Selecting the Right Low-Power Wide-Area Network (LPWAN) Technology

IoT is transforming the way humans and devices interact with each other, creating market opportunities and enabling change across industries.

Priyanka Purbe -
Illustration: © IoT For All

The world of the Internet of Things (IoT), and its uses across industries, is expanding drastically. It’s transforming the way human and devices interact with each other, creating market opportunities and enabling change across industries. Continuous enhancements in various technologies make it very difficult for the user to select the best technology for their specific needs. Based on various parameters, there are a few low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) technologies to consider.

Some broad parameters to include and the best protocols for long-range communications are the following:

  • Type of industry application
  • Easy access to technology and hardware availability
  • RF band of operation
  • Data rate
  • Security concerns
  • Availability of technology support
  • Power consumption

LoRA 

LoRa stands for long-range radio. It’s a wireless protocol specifically designed for long-range, low-power communications. It mainly targets M2M and IoT networks, and it was developed by Semtech. This technology enables public or multi-tenant networks to connect the number of applications running on the same network.

LoRa Alliance was formed to standardize LPWAN for IoT; it’s a non-profit association that features membership from the number of key market shareholders, which includes CISCO, Actility, MicroChip, IBM, STMicro, Semtech, Orange Mobile and many more. This alliance is key to providing interoperability among multiple nationwide networks.

LoRa devices offer features such as long-range, low-power consumption, and secure data transmission for IoT applications. These technologies provide greater range than cellular networks and can be used by public, private or hybrid networks. It can easily plug into existing infrastructure and enables low-cost battery-operated IoT applications.

Applications for LoRa wireless technology include smart metering, inventory tracking, vending machine data and monitoring, and automotive industry and utility applications. These technologies are widely deployed and incorporated with many systems; even the small maker-style computers like Arduino have LoRa options. Accordingly, it’s very easy to develop LoRa applications for both large-scale manufacture and more specialist applications.

SigFox

Sigfox is currently deployed in 70 countries and covers +5 million kmand 1 billion people. It operates at 868 or 915 MHz and transmits very small amounts of data very slowly (300 b/s) using binary phase-shift keying (BPSK). It can achieve long-range coverage and has general characteristics that make it well suited for any IoT application requiring only small amounts of data.

SigFox sets up antennas on towers (like a cell phone company) and receives data transmissions from devices (like parking sensors or water meters). These transmissions use frequencies that are unlicensed with a 915 MHz ISM band in the US, which is the same frequency a cordless phone uses.

This technology is suitable for any application that needs to send small, infrequent bursts of data. Things like basic alarm systems, location monitoring, and simple metering are examples of one-way systems. The signal is sent a few times to “ensure” the message goes across; there are few limitations, such as shorter battery life for battery-powered applications and lack of ability to ensure the message is received by the tower.

LTE-M

LTE-M is an LPWAN radio technology standard developed by 3GPP release, 13 standard that defines narrowband IoT (NB-IoT or LTE Cat NB1). LTE-M leverages lower-cost modules, enables extended battery life, provides better signal penetration, and has the ability to use existing infrastructure.

With uplink and downlink speeds of 375 kb/s in half-duplex mode, Cat M1 supports IoT applications with low to medium data-rate needs. At the same speed, LTE Cat M1 can deliver remote firmware updates over the air (FOTA) within a feasible time period. This creates the best possible IoT connectivity solution for security, scaling, and cost.

It has a narrow bandwidth of 1.4 MHz compared to 20 MHz for regular LTE, giving a longer range. Using the same cell handover features as in regular LTE, mobility is fully supported. It’s possible to roam with LTE-M, as it’s suitable for applications that can be operated across multiple regions. The latency is in the millisecond range, offering real-time communication for time-critical applications. Battery life is up to 10 years, on a single charge with low-cost maintenance, even when end devices can’t be connected directly to the power grid.

A discourse on various IoT protocols is helpful when trying to select the best protocols for long-range communication. Due to its dependence on multiple aspects, deciding on the selection of long-range communication wireless technology for your application can still be challenging.

Author
Priyanka Purbe - Senior Firmware development Engineer, VOLANSYS

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IoT For All
IoT For All
Guest writers are IoT experts and enthusiasts interested in sharing their insights with the IoT industry through IoT For All. If you're interested in contributing to IoT For All, cli...
Guest writers are IoT experts and enthusiasts interested in sharing their insights with the IoT industry through IoT For All. If you're interested in contributing to IoT For All, cli...