Home Internet Of Things IoT protocols: How IoT devices communicate with the network

IoT protocols: How IoT devices communicate with the network

by Anup Maurya
7 minutes read

IoT devices communicate using IoT protocols. Internet protocol (IP) is a set of rules that dictates how data gets sent to the internet. IoT protocols ensure that information from one device or sensor gets read and understood by another device, a gateway, a service. Different IoT protocols have been designed and optimized for different scenarios and usage. Given the diverse array of IoT devices available, using the right protocol in the right context is important.

What IoT protocol is right for me?

The type of IoT protocol you’ll need depends on the system architecture layer that the data will travel in. The Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model provides a map of the various layers that send and receive data. Each IoT protocol in the IoT system architecture enables device-to-device, device-to-gateway, gateway-to-data center, or gateway-to-cloud communication, as well as communication between data centers.

Application layer

The application layer serves as the interface between the user and the device within a given IoT protocol.

Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP)

A software layer that creates interoperability between messaging middleware. It helps a range of systems and applications work together, creating standardized messaging on an industrial scale.

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Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP)

A constrained-bandwidth and constrained-network protocol designed for devices with limited capacity to connect in machine-to-machine communication. CoAP is also a document-transfer protocol that runs over User Datagram Protocol (UDP).

Data Distribution Service (DDS)

A versatile peer-to-peer communication protocol that does everything from running tiny devices to connecting high-performance networks. DDS streamlines deployment, increases reliability, and reduces complexity.

Message Queue Telemetry Transport (MQTT)

A messaging protocol designed for lightweight machine-to-machine communication and primarily used for low-bandwidth connections to remote locations. MQTT uses a publisher-subscriber pattern and is ideal for small devices that require efficient bandwidth and battery use.

Transport layer

In any IoT protocol, the transport layer enables and safeguards the communication of the data as it travels between layers.

Transmission Control Protocol (TCP)

The dominant protocol for a majority of internet connectivity. It offers host-to-host communication, breaking large sets of data into individual packets and resending and reassembling packets as needed.

User Datagram Protocol (UDP)

A communications protocol that enables process-to-process communication and runs on top of IP. UDP improves data transfer rates over TCP and best suits applications that require lossless data transmissions.

Network layer

The network layer of an IoT protocol helps individual devices communicate with the router.


Many IoT protocols utilize IPv4, while more recent executions use IPv6. This recent update to IP routes traffic across the internet and identifies and locates devices on the network.


This IoT protocol works best with low-power devices that have limited processing capabilities.

Data link layer

The data layer is the part of an IoT protocol that transfers data within the system architecture, identifying and correcting errors found in the physical layer.

IEEE 802.15.4

A radio standard for low-powered wireless connection. It’s used with Zigbee, 6LoWPAN, and other standards to build wireless embedded networks.


Low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN) networks enable communication across distances of 500 meters to over 10km in some places. LoRaWAN is an example of LPWAN that’s optimized for low power consumption.

Physical layer

The physical layer is the communication channel between devices within a specific environment.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)

BLE dramatically reduces power consumption and cost and maintains a similar connectivity range as classic Bluetooth. BLE works natively across mobile operating systems and is fast becoming a favorite for consumer electronics due to its low cost and long battery life.


This wired connection is a less expensive option that provides fast data connection and low latency.

Long-term evolution (LTE)

A wireless broadband communication standard for mobile devices and data terminals. LTE increases the capacity and speed of wireless networks and supports multicast and broadcast streams.

Near field communication (NFC)

A set of communication protocols using electromagnetic fields that allows two devices to communicate from within four centimeters of each other. NFC-enabled devices function as identity keycards and are commonly used for contactless mobile payments, ticketing, and smart cards.

Power Line Communication (PLC)

A communication technology that enables the sending and receiving of data over existing power cables. This allows you to both power and control an IoT device through the same cable.

Radio frequency identification (RFID)

RFID uses electromagnetic fields to track otherwise unpowered electronic tags. Compatible hardware supplies power and communicate with these tags, reading their information for identification and authentication.


Wi-Fi/802.11 is a standard in homes and offices. Although it’s an inexpensive option, it may not suit all scenarios due to its limited range and 24/7 energy consumption.


A mesh network using low-energy radio waves to communicate from appliance to appliance.


An IEEE 802.15.4-based specification for a suite of high-level communication protocols used to create personal area networks with small, low-power digital radios.

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