Since mesh network devices can hand-off signals, they have an ability to connect thousands of sensors over a wide area, such as a city, and operate in concert. Mesh networks have the added ability of working around the failure of any individual device. Wireless mesh IoT protocols include the Z-Wave Alliance, the Zigbee Alliance, and Insteon, which also has an alliance of vendors. These protocols aren't directly interoperable, although there are workarounds via hubs (more on this later).
ZigBee is an open protocol, but its critics say that not all of its implementations are necessarily the same. ZigBee runs a certification to ensure standard deployments. Insteon and Z-Wave are proprietary, which may ensure standardization of implementation.
What's the best wireless network for the IoT?
Today, no wireless technology has a dominant market share in IoT applications. Nick Jones, an analyst at research firm Gartner, said more than 10 IoT wireless technologies will "get significant traction" in IoT applications. These wireless technologies include cellular, satellites and new communications such as Weightless, which uses "white space," or unoccupied TV channels. More importantly, no one wireless technology will meet every need and circumstance. A connected car, for instance, will use a cellular network to contact your home network.
Will I need a gateway or hub in the IoT?
A gateway, bridge or hub provides a connection point between your home network and other devices. The hub works with your home router and provides communications to the machines, devices and sensors that are part of your IoT universe. You will want, by default, your Zigbee smart meter to communicate with your Z-Wave or Insteon thermostat. This will also be true for the washing machine that is connected to a smart metering system and starts a wash only when electric rates are at their lowest point. These connections will be established through hubs that support multiple wireless technologies.
SmartThings, for instance, makes a hub that supports both Zigbee and Z-Wave, as well as a platform to build connecting applications. Eventually, these wireless technologies may be included in home routers, set-top boxes from your cable companies, or even devices such as a Google Chromecast.
Won't Bluetooth win in the end?
Bluetooth Low Energy was originally aimed at wearable technology, not the broad IoT market. But in early 2014, CSR, a semiconductor maker, announced a mesh network for Bluetooth, meaning it could now connect to thousands of things.
Bluetooth's ubiquity in mobile devices means that a Bluetooth mesh network as a broad IoT platform will have some advantages. Because Bluetooth is already a feature on smartphones, a smartphone could act as a management hub inside a home. But it's not perfect. A hub will be needed if someone wants to connect with the home network remotely, such as from work.
Do the big consumer product vendors really want an Internet of things?
Skeptics say it's unlikely that all the big vendors will embrace open standards. A more likely outcome for the IoT are technological islands defined by proprietary data interchanges.
Without open standards or open communication protocols, devices on the network won't be able to share data and work in concert. Will Apple develop products that can connect with Samsung products? Will Bosch products communicate with those from Samsung or Sears? Maybe not.
Consumers will be frustrated and will be told that they need to buy into a particular vendor's product partner network to get a full IoT experience.