What Wireless Communication Standard to Use for Your Next Project

The hobbyist wireless communications space is becoming increasingly crowded with different radios and protocols — this guide will help you choose the right one for your next project!

TL;DR

  • I need to transmit a small amount of data a long distance without too much power: LoRA
  • I need to transmit a lot of data back and forth from the internet from a remote device: Cellular
  • I need to transmit a lot of data back and forth from the internet from a non-remote device: Wi-Fi
  • I need to communicate with a phone: Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
  • I have extreme budget and/or power constraints: Generic 2.4GHz (nRF24L01)
  • I need a really small transmitter: Generic 433 MHz
  • I need extreme flexibility and customization: Amateur Radio

Low-Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs)

LoRa

The Things Network gateways

Some companies, such as The Things Network, maintain and operate a series of internet-connected gateways that allow you to connect your LoRa devices to the world wide web. These gateways are relatively sparse, however, and offer a fraction of the coverage of cellular networks.

Sigfox

Sigfox coverage in Europe

Sigfox is another LPWAN standard that also uses the 900 MHz ISM band to transmit information. Unlike LoRa, the Sigfox network is centered around internet-connected gateways. Sigfox modules tend to be more expensive than LoRa modules but offer more features.

Connecting to the Internet

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is a great communications standard choice for indoor projects. Wi-Fi utilizes relatively little power and offers decent ranges of typically a few hundred feet.

Cellular Networks

Cell service can be expensive and cellular modems use a lot of power, so only choose cellular networks if you need to.

Device-to-Device Communications

Low-Cost 2.4 GHz

rRF24L01 modules

There are tons of low-cost modules that utilize the 2.4 GHz band to create point-to-point communication networks. One of my personal favorites is the nRF24L01. Each radio is less than $1 and they’re extremely easy to use. These devices can communicate at a maximum range of a few hundred feet and are only capable of sending small data packets. This module is a great choice if you need to get two microcontrollers talking, or want a low-power communications solution.

Zigbee

Generic 433 MHz

These devices are perhaps the simplest communications hardware you can reliably use. They are incredibly inexpensive but can still transmit a small amount of data a few hundred feet. The only downside is you need a separate module for transmitting and receiving. So, if your application only needs to either transmit or receive data these are a great choice.

Communicating with Phones, Tablets, and Computers

Amateur Radio

That’s all! If you enjoyed this, you can check out my website and more of my writing. Think there’s anything I missed? Let me know in the comments!

I'm a Harvard student, maker, and radio enthusiast. Check out my book on radio communications at amzn.to/341cywA and my website at www.AlexWulff.com