enabled. The devices can connect to the Internet through WLAN network and an access point (hotspot). Its coverage could be few meters or as large as many miles. It is enabled by use of multiple overlapping points of access (Sondag and Feher 57-58).

WI-FI technology is seen as the most appropriate network that will transform the Internet of things. However, it suffers a number of drawbacks including high power consumption, distance of connectivity, and limitation of many devices that can be connected to the access point (Malik). Nevertheless, new Wi-Fi standards are being developed to overcome these challenges. To address the risk of power consumption, the Wi-Fi Alliance is developing a new IEEE Wi-Fi standard 802.11ah dubbed HaLow the power consumption of which will be lower compared to the traditional Wi-Fi (Higginbotham).

In addition, the new Wi-Fi standard using 900MHZ band will be capable of allowing connectivity for a lot of things over long distances. For instance, a typical access point of the new version could connect over 8000 objects within a distance of one kilometer, thus, making it ideal for localities with the high concentration of things. Once this standard is ratified, Wi-Fi will have the capacity to be a ubiquitous template for Internet of things technology (Malik).

ZigBee. ZigBee is a wireless technology established as an open global standard associated with low-cost and less power M2M networks. It functions on the IEE802.15.4 radio specification and runs in a number of unlicensed bands including 900 MHZ and 2.4GHZ. The data sheet on which the technology operates was ratified by IEE in 2003. The specification entails a packet-based radio protocol that enables objects to communicate on diverse network topologies (Digi International Inc.). The low power usage of ZigBee curtails transmission distances to a few meters line of sight, subject to power output and environmental features. However, transmission distance for ZigBee enabled devices can be improved by passing data via a network of intermediate objects. Therefore, more distant objects can be reached (Digi International Inc.).

ZigBee has some significant advantages that make it a more suitable network for Internet of things technology than most other networks. Other than low consumption of power, It is associated with robustness, high-security, and increased scalability. In addition, ZigBee is well suited to use sensor networks in the applications and wireless control. This technology is currently being employed in a number of applications including checking of temperatures, controlling of lights, tank monitoring, and building automation systems (ZigBee Alliance).

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). RFID encompasses the technologies that use electro-magnetic waves. It is done to remotely transfer energy and data to devices that execute a scheduled processing of information embedded on these exchanges. RFID technology dates back to the invention of Radar where during the World War II fighter pilots leveraged the technology to maneuver their aircrafts for remote identification by allies radar operators. However, RFDI technology gained its prominence in the 1970s. (Chabanne, Urien and Susini 1).

Today, RFDI systems comprise of a tag. The latter one is made up of a microchip with an implanted antenna and a reader with an antenna (Interrogator). Electro-magnetic waves are sent out by the reader; and then the tag on the antenna is then tuned to receive the electromagnetic waves. The passive RFDI tag derives power from the field created by the reader, which it uses to power the circuits on the microchip. The latter one later modulates electromagnetic waves sent back to the reader by the tag. As a result, the reader transforms these waves into digital data (RFID Journal).

The concept of Internet of things technology has expanded to include virtually anything that has web connectivity, wired and wireless. Therefore, the technology has developed beyond RFID community who pioneered the term a decade ago (Grackin). Nevertheless, RFID-enabled devices still remain essential to the development of Internet of things technology. As its basic functionality, RFDI can provide simple data on the things as they are scanned. Read and write enabled RFDI devices can gather more information as things pass from one place to another. Meanwhile RFDI tools with high storage capacity can collect large quantities of data about an object (Grackin).

Furthermore, integration of sensors or GPS to RFDI technology can make things more intelligent through the collection and provision of additional information about the objects and their conditions, for example, temperature and location (Chabanne, Urien and Susini 4-5).

The requirement of continuous data collection for items that require monitoring makes RFDI technology useful in the applications used in medical devices, automotive and aerospace parts, tracking and updating quality status of products in food and pharmaceutical industries (Chabanne, Urien and Susini 5).

Challenges in Developing Internet of Things

The European Parliament identified a number of challenges hampering the development of Internet of things technology within the briefing held in May 2015.

Standards and Interoperability. Standards are vital in the creation of markets for emerging technologies. Interoperability becomes difficult when devices from different manufacturers use various standards, thus, requiring additional gateways for the translation of one standard to another. In this regard, there is a need to develop uniform templates to support the development of Internet of things in terms of data formats, transmission networks, and security mechanisms.

Radio Spectrum .The high expected growth in the number of wireless devices will need more radio spectrum. However, the kind of use to which the spectrum should be assigned is subject to the predominantly uncertain extent. There distinct technologies such as Wi-Fi will be employed in the Internet of things. In this respect, allocation of spectrum needs to be harmonized across the globe in order to take an advantage of economies of scale in manufacturing of devices.

Security. Internet of things technology gives a rise to several security challenges to both consumers and businesses. Cyber criminals can potentially gain unauthorized access or even intercept wireless communications and seize sensitive data. Attacks may also be launched on servers where large volumes of consolidated data are attractive cybercrime targets.

Privacy and Data Protection. Internet of things consumer devices usually gather personal and private data, for example, the information on users location or health conditions. The data can be conveyed to central servers or shared with other third partys systems and devices without the user being afforded an opportunity to review the data. Business can mitigate the data privacy problem by gathering only information that is needed for instant purposes. In addition, the information can be made anonymous as soon as possible in a transmission and processing chain.


Discussion and Conclusion

Internet of things technology signifies a distributed network linking physical objects that have the capacity to sense, act on their environment, and transmit data to each other as well as computer systems. The information reported by these devices can be collected and subjected to analysis in order to give insights and recommendations of actions that should lead to cost savings and increased efficiency in various sectors. Wi-Fi, ZigBee, and RFID are some of many networks that can be used to connect objects to each other or computer systems. The Internet of things technology is expected to evolve and potentially contribute to the achievement of sustainable and inclusive social and economic growth. However, the technology suffers a number of limitations based on standards and inoperability, allocation of radio spectrum, security and data privacy. These challenges should be addressed in order to expedite its maturation. Later on, in order to enrich the Internet of things technology, there is a need for financing the research and innovation.

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