Which wireless standard makes sense for your application?

With wide-scale IoT solutions being implemented, we are seeing an emerging set of new wireless technologies we feel should be included in our guide. Currently, LoRa and SigFox have limited deployments, but we will continue to watch their traction.  LoRa seems to be getting popular.

The focus of innovation is on low power protocols that support remote battery-operated devices which send small amounts of data for a duration from months to years. Since remote service costs can be a significant component of the total cost of ownership for a sensor network, we expect one or more of these new standards to take their place beside Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE, Zigbee, WiFi, and cellular.  Each one has its advantages and disadvantages, so depending on your application, we would choose the optimal technology.

BLE Bluetooth Zigbee LoRaWAN SigFox Wi-Fi Cellular
Range Short (3-10 meters) Short(3-10 meters unless the power is increased) Medium range up to 100 meters Long, 2m-45km Long, 10-50km Medium range up to 100 meters Long, 1-10km
Operating Frequency 2.4 to 2.485 GHz 2.4 to 2.485 GHz 868 MHz
(EU, Japan)
915 MHz
2.4 GHz
109, 433, 868, 902-928 MHz 868MHz, 902-928 MHz
2.4 & 5GHz 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G. LTE, & 5GHz
Data Rate
35 kbit/s
Low and high
1–3 Mbit/s
250k bit/s
300-50k bit/s
uses Chirp
300bit/s BPSK, GFSK
High High
Supports Video Data Rate No Limited Limited No No HD video HD video
Supports Voice & Text Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Cost Very low cost Very low cost Low cost of parts,
can be expensive
Very low cost Very low cost Low cost with new Wi-Fi modules Med cost
Power Consumption Very low power

Sleep mode

Low power

Sleep mode

Long wake-up time

Low power

Sleep mode

Very low power
Sleep mode
Low power
Sleep mode
not suited to battery applications, but some standards support low power
Networking Topology Point-to-point Point-to-point Point-to-point, star or mesh Point-to-point, star or mesh Point-to-point, star or mesh Star Star
Typical applications Widely used for short distances Widely used for short distances Widely used in
applications like lighting control and process control
Increasing used for IoT industrial and commercial applications Text & low data, IoT applications like burglary alarms and tracking devices Excels at carrying Ethernet signals wirelessly
Widely used to connect devices to PCs
Mobile phones and devices 
Strengths Low power Designed to replace wires in portable applications Excellent for very low data rate in battery powered applications

Can extend transmission distance by passing data from node to node

IP-based wireless interoperability

Low cost gateways

Location awareness

Rapidly establishing global network, good coverage in Europe Designed for stationary base station with multiple portable devices

Ethernet data rates

Existing global network 
Weaknesses Limited range Long wake-up time

Limited range

Complicated software
to implement – some vendors have Zigbee-like solutions to overcome this
No global compliance on radio band

Over air software updates possible but impractical

No global compliance on radio band

No location awareness

Private network is not possible

Can be used for battery operation, if the data is not sent continuously

Sleep mode

High power consumption


Power – How much data? How far?

In wireless transmission, there are three things that must be managed: the power that is required to transmit, the data rate, and how far you’re transmitting. This table shows the detailed power calculation for the different wireless technologies for several different data rates and distances. While this is not the only criteria for the wireless technology choice, it provides a useful guideline for assessing the battery requirements. Although SigFox is not included in the table below, it would closely match LoRa.