Most everyone agrees that wireless technology is a key pillar of the Internet of Things. Exactly which wireless technology is a different story. Opinions may vary from enterprises, to service providers or vendors, but one size does not fit all. The best wireless technology is the one that addresses the requirements for your industrial IoT use case. How could an OT manager make sure he or she will select the most appropriate technology for his/her use case(s)? To help with the decision process, here’s a step-by-step guide defining selection criteria for wireless technology.

Step 1: Define your use case

It can be easy to get lost in the alphabet soup of wireless technologies: LPWAN (LoRaWAN, NB-IoT, LTE CatM), Wi-SUN Mesh, Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 6, 4G/LTE, and 5G to name a few. But as with any technology decision, organizations should start the selection process by considering the use case they want to apply it to. What industry do you operate in, and what exactly are you trying to achieve with your industrial IoT deployment? Are you a manufacturing company automating its industrial operations? Maybe a utility company connecting substations? Or an oil and gas company digitizing plant and field operations? Each of these use cases (and many more I haven’t mentioned) have different requirements and therefore different wireless technology options.

As part of this step, determine and document whether your deployment will be:

  • an indoor or outdoor deployment
  • using wireless technology as backhaul or for access
  • leveraging public or private wireless services
  • connecting fixed or mobile devices
  • attaching devices powered with electricity or with batteries

Step 2: Identify your application requirements

With your use case well understood, you can focus on the application itself. What are the application’s end-to-end requirements for throughput, resilience, latency and scale? How will you ensure that Key Performance Indicators (KPI) or Service Level Agreements (SLA) will get guaranteed and validated? Document each of these.

Step 3a: Determine environment/deployment constraints

The next consideration is the site’s location and numbers. Where will you deploy your industrial IoT solution, and how will the geographic location and environment impact your deployment? What are the spectrum regulations for those sites? You may also have environmental constraints to consider, such as temperature, humidity, vibration, and shock. Or you may have to plan for geographical spread. These factors should also be included in your wireless technology selection criteria.

Step 3b: Identify data and security requirements

The geographic location of your deployment may also require you to comply with laws and regulations pertaining to data privacy and security. Leveraging public wireless or managed services call for security and management policies to be aligned between the enterprise and service provider. Note any data and security requirements for your deployment.

Step 4: Technology options

At last, you have a list of selection criteria that you can use to identify the best wireless technology for your industrial IoT deployment. You may find that it’s fairly easy to identify the one technology that fits your use case. However, if you find that there are a couple viable options for a single use case, then use the following criteria to further narrow down your choices:

  • Availability – Do you have access to the technology in your geographic area? Is there spectrum available? Are the products mature enough for production deployment?
  • Complexity and supportability – Who will manage the network? Do you have the internal resources and automation tools to support it? How will you train the working force?
  • Extensibility and repeatability – Will the technology scale to meet the needs of your current and (possibly) future use cases? Does it have the transmission power, signal penetration, and bandwidth capacity to cover additional use cases? How does it integrate in the existing production, avoiding disruption or additional operational end-to-end constraints? How does it play with cybersecurity and edge computing?
  • Cost – What is the total cost of ownership for the ecosystem? Be sure to take into account your devices and network infrastructure, subscription costs, operations costs, and backward compatibility. How does it align with your enterprise’s strategy regarding CapEx and OpEx?

Once you’ve identified the wireless technology for your deployment, it’s time to begin the vendor or service provider selection process that will support you through your deployment. A word of warning: avoid the temptation to look for a path that specifically supports one technology at the cost of all the others. Remember that Layer-1 and -2 technologies quickly evolve over time, which is why end-to-end communications are based on the Internet Protocol (IP). Being technology neutral will better position you through your current deployments as well as any future production deployments, which may or may not use the same wireless technology. No single wireless technology is a best fit for all use cases – even within the same industry or organization.

Stay tuned as we continue to discuss wireless technologies on this blog channel. And in case you missed it, check out the new capabilities of our connectivity management platform Cisco IoT Control Center and the new innovations it offers around 5G.


Patrick Grossetete

Distinguished Engineer, Technical Marketing

Industrial IOT Networking