The term Internet of Things has been known since 1999 and was coined by consumer sensor expert Kevin Ashton. Having paved its development journey, IoT has conquered the attention of business leaders worldwide, growing significantly in the past decade. Cloud computing adoption, enhancement of connectivity capabilities, development of data analytics tools, and the invention of low-cost devices accelerated the adoption of IoT across industries.
Wireless communication technologies have also been developed making the choice for businesses difficult. In this article, we are going to talk about the two most widespread options of connectivity for IoT product development in the consumer sector: WiFi and Bluetooth. The selection depends on business requirements, technical criteria, and IoT network type.
What Is Bluetooth?
Bluetooth is a wireless technology that can transfer data between connected devices within short distances using ultra-high-frequency radio waves (UHF). The technology is geared at creating personal area networks (PANs) allowing to connect wireless devices consuming less power in comparison with WiFi technology. However, Bluetooth does not support high data transfer speed. Therefore, low power consumption makes it impossible to exchange data over a wide communication range (up to 33 feet).
What Is WiFi?
WiFi is a wireless technology based on the IEEE 802.11 standard enabling the communication of the radio signals between wireless routers and access points.
Compared to other wireless technologies like cellular, for instance, WiFi transmits data at much higher frequencies – 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz. On the other hand, WiFi consumes a lot of power and doesn’t have a lot of range. WiFi has several standards that come with various pros/cons related to data speed and cost and a couple of WiFi standards are specifically developed for IoT.
Bluetooth vs. WiFi for IoT Project: Technical Criteria
To help you select the best technology for your IoT product, we will point out the critical technical aspects worth considering before choosing a connectivity option for your solution.
Compared to BLE, WiFi technology is the winner if it concerns the speed of data transmission. Bluetooth bandwidth is around 1Mbps, that’s why it is capable of transferring small chunks of data in contrast to WiFi which can send data with a range of 1,3 Gbps. If you compare Bluetooth Classic and BLE, the last one can transfer data at a rate of approximately 100-250 KBps which is 2-3 times slower.
The transmission distance of wireless communication between sensors/devices is defined by the type of the product, the presence of obstacles, and additional extensions. In terms of Bluetooth, different modules determine the transmission range. For example, while Class 1 devices can transfer the Bluetooth radio signals up to a maximum range of 100 meters, the average range of consumer Bluetooth devices is 10 meters. However, mesh networks allow the creation of large-scale networks so that there is the usage of more relay nodes that can be substituted in case one node fails. It means in case of failure, with the help of a mesh network there will be defined another node capable of data transmission which makes the range extended up to 1000 meters.
In the case of WiFi, it can transfer data at a range of 100 meters and this figure can be extended as well due to additional access points and signal extenders. Even though extension options allow additional hubs, the entire network can become vulnerable which can cause adverse impacts on IoT projects.
Being a low-bandwidth communication standard, BLE requires small power consumption due to the possibility of transmitting huge amounts of data in small data chunks. For instance, while iBeacons are able to transfer signals for about 10 meters, the WiFi signals offer a more robust network with 10X more range. Therefore, WiFi requires much more power (about 500µW).
From a practical and technical point of view, BLE technology prevails over WiFi thanks to its seamless lightweight connection in comparison with WiFi technical requirements. If you need to detect nearby devices and estimate indoor location, applying the BLE solution will be your win-win solution.
If your data transmission is sensitive and delicate, WiFi is designed to satisfy these concerns using 256-bit encryption while Bluetooth uses 129-bit encryption. With modern security protocols WPA2 and WPA3, WiFi is a more secure solution for IT projects. However, Bluetooth can be enough safe option for most purposes since CCM mode is used to encrypt data. In the case of WiFi security, your data is exposed to unplanned exchange unless you have your own WiFi network.
When we talk about proximity, Bluetooth may be a better option for indoor location and navigation (for example, via IBeacons), while WiFi suits open-space environments better. When you want to know where and how your customers and assets interact and how to enhance customers’ experience, Bluetooth is a great option due to its efficient power consumption and a lesser range allowing more accuracy in comparison with WiFi technology.
There are many topology options available that Bluetooth technology can employ. The selection depends on the wireless connectivity needs of your unique business project. Before proceeding to the types of Bluetooth topology it is worth mentioning that the Bluetooth architecture is defined by two networking types: pinocet and scatternet. There is one primary node (master) and 7 active secondary nodes (slaves) in the pinocet architecture type. The communication between them can be performed in the format 1:1 and 1:many.
In this way, the connection between the devices can be point-to-point, broadcast, and mesh networking. Since point-to-point communication is geared at data transferring between multiple devices it is a good fit for health monitors, fitness trackers, etc. With broadcast topology, the communication is performed in the format of one-to-many when one device sends data to many others. This communication topology is suitable for such use cases as indoor navigation and asset monitoring for retail sectors. If you need thousands of devices to communicate seamlessly and reliably, mesh networking allows for large-scale networks providing the possibility of substitution of getaway or node in the case of failure. Mesh networking is the ideal solution for control and automation systems.
Star topology is inherent to WiFi technology where point-to-point architecture is defined by the communication of multiple devices via a central hub. The main disadvantage of this type of topology is that devices cannot communicate with each other which can affect the smooth transmission path making the entire network inoperable. Star architecture will be a good solution for large facilities with multifold sensors distributed around aiming to implement a cost-effective and easy to manage solution. Reliability is one more beneficial characteristic of star topology allowing to easily identify the faulty node, however, there is also a paradoxical factor when the central hub has a single point of failure which means in case of failure the entire network is prone to the termination.
Difference between Bluetooth and WiFi
Bandwidth - 1,3 Gbps
Bandwidth - 1Mbps
|Range||Up to 100 meters||1-100 meters.|
Depending on the class
|Security||Less secure||More secure|
|Proximity detection||Better fit for open-space environment||Best suitable for indoor location|
|Topology||Point-to-point connection||Point-to-point, broadcast, mesh networking|
|Implementation||Configuration is complex requiring software or hardware||Easy-to-use, can be connected with seven devices at once.|
WiFi vs. Bluetooth: IoT Use Cases
While Bluetooth is preferable for indoor use cases, WiFi is more suitable for the outdoor environment. Let’s go through the most widespread IoT applications backed by WiFi and Bluetooth technology across industries.
1. Beacon technology.
It is a cost-effective IoT solution for retailers to gather all necessary information about their customers, analyze it, and enhance their experiences by implementing tailored marketing strategies. By 2025, there are predictions of IoT revenue growing up to $35,5 billion. Among use cases, we would outline the following:
- Proximity marketing. It is one of the most efficient ways to enhance CX and offer customers smart suggestions for upsells. Via Bluetooth or WiFi-powered beacons, retailers are able to offer personalized experiences to their customers by identifying them nearby and pushing targeted notifications, reminders, and offers on their phones based on their external browsing history as well. Cool approach, isn’t it?
- Payment experience. With beacons applied in payment terminals, customers can pay via their smartphones. Compared to other mobile payment standards, BLE is a solution allowing you to not take out the phone of your pocket and ensures faster processing times.
- Transportation. Beacon technology helps companies and consumers get great experiences in transportation journeys. For example, via beacons applied, passengers can be informed of route schedule and vehicle location, or any other shifts, delays, and weather conditions at the destination points. Airport companies can leverage beacons to obtain substantial benefits of airport flows optimization and improving passengers’ experiences. Just imagine how location-relevant information can be beneficial for passengers when they are able to get real-time data on the directions, waiting times, alerts about boarding, etc. – and all this is available on their smartphones.
2. Remote monitoring systems.
With IoT capabilities integrated into enterprise systems and powered by predictive maintenance, businesses are empowered to make smart predictions of issues, implement automation, track assets in real-time, and optimize them, reducing the time for their repair. Here we talk about remote monitoring systems that can make your products more connected to enhance business performance. IoT sensors mounted on the equipment or assets can help generate real-time data that you can use for remote monitoring and control of patients or medical assets. Moreover, businesses can monitor equipment to get entire visibility over assets to increase their uptime and improve efficiency and productivity.
Remote monitoring systems backed by Bluetooth or WiFi technologies are able to automate your home by monitoring energy usage and automatically adjusting HVAC to prevent fire breakouts and water leakages, etc.
3. Indoor positioning systems.
Indoor positioning systems enable the tracking of objects and assets in the interior space with the help of internal sensors that communicate with each other. The gathered data is transmitted to the application or software where analytics represent an accurate location of people or objects. For instance, while the customers can benefit from positive experiences or tenants from enhanced productivity and wellbeing, businesses can gain new revenue streams by improving building management. Let’s take a look at some examples where IPSs can bring indispensable outcomes:
- Smart offices. By monitoring HVAC resources by using sensors, IPS can help facilitate a comfortable environment; conditions for employees as well as optimize expenditures and energy consumption. With appropriate IoT sensors (temperature, light, or presence detectors), the lighting or temperature can be adjusted automatically or can be turned off if there is no one in the room. At Euristiq, our team elaborated the room occupancy management system for Canadian company Tektelic allowing them to utilize their workspace in a smart way. To resolve the issue of overbooking, our technical team developed the smart office solution (the app) which collects data from room sensors and sends it to the dashboard represented in the format of analytics required to efficiently manage workspace and workload.
- In-store shopping. You can get valuable data-driven insights being supplied from WiFi/Bluetooth devices to the server for further analysis. With these insights, retail managers can deliver targeted and unique experiences to their consumers. Moreover, data obtained from the sensors can be transmitted to an in-store customer tracking system which helps identify the most popular zones in the shopping mall or center by tracking customers’ behaviors and efficiently allocating resources. With all this meaningful data needed to monitor customers’ journey across touchpoints, you are empowered with the possibilities to make strategic marketing decisions. Check out how in-store foot traffic analytics can significantly improve customer engagement and increase your revenue per m2.
4. Asset tracking.
In a nutshell, custom IoT-based software solutions can be implemented across industries and deliver such advantages as real-time visibility of physical assets and people, cost efficiency, downtime prevention, data accuracy, and protection from theft. Let’s break down the benefits across industries to draw a holistic point of view on how asset tracking can be valuable exactly for your IoT project.
- Retail. Retail businesses get the opportunity to track in-store inventory to balance stock-out and overstocks, get real-time data on supply chain management and logistics to trace product flow, and ensure products’ safety by preventing fraud activities.
- Medicine. Asset tracking in hospitals allows management efficiently equipment and medication by tracking them, diminishing theft of assets, accurately monitoring health parameters of patients, identifying deficiencies of asset demand, and timely identification of drug expiration dates.
- Smart cities. By collecting huge data amounts via sensors, governments can track assets to optimize traffic, and lighting consumption by adjusting resources based on the data obtained and visualized on the analytics dashboards.
- Manufacturing. In order to ensure effective asset management and control in the manufacturing facilities, connected devices are used to deliver real-time data on the production process, state of the equipment, their current location, and usage. Moreover, manufacturing managers are able to increase safety for their employees and prevent downtimes and malfunctions by timely identifying the issues.
- Smart farming. Real-time data in farming is a prodigious value farmers can leverage into their accurate decision-making, automation of their routine tasks, tracking of equipment efficiency, animals’ and crops’ state. When you have accurate parameters of water level in the soil, or data on power consumption, etc. you can significantly optimize crop management resource usage, and enhance plants and herds’ healthy life. Furthermore, via IoT sensors and connected devices the farming processes will be streamlined and automated so that when the soil needs irritation or fertilizing, it will be done automatically via drones without human involvement. There is no need to constantly check the fields, your animals, microclimate conditions, or silo levels – connected devices track all necessary indicators to generate actionable insights to inform you about the possible issues and shortages in advance.
What is the difference between WiFi and Bluetooth? There is no unambiguous answer to the question of what technology will be better suitable for your IoT project. While Bluetooth is the most commonly used technology due to its low power consumption and simple configuration, WiFi allows a more robust network with 10X more range and more possibilities for transferring huge complicated data. Moreover, an essential factor while selecting the appropriate technology is the proximity distance: WiFi best works in open-space environments, while Bluetooth has more applicable use cases for indoor positioning systems.