So you are looking for a remote environmental monitoring solution but don’t know which one is best?

Confused as to the array of choices, competing technologies and proprietary profiles? Concerned about hidden costs, creeping subscription fees and technological obsolescence?

Well, you are in excellent company. If you take finding the best and most cost effective environmental monitoring solution seriously, these questions need to be in the forefront of your mind.

What do you need to think about?

First off, there is no need to adopt a proprietary technology developed by a single company. Perhaps two or more years ago, but not today. This has got to be the first thing you think about. Why? Because the owner effectively controls it, and if they disappear (go bust, abandon the technology, etc) then you will have problems. Also it gives them the ability to lock you in and you won’t be able to easily extract yourself – so you are giving them a monopoly position over your custom – not a great choice for you, the customer. Also companies who are selling proprietary solutions tend not to be at the forefront of technological innovation when they have something that works. After all, they are looking to maximise the return on their development costs already spent.

Proprietary radio technology? Run!

In today’s golden age of mobile technology, there is no need to adopt proprietary technology. For example Bluetooth Smart is effectively an open standard that has published profiles which means devices can plug and play with each other. Bluetooth Smart is going to be around long after many companies with competing technology will not be. Best of all, Bluetooth Smart is compatible directly with smartphones – so no separate readers, hub devices or internet only solutions are needed (although internet extensions can be added, and are often necessary).

Look for a technology that is great today, even better tomorrow

Are you concerned with technological obsolescence?  If you are looking at spending significant amounts of money on an environmental monitoring system, it should be one of the key things to consider.  Many radio technologies that were popular a few years ago and starting to fall by the way-side (ZigBee in particular is a technology that is shrinking in popularity).   Bluetooth SIG has an extensive array of work streams underway in the areas of range extension, increasing profiles, higher data throughputs and meshing technology.  By adopting Bluetooth Smart you stand to benefit from the huge technological innovations happening with Bluetooth technology – a great way to ensure the system you install today is not going to fade into obsolescence tomorrow.

Bluetooth Smart coupled with internet connectivity – best of both worlds?

Bluetooth Smart’s main limitation is range.  While ranges of up to 75 meters line of sight are possible, indoors and when obstructed ranges from 3 meters to 11 meters are typical.  Range is always an issue in radio technology, and even those solutions which have a range of many hundreds of meters have other and, often, bigger limitations than what range presents.  Also when it comes to radio technology, nothing is more overstated by vendors than the range of their devices.  Not helped by there being no standard of measurement and it is inherently hard to verify.  So even vendors claiming their radios have a range of hundreds of meters need to be looked at closely.  But the best thing with range as a problem is that it can be overcome without too much difficulty and needn’t be expensive to solve.  So what happens when you have a large area to cover and Bluetooth Smart won’t do? Well you can place at regular intervals Wi-Fi or cellular gateways to the internet which pass the data up to a cloud based solution, make sure you don’t find yourself getting locked into an unnecessary and expensive internet hosting subscription service mind you, there are plenty of free ones out there.

Low power sensors every place – higher powered gateways fewer places

The key to todays environmental monitoring is to use small form, cheap and ultra-low energy sensors. Coin cells (2032) are capable of powering most temperature based Bluetooth Smart sensors for well over a year. Then deploy gateways, which may be mains powered but can also be powered by larger batteries, within range of the lower cost and higher volume sensors.  I hear you ask incredulously “Internet gateways that don’t require mains power?” – Yes, don’t believe me – take a look at our own solution for a fully battery powered sensor network that can span hundreds of meters cheaply.

Conclusion

With more and more companies offering environmental monitoring solutions, make sure you don’t find yourself in a technological cul-de-sac with all the problems this entails.