LPWAN as we call it, low power wide area networks are set to take the connected devices to remote areas and villages enabling long range, low power communication.
The Internet of Things (IoT), since its inceptions has been an intriguing thing. The idea of connected devices, sharing data over the internet, communicating and somehow making our lives better, I mean who would resist. More so, when all of this was seen something as distant or impossible but here we are. Now we have our coffee machine self learning how I take my coffee or what time I take my coffee. The light bulb in my drawing room is self adjusting the brightness as I move in or out of the room. The entry gate at my home can sense my presence and let me in without any effort. The possibilities are endless.
The internet of things is driving businesses and world economies. It finds many applications in long range tracking of items and people, creating robust logistics and supply chain networks, removing bottlenecks and preventing disruptions. In retail, IoT is now being used for meeting customer expectations, creating a seamless, comfortable shopping experience for shoppers and enabling quick checkouts. The healthcare sector and smart home, smart building and smart city projects are IoT dependent now as well. For all of this to work properly, IoT devices requires huge amount of power, data servers and cost-effective, long range networks and this is where LPWANs come in.
Low Power Wide Area Networks
Low power wide area networks or LPNs (low power networks) are network standards that are designed to provide wide area network access at low bit rate (low power, low bit rate) to connected devices, sensors running on batteries. The data rate ranges between 0.3kbit/s - 50kbit/s per channel.
Essentially, LPWAN networks are designed for IoT sensors and applications that need to send small amount of data over long distances multiple times an hour. The low power consumption thus allows for long battery lifetime (8-10 years).
The popular LPWAN technologies include LoRa (Long Range), Sigfox, LTE-M and NB-IoT etc. Further LPWANs are categorized as licensed and licensed-free ecosystem and LoRaWAN and Sigfox use the unlicensed non-dedicated frequency spectrum which often leads to high interference and doesn’t permit high speed connections. Licensed LPWAN technologies include GSM, 3GPP technologies such as LTE-M, NB-IoT etc. which run on dedicated frequency spectrum and allow high speed connections. It runs on public cellular networks and with dedicated licensed frequency spectrum large public networks can be set up across the globe as well. The dedicated frequency also allows for low interference between connections.
LoRa, LoRaWAN, NB-IoT, and LTE-M: What’s the difference?
It often gets confusing as to what is LoRa and LoRaWAN as both seems like somehow related and yes they are. The LoRA alliance, a open, non-profit consortium of collaborating members defines LoRaWAN as “The LoRaWAN specification is a Low Power, Wide Area (LPWA) networking protocol designed to wirelessly connect battery operated ‘things’ to the internet in regional, national or global networks, and targets key Internet of Things (IoT) requirements such as bi-directional communication, end-to-end security, mobility and localization services.”
LoRaWAN is free and open to all and there are no licensing fees or other fees associated with its usage. It is the network layer protocol that enables communication between LPWAN gateways and end device as a routing protocol. It is cloud based media access control (MAC) layer that enables communication hardware and wired or wireless transmission medium.
Now coming to LoRa, it is the physical proprietary radio communication technique based on spread spectrum modulation techniques. The name LoRa is a reference to long range data links that this technology provides. It is not free however, in comparison to other technologies available, LoRa is very cost-effective, and provides long-range, bi-directional communications: up to 5 kilometers in urban areas, and up to 15 kilometers or more in rural areas provided there is a clear line of sight.
Narrow Band-IoT (NB-IoT) and Long Term Evolution-M (LTE-M)
In contrast to LoRa, NB-IoT and LTE-M are cellular network LPWAN, meaning both of these offer low bandwidth, long range communication. However, since both of these technologies use licensed spectrum, the cost of deployment is higher than LoRa.
NB-IOT and LTE-M, both differ from each other in terms of power and mobility. NB-IoT is a narrow bandwidth, say 200 KHz and the peak data rate is around 200kbps. But it can also be deployed in guard band, so offers more flexibility and it can also be deployed as stand-alone access. It is most suitable for remote locations and hard to reach areas where power resources are limited. Apart from that, in smart cities, it is suitable for controlling and sensing street lights, parking space utilization and environmental conditions.
LTE-M, however, is more costly but offers more power in terms of bandwidth and data rate. The bandwidth is 1.4MHz, the data rate peaks at 1Mbps and the latency is only around 50-100msec. It is best suitable for IoT applications that require higher data rates, full mobility, low latency, and voice in typical coverage situations.
It is an optimized version of 4G LTE cellular communication and offer small size message transfer that is often required in IoT applications in smart buildings and smart city projects.
Setting up IoT in Remote Areas
The idea of connected devices, smart lighting, smart access control smart city and traffic might seem like costly city thing but that is not entirely true. With technologies such as LoRa which provide low power, long range communication at low cost, IoT devices can be use in remote areas as well. In agriculture, various sensors can be set up to monitor environmental conditions, soil health, temperature and humidity as well as smart irrigation can be carried out. IoT sensors can also enable smart metering as well as ensure security at homes, even in remote areas.
To conclude, LPWAN is suitable for different applications in smart city projects such as smart metering, smart parking, smart grid control, smart home automation, and smart security, as well as smart agriculture in remote areas, asset tracking, critical infrastructure monitoring, personal IoT applications and logistics etc. Since most IoT devices and applications require constant power and devices often run on batteries (for mobility), LPWAN extends the lifecycle of devices enabling low power consumption.
Technologies like LoRa, NB-IoT, and LTE-M enable long range communication between IoT devices while keeping the deployment cost as low as possible, low power consumption being the reason.