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IIoT Protocols: OPC UA and MQTT

The Internet of Things (IoT) has rapidly transformed the way we collect, transmit, and analyze data from various devices and sensors. Central to the smooth functioning of IoT ecosystems are communication protocols that enable devices to exchange information efficiently and securely. Two prominent IoT protocols that have gained widespread acceptance in recent years are OPC UA (Open Platform Communication Unified Architecture) and MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport).

The OPC UA logo on top and MQTT logo on the bottom. The two protocol logos are divided by a horizontal colorful stripe in the middle of the picture.
Logo OPC UA in black and blue.

OPC UA (Open Platform Communication Unified Architecture):

OPC UA is an open and versatile industrial communication protocol that has emerged as a cornerstone of IoT ecosystems, particularly in the context of industrial automation and manufacturing environments. OPC UA was developed to address the challenges of interoperability, scalability, and security, making it a reliable choice for data exchange in IoT applications.

One outstanding feature of OPC UA is its ability to provide a standardized and platform-independent way for devices to communicate. It allows different devices, regardless of their manufacturer or underlying technology, to seamlessly exchange data. This interoperability is invaluable in complex IoT environments where various devices, sensors, controllers, or, more broadly, entire machines need to collaborate consistently.

The OPC UA communication standard, built on the TCP/IP protocol, places a particular emphasis on security and offers state-of-the-art authentication, encryption, and access control mechanisms. In an era where data security is of high importance, OPC UA ensures that IoT data remains protected from unauthorized access or manipulation during transit.

Furthermore, OPC UA supports data modeling, allowing users to define the structure and semantics of their data themselves or follow Companion Specifications, making it easier to document the information exchange between devices. This speeds up commissioning and enhances users' understanding of the represented data when OPC UA-capable devices need to interact with others. This capability also simplifies data integration and analytics in third-party systems, significantly increasing the overall value of IoT instrumentation.


Logo MQTT in violet.

MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport):

In contrast, MQTT is a lightweight and efficient messaging protocol initially designed for networks with low bandwidth, high latency, or unreliable connectivity. Originally developed for remote monitoring and control, it is an ideal choice for IoT applications where network conditions, such as uninterrupted communication, are not always optimal, but data arrival needs to be ensured.

One of MQTT's key strengths is its Publisher-Subscriber architecture. In this model, IoT devices publish data to specific "topics," and other devices or applications selectively subscribe to topics only containing data that is of interest for them and which need to be received. This decoupling of producers and consumers simplifies communication in distributed IoT-supported scenarios, as devices can communicate without needing to know the identities or locations of other devices.

The low memory footprint of MQTT stacks results in minimal overhead, making it well-suited for resource-constrained IoT devices like sensors and microcontrollers. MQTT also supports Quality of Service (QoS) levels, allowing users to adjust and strike a balance between message delivery reliability and network bandwidth consumption.



In summary, OPC UA and MQTT are two crucial pillars of industrial IoT communication with high market acceptance and adoption. A preference for one protocol over the other or a judgment if one is "better than the other" cannot be made at this point. They are equal counterparts. Together, these protocols contribute to exchanging data in IoT solutions and enable companies to harness the full potential of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in a simple and standardized way.

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