Can you imagine a world without mobile devices? Sounds like a challenge, since mobile phones took our lives by storm, disrupting the way we communicate, educate, spend free time and socialise. But more often than not, we’re not aware of the complicated mechanisms behind connectivity technologies that allow us to use mobile devices and applications the way we are used to.
And it’s not just about making phone calls or using Wi-Fi. Mobile devices have plenty of sensors and numerous connectivity abilities. In fact, machine-to-machine (M2M) connections will soon outnumber people! According to Cisco, by the year 2023 there will be 14.7 billion M2M connections. This technology is surely on a tear, and we should expect the pervasiveness of M2M and the Internet of Things (IoT) in our lives only to increase.
The aspect of connectivity in the mobile world is a very broad subject. In this piece, we’ll give you insights on what types of connections mobile devices and apps use to communicate and what are the most common applications of these technologies. We’ll also touch on the aspects of biggest challenges and trends in the industry, and we’ll leave you with some expert tips to leverage. Enjoy the read!
In order for your device to be able to connect to another device or a network, it must be able to ‘speak the language’ of that particular connection. Frankly speaking, your mobile phone is a true polyglot, and there’s plenty of languages it understands.
Nowadays, there’s a variety of different connectivity technologies available, and the count is still on the rise. These technologies differ in range, cost, security, power consumption and bandwidth. Here's a few most important types of connectivity protocols:
This term refers to wireless Internet access via portable modems on cellular towers. Network connectivity evolved over time: from the 1980s voice-only, analog first generation and 2G introducing SMS and MMS messaging, through 3G with mobile internet and video calling up to current, modern 4G technology. It is expected that by 2024 almost 24 billion devices will use the cellular network. That’s where 5G comes in, which further expands the capacity and latency of the mobile networks.
Thanks to mobile broadband connection, devices are able to make phone calls and access the Internet.
Bluetooth is a wireless, short-range communication technology that uses low-power radio waves. It allows for a direct communication between devices, without using an in-between third device. Bluetooth is one of the most popular types of connectivity, it sits behind the synchronisation with your wireless mouse, headset or with any other electronic device.
There are two types of Bluetooth technology: Classic (BR/EDR) and Low Energy (BLE). The latter is by far more common, since it uses less energy. It works best in the field of innovative applications such as security, entertainment, beacons or healthcare.
Thanks to Bluetooth connectivity, devices can communicate with each other, share data for synchronisation or entertainment and even localise themselves.
As a wireless networking technology, Wi-Fi connects Internet and external devices, such as computers, mobile devices or any other sort of equipment. In a nutshell, Wi-Fi creates a network where these devices exchange information with one another. For this to happen, it uses a wireless router, which usually works best for a limited range or short distance communication.
Thanks to WiFi connectivity, devices can exchange data via intermediary and access the Internet. It is also used for indoor location services.
UWB is a short-range, wireless communication protocol operating via radio waves. Unlike Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, UWB uses a very broad scope of high frequencies. It is used for stable, very precise and fast transmission of data. Since Apple introduced the UWB sensor in the newest iPhone and Apple Watch, it is expected to gain popularity especially in the field of localisation of quickly moving objects and people.
Thanks to UWB connectivity, mobile devices can benefit from precise positioning and location-based services, hands-free access control or device-to-device applications.
NFC, a younger brother of radio frequency identification (RFID) is a wireless data transfer method that is used as a trigger of different functions or features. It’s an easy and fast way to communicate between two devices in close proximity of up to around 4 centimeters. What’s best about NFC is that it doesn’t require any battery, nor Internet connection - once an NFC chip ‘meets’ another, they activate and transfer data.
Thanks to NFC connectivity, devices are able to exchange information, especially for wireless pairing, payments and transactions.
Let’s face the truth - the ability to connect separate devices is already huge, and will only continue to grow. Thanks to increasing connectivity possibilities, almost everything can be IoT now and only the sky (and creativity) is the limit. In some cases, you might be enjoying it yourself, not even being aware of the technology behind particular features of a mobile app.
Just see for yourself:
One of the most popular use cases of connectivity relates to smart home applications. Whether it is video surveillance, tracking apps, home automation, remote monitoring and controlling of lights, entertainment and appliances - it is all backed up by connectivity possibilities of each device.
Connecting devices into a system of interrelated and interconnected networks of objects that transfer data over a wireless network results in endless applications and business opportunities. Numerous sensors, numerous devices, numerous types of connections in use - for many IoT is the most important tech development of the century.
Have you ever heard of Industry 4.0? This tech trend benefits from connectivity and digital transformation, being a decisive factor of creating a true competitive advantage in this sector. As a result of connecting apps, systems and objects, a true Smart Factory is created. Asset tracking or even building custom, connectable hardware is no longer an issue.
Perhaps one of the most obvious applications of connectivity technology relates to the devices we use on a daily basis. Your smart watch, fitband, wireless headset, smartphone serving contactless payments or even a coffee machine with a mobile app - all these devices are constantly communicating and exchanging data.
As the ability to connect external devices is constantly growing, the technology behind it is evolving simultaneously. What used to be a standard a few years ago, today is being replaced by a different trend. That need of adaptation and to stay on top of the situation is a challenge itself, but there’s plenty of other issues we need to take into consideration when it comes to mobile connectivity.
For devices to communicate, they need to have access to a stable connection service. However, the capability to connect can be lost, or the speed of the connection might be too slow. Losing range is a common challenge but luckily, modern connectivity technologies tend to tackle it quite smoothly.
One of the biggest challenges to overcome when discussing connectivity is the impact on battery consumption and battery life. Often requests that power-hungry applications make to the network cause a significant battery drain, which results in users switching these features off - like GPS for example. In order to avoid this issue, innovative connectivity technologies are designed as low-power solutions.
The faster mobile connectivity technologies are, the more data they consume. And although the network connection speed is increasing, overall data use increases as well. Luckily, 4th and 5th generations of mobile connections seem to be tackling this challenge quite nicely. High hopes are associated especially with 5G. The latency, speed and capacity it introduces takes the world of connectivity to the next level.
Connectivity means exposure to external users and threats related to it. Mobile devices and especially connections between them are often vulnerable to potential security breaches. That is important particularly when payments or commerce are involved, with requirements of high security and encryption levels. Security by design is the only way to go in terms of mobile deployments of connectivity applications.
In order to increase the chance of a market success of an application using connectivity technology, it has to be extremely scalable, must work across different platforms and screen sizes and needs to be of high performance. Usability, design and user experience are often challenging, but when done right, translate directly into competitive advantage.
The reality of mobile connectivity is already really interesting, but observing the trends, it looks like we should expect even more innovation.
If we were to point out the most important trends that will continue to disrupt the connectivity market, we would definitely start by drawing attention to the fact that the number of devices and connections will continue to be on the rise. As a result, mobile devices will even further increase their connectivity possibilities, being a hub for literally anything, a true core of the smart future. We already observe that within the Smart Home industry, where more and more often a mobile device serves as a powerful receiver, instead of a router or another tool. Mobile phones as a display and a control center for an IoT cloud ecosystem? Why not!
Exploding levels of mobile device usage globally (Cisco points out the number of devices and connections is growing faster than both the population and the Internet users), is a wide field for 5G innovation. By 2023, 5G is expected to grow 100-fold! This would make 5G connectivity a strong competition for mobile IoT growth discussed above. Which one will prevail? We’re curious to see ourselves!
Tapping into the pool of benefits introduced by digital connectivity sounds interesting indeed. But how to approach it right?
It is important to think about the end product and the application first, not about the technology itself. It’s a trap stakeholders often fell into. Instead, learn about the problem, understand the situation and only then make the technology work for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and more importantly - don’t be afraid to partner up with someone who knows the domain inside out.
Moreover, it’s worth undertaking a very valuable exercise in the form of a feasibility study at the beginning of the process. It allows to challenge the idea in the real world, provides background and context for future development. A well-run feasibility study facilitates gathering requirements and thus creating the roadmap for digital connectivity development, helps to avoid mistakes and enables building a tailor made, top-notch solution. Without a solid foundation of the concept stage, often delivery of connectivity application is impacted by misconceptions and market misalignment. Who wouldn’t like to avoid that?
Almost every device is now connected, or at least has connectivity possibilities. And with connectivity, limitless opportunities are available that transform the way we work, live and socialise. Short-range connectivity protocols are now spearheading when it comes to how we share data and functionalities, increasing interoperability with other devices. It seems like nothing can stop this revolution now, not even the trend for drastic reduction of size and weight of the tools we use.
Every new technology brings new benefits to the table. Looks like digital connectivity will continue to be at the forefront of this silent tech disruption, driving the economic development. Bearing this in mind, it’s even more important to leverage it to the benefit of your business with better value, security and functionality.
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