The IoT is a landmark development for businesses, and it’s still growing. Programmable, networked devices are estimated as over a $14.4 billion opportunity according to Cisco. By 2020, IBM thinks that the number of IoT devices worldwide will surpass 30 billion. Electronic Design says that the IoT will soon beat out the World Wide Web by a factor of 50. This continued technological progress is vital for companies that want real-time, actionable intelligence on every aspect of their business processes.

Messaging Protocol

Image: Daria Nepriakhina

MQTT was first developed in 1999 as a lightweight messaging protocol to enable low-energy monitoring of an oil pipeline. 16 years later, it’s proved to be the most efficient programming language for IoT-enabled devices, which also rely on low-energy communications, and was adopted as an international standard for IoT last year by OASIS. This widespread adoption will enable IoT to innovate more quickly by creating an open standard that companies will be able to build upon.

Why Does the IoT Need MQTT?

MQTT has been gaining momentum in recent years since the Internet of Things became a solution for communication between physical devices. Specifically, IoT needs the capability to work with low-powered devices in order to succeed, and MQTT meets all of IoT’s needs in that sense. This publish-subscribe protocol specializes in connecting low-bandwidth devices with limited CPUs and with very little overhead, making it an ideal solution for connecting and communicating between small numbers of low-energy devices and a central hub. Most MQTT applications are in a spoke-and-hub configuration, such as many energy monitoring sensors pushing communication to a remote monitoring location for analysis.

The protocol is also useful for dealing with high amounts of lag or latency, or unstable connections, as MQTT transmits only up to 256 MB of data per message, and smaller data payloads are less affected by latency than larger ones are. It’s able to transmit small chunks of data quickly and efficiently without requiring much from the device, the hub, or from the network connection.

Another benefit is that MQTT is flexible depending on the quality of performance and message transmission required, which is important because many devices used for IoT purposes are basic devices without much performance capacity.

MQTT messages are assigned a QoS (Quality of Service) level, which determines performance level and how messages are sent. Higher QoS means worse performance but high reliability. For instance, a QoS 2 ensures that messages always arrive exactly once, but causes low performance; while a QoS 0 doesn’t negatively affect device performance but has the possibility of message loss.

Similarly, MQTT features a “Last Will and Testament” function, which your consulting team can set to return a specific message when the device fails for a given reason. For instance, you can have your device return an “Out of Network” message when it’s no longer connected, letting you know that you need to get the device back into range or fix a connection problem. This lessens the probability of missing transmissions due to communicating with a device that’s no longer available for communication.

MQTT ensures that messages go to the correct devices during communication by utilizing topics. A topic functions the same as a file path would, and directs communication by filtering messages according to elements specified in the topic function.

Once MQTT is set up with its topics, control packets, QoS and LWT all configured, it runs reliably (depending on QoS) and is very hands-off. This is great for ongoing data collection from a large device network that needs regular monitoring, and it will continue to pull data to a designated data concentrator server on a long-term basis.

Implementing MQTT

Because the MQTT protocol is so lightweight and easy to implement, it’s adaptable to a wide variety of applications in different industries. For most applications, all that’s required is that you implement control packets for Connect, Publish, Subscribe and Disconnect. Some applications may require additional control packets, such as Unsubscribe, PingReq and PingResp. This is a quick and painless process with the help of the right consulting team, who can implement your control packets, connect your devices and bring them on board for ongoing data collection and analysis.

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Rob Rastovich

Accelerating companies move to Cloud Computing and the Internet of Things

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