For many Internet of Things (IoT) applications, long range, low cost and low power consumption are the most important connectivity factors, and that makes many common network technologies impractical. For example, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi offer low power consumption and provide reliable connectivity in small spaces at a low cost, but lack the coverage required for the IoT. 3G, 4G/LTE and 5G networks deliver connectivity over longer distances but consume a lot of power at a high cost.
Low-power WAN (LPWAN) technology provides a better option by enabling longer-range connections with greater cost and power efficiencies. LPWAN is designed for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and IoT applications that require battery-powered endpoints to continuously transmit data over long distances. Although data transfer rates are low, LPWANs can support more devices and a larger coverage area than mobile technologies such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, which are better suited for consumer applications.
There are a number of LPWAN technologies, each with their pros and cons. SigFox, which uses a slow modulation rate to enable higher coverage, has strong security and is ideal for sending small, occasional bursts of data. However, it’s not an open protocol, it has limited downlink communication capability, and there are interference issues. Link Labs offers a number of valuable features, such as guaranteed message receipt, flexible frequency with no duty cycle limit, and repeater capability. Link Labs, however, is also dependent on proprietary software. Ingenu has a solid technology stack with top-notch uplink and downlink capacity and high coverage, but use of the 2.4GHz spectrum can result in interference and structural penetration issues. Weightless-N/Nwave has similar functionality to SigFox and can coexist with other radio technologies without interference. The downside is a lack of downlink capability, very slow speeds, and the need for a temperature compensated crystal oscillator.
LoRaWAN is the ideal LPWAN solution for many IoT applications. This open standard protocol, defined by the LoRa Alliance, is designed to allow long-distance communication between low-power devices and Internet-connected applications. LoRa is the physical chip, and LoRaWAN is the software installed on top of the chip to enable networking. LoRaWAN operates in unlicensed radio spectrum at lower frequencies, which eliminates the need to pay fees for transmission rights or acquire a license or permit. LoRaWAN networks typically are laid out in a star-of-stars topology in which gateways relay messages between end-devices and a central network server at the backend. Gateways are connected to the network server via standard IP connections while end devices use single-hop LoRa or FSK communication to one or many gateways.
While the LoRa end-devices are limited in bandwidth to .3Kbps to 50Kbps, there remains a need for higher capacity transport at aggregation points. This is where secure satellite is an ideal solution for LoRa “backhaul” to application servers anywhere in the world.
Inmarsat and Actility recently introduced the world’s first global LoRaWAN IoT network, which combines LoWaWAN-based connectivity on the ground with satellite connectivity as the network backbone. The Inmarsat LoRaWAN network allows organizations to implement IoT solutions regardless of location, and is already being used in remote regions for asset tracking, agribusiness, and oil and gas applications. It enables organizations to collect and analyze data to support decisions that improve efficiency, reduce risk and enable remote assets to be managed more effectively.
LoRaWAN delivers the long-range connectivity, lower power demands and cost efficiency needed to support thousands of IoT devices. As a longtime provider of M2M communications services to the energy and public utilities sectors, SageNet can help you explore ways LoRaWAN IoT technology can be used to enable specific M2M and IoT use cases.