14 Most Popular IoT Protocols and Standards for Your Business

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Internet-of-things (IoT) protocols are sets of rules and IoT standards that allow devices and systems to communicate and exchange data in the IoT environment. These protocols define how devices connect, transmit, and interpret data, ensuring interoperability and seamless communication between different IoT devices and platforms.

Overall, IoT protocols are important for enabling seamless communication, ensuring security, scalability, energy efficiency, and effective data management in IoT ecosystems.

These protocols benefit various stakeholders, including device manufacturers, service providers, and application developers, by enabling them to develop innovative and interconnected IoT solutions.

Bill Ray, distinguished vice president analyst at research firm Gartner Inc., told Techopedia:

“In order for different IoT components to speak to each other, they have to sort of speak the same language. That means that they have to agree to a protocol that they’re going to use to communicate.”

When constructing an IoT ecosystem or incorporating new devices into an existing one, it’s crucial to choose a communication platform that best suits your deployment needs, said Kevin Jones, vice president of product incubation at KORE Wireless, a provider of IoT solutions. He added:

“IoT protocols and standards play a vital role in facilitating seamless communication among all networked devices while also upholding the security measures of your IoT system. Further, by leveraging standards-based protocols backed by active and well-respected standards bodies, the communications infrastructure and security investments are simplified while extensibility is maximized.”

In this article, we explore the most popular IoT protocols and standards to help you choose those that fit best for your particular IoT project.

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Key Takeaways

  • IoT protocols are sets of rules and IoT standards that allow devices and systems to communicate and exchange data in the IoT environment.
  • IoT protocols benefit device manufacturers, service providers, and application developers by enabling them to create innovative and interconnected IoT solutions.
  • Organizations must select IoT communication platforms that best suit their deployment needs.
  • IoT protocols and standards matter because companies need as much interoperability as possible between different devices, platforms, and apps.

What Are the Layers of IoT Architecture?

IoT architecture is the framework that outlines the organization and communication between various components in an IoT system. It acts as a guide for creating and executing IoT solutions.

Image showing the layers of IoT architecture

The layers of IoT architecture from bottom to top are:

  1. The Physical Layer: The lowest layer of the IoT network stack, the physical layer, is responsible for the physical transmission of data between physical devices and the network infrastructure. This layer includes the physical components, such as sensors, actuators, gateways, and communication protocols, that allow devices to connect and communicate.
  2. The Data Link Layer: This layer is responsible for correcting errors caused by hardware abnormalities or damage at the physical layer. The data link layer connects various devices to facilitate data transfer through the network layer.
  3. The Network Layer: The network layer manages data transfer by determining its destination and timing. Within the network layer, routers are critical as they direct the data packets to where they must go.
  4. The Transport Layer: This layer establishes and manages communication between devices and networks. It ensures reliable and secure data transmission over various communication protocols.
  5. The Session Layer: The session layer is a scheduler for incoming and outgoing data in an IoT system. When two devices must communicate, the system has to schedule this interaction by initiating a session.
  6. The Presentation Layer: The layer responsible for encrypting and converting data gathered by IoT devices is the presentation layer, which enables the application layer to display the data in a readable format.
  7. The Application Layer: This includes web and mobile applications that enable the devices within an IoT system to interact with each other.

Top 14 IoT Communication Protocols and Standards

There are many different Internet-of-Things protocols and Internet-of-Things standards because different use cases will likely require different devices and protocols.

Image showing the top 14 IoT communication protocols and standards

“Let’s break this down into physical/network communication protocols, which handle the physical assembly of bits onto a wire or air interface and send them to a receiver (and vice-versa), and application protocols, which are used by applications to talk to the network layers to get access to send and receive that data,” said Jones.

Communication Protocols – Wide Area

These protocols may be used directly from IoT endpoint sensory assets (sensor, actuator, or display) or by a communications gateway that aggregates data from multiple sensory assets, according to Jones.

Telco (Pure Landline)

This includes fiber and copper (legacy) connections from an endpoint gateway (router or modem).

Kevin Jones said:

“While not ubiquitous in coverage, these connections provide the highest levels of availability and performance but often at the highest cost.”

Cellular

The 2G/3G/4G/5G, etc., the family of 3GPP mobile (wireless) broadband standards includes a set of categories (sub-standards) within each family (e.g., Cat-1 for 4G) that provide speeds ranging from less than a kilobit per second to hundreds of megabits per second,” Jones explained.

“In general, the higher speed categories also have the lower round-trip delay (latency) through the cellular radio access network and core (internal cellular routing network).”

Satellite

When landline and cellular are unavailable (over the ocean and other remote locations), low Earth orbit satellites, including collaborative constellations, such as StarLink, provide varying levels of throughput and latency, according to Jones.

“If the business case warrants connectivity at a higher cost, satellite may be a viable option.”

Communication Protocols – Local Area

These wireless communication protocols are used to connect sensory assets to a communications gateway, e.g., a cellular router.

Wi-Fi

In addition to connecting the remote office, Wi-Fi provides a high-speed network connection between sensory assets and gateways. Jones added:

“And with the HaLow standard, it sometimes competes with LoRa/LoRaWAN networks but with higher speed and IP addressing.”

LoRa/LoRaWAN

A cross between a local area network (LAN) and wide area network (WAN) protocol, LoRa/LoRaWAN is often deployed to provide a very low cost and low bandwidth connection to sensors that other LAN protocols may not reach, Jones said.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth is a point-to-point or mesh protocol that uses unlicensed bands. It is widely used in consumer environments and increasingly in commercial environments, according to Jones.

Zigbee

A point-to-point or mesh protocol that uses unlicensed bands is heavily used in industrial settings (plant floors) and large IoT networks. Zigbee is governed by the Zigbee Alliance.

Z-Wave

A point-to-point or mesh protocol widely used in home automation. Z-Wave is governed by the Z-Wave Alliance.

Application Protocols

MQTT

MQTT is a lightweight, publish-subscribe network protocol tailored for machine-to-machine communication and message queuing services. Jones said:

“It’s specifically engineered to facilitate connections in remote locations operating within limited network bandwidth.”

Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP)

CoAP resembles HTTP in its function as a document transfer protocol; however, it is tailored specifically for constrained devices.

Lightweight Machine-to-Machine (LwM2M)

LwM2M leverages CoAP to provide both a device management and telemetry protocol that addresses two critical needs, device management and secure telemetry transport to application layers, with a single protocol family, according to Jones.

Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP)

HTTP is an application protocol or set of rules that allows users to communicate data (text, sounds, images, video files, etc.) on the web.

Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS)

HTTPS is a protocol that uses encryption to secure communication and data transfer between a user’s web browser and a website, Jones said.

Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and User Datagram Protocol (UDP)

While the application protocols are built on top of TCP and UDP, there are times when a “pared down” version may be required, according to Jones. In these cases, you may need a “custom” protocol. He said:

“Please note that the standards of TCP and UDP packet construction and integrity should still be maintained at all times. This also means that the author of the ‘custom’ TCP/UDP-based application protocol must take great care in the design, documentation, security, and maintenance of their implementation.”

How to Choose the Right Protocol for Your Particular Business Case?

There are many IoT communication protocols on the market, which means you have to figure out which of these IoT communication technologies are right for you.

To determine which protocol better fits your particular business case, you should map out your use cases, geography, application needs, and sensory asset capabilities and invest the time to thoroughly understand how all of the pieces fit together, according to Jones.

He also identified several crucial steps to follow:

  1. Document with easy-to-understand process models, swim lanes, etc.
  2. Ensure that any disparate protocols have well-published standards for integration, including security.
  3. Plan how to scale the endpoint deployments and update via local or remote over-the-air mechanisms via device management.
  4. Finally, make sure you have readily available tools to triage and troubleshoot any protocol or performance anomalies.

Doug Roberson, chief operating officer at Shelly USA, a provider of automation solutions, added:

“Organizations should evaluate the cost of implementation and operation, considering hardware and network costs.”

The Bottom Line

IoT protocols and standards matter because organizations need as much interoperability as possible between different devices, platforms, and apps, said David Ciccarelli, founder and CEO of the online vacation rental platform Lake.

“Since IoT products can vary greatly, standard protocols ensure seamless communications. Standardization also improves scalability, speed, and overall security,” he concluded.

FAQs

How do I connect IoT devices to the network?

What are the two protocols used most often with IoT devices?

What are IoT gateways?

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Linda Rosencrance
Technology journalist
Linda Rosencrance
Technology journalist

Linda Rosencrance is a freelance writer and editor based in the Boston area, with expertise ranging from AI and machine learning to cybersecurity and DevOps. She has been covering IT topics since 1999 as an investigative reporter working for several newspapers in the Boston metro area.  Before joining Techopedia in 2022, her articles have appeared in TechTarget, MSDynamicsworld.com, TechBeacon, IoT World Today, Computerworld, CIO magazine, and many other publications. She also writes white papers, case studies, ebooks, and blog posts for many corporate clients, interviewing key players, including CIOs, CISOs, and other C-suite execs.