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WPAN standards for IoT continue to develop use cases

The IEEE WPAN standards offer reliable and strong connectivity for IoT applications that require high throughput, low operating power or long range.

IT pros should be familiar with the capabilities and features of each WPAN standard to make an informed architecture choice in IoT deployments.

The IEEE 802 standards committee specifies wireless personal area network (WPAN) standards, including the 802.15.4 family, which is most widely used for IoT.

Standardization and interoperability provide several benefits for IoT devices and applications. Open standards allow multiple suppliers to enter the market, reduce prices and increase the options. An ecosystem of interoperable products encourages innovation and ensures a stable, long-term source of supply independent of any single vendor. Active standards are periodically amended to include new features to meet changing market needs and incorporate the latest technology innovations.

How can organizations use WPAN standards for IoT?

The family of IEEE 802.15 standards are well suited to support the rapid growth of IoT applications with peer standards, such as IEEE 802.11. Each standard has specific characteristics aligned and optimized to serve specific IoT application requirements. Some IoT applications require devices that run for years on a small battery, have reliable and strong connectivity in an outdoor environment with many obstructions or need a high data rate. The standards are optimized for high throughput, low operating power or long range using radio or light. The variety of broad-market and specialty standards promotes rapid growth of IoT to be implemented with interoperable connectivity that meets unique sets of requirements.

These standards include short-range body area networks for medical applications and the smart utility network that can connect electricity meters and other grid devices with a mesh that covers a large city. They define over-the-air wireless protocols that allow devices from different manufacturers to exchange messages and data. Most, but not all, 802.15 standards use unlicensed and shared wireless spectrum and define how devices can cooperate and operate without causing interference with other devices.

The family of IEEE 802.15 standards are well suited to support the rapid growth of IoT applications with peer standards, such as IEEE 802.11.

How have WPAN standards for IoT developed?

The IEEE 802.15 Working Group has developed multiple standards in over 20 years of operation. Many of these standards are built around IEEE 802.15.4 and its multiple amendments for wireless connectivity serving diverse applications.

The 802.15.4 standards have been the most widely adopted in the 802.15 family to date. With the addition of the 802.15.4g amendment in 2012, devices implementing Wi-SUN have started to ramp up rapidly, serving utility applications, smart cities and outdoor IoT use cases.

The 802.15.4 family contains multiple physical layers optimized for different applications. The first 802.15.4 Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum physical layer serves as the wireless radio technology for machine-to-machine and IoT networks and has been adopted for a number of specifications including ZigBee, International Society of Automation 100.11a, WirelessHART, Thread Group and SNAP. The 802.15.4g amendment introduced the smart utility networks physical layer in an outdoor environment, which forms the basis of the Wi-SUN networks. The 802.15.4a amendment introduced the ultra-wideband (UWB) physical layer, with further improvements underway in the 802.15.4z amendment. This layer supports ranging and location. The 802.15.16t task group is developing an amendment to support licensed narrowband operation for mission-critical IoT.

Standard Description Status
802.15.1 Bluetooth 1.0 Completed, withdrawn, widely adopted in evolved form
802.15.2 Bluetooth / 802.11 coexistence Adopted in early stages of Bluetooth; withdrawn 2018
802.15.3 High-rate wireless personal area network Some adoption
802.15.4 Low-rate wireless personal area network Widely used (ZigBee, Wi-SUN, UWB), active development
802.15.5 Mesh networking Limited adoption
802.15.6 Body area networks Some adoption
802.15.7 Visible light communication Emerging, some adoption
802.15.8 Peer aware communications Very limited adoption
802.15.9 Key management protocol Widely used (part of Wi-SUN)
802.15.10 Layer 2 routing Some adoption
802.15.12 Upper layer interface for IEEE 802.15.4 networks Now in development
802.15.13 Multi-gigabit/s optical wireless communications Now in development
802.15.16 Licensed narrowband amendment Now in development
802.15.22 Spectrum Characterization and Occupancy Sensing Now in development

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