Why Service Providers Should Combine LoRaWAN and Cellular IoT (NB-IoT/LTE-M)

We should unshackle ourselves from the "LoRaWAN vs. Cellular IoT" hype-driven binary, seeking instead a useful harmony of the two. Deploying such a multi-technological fusion of LoRaWAN and Cellular IoT, through a connectivity-agnostic platform, will set mobile network operators apart in their IoT offerings by enabling them to address all use cases within a single horizontal platform.

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In the past, technologies like BLE, Z-WAVE, etc. have dominated unlicensed spectrum based Internet of Things—IoT—deployment, especially for low power local deployments such as smart home applications. At the same time, mobile network operators have primarily focused on SIM-based M2M applications, such as connected vending machines, connected cars, and so on. Such M2M applications were primarily driven by higher throughput, lower latency and/or mobility requirements, which cannot be delivered by unlicensed technologies.

LPWAN Market Segmentation
Image Credit: Actility

LoRaWAN And the LPWAN IoT Market Disruption

The unlicensed spectrum market is a large one, as mobile networks previously had no play with traditional unlicensed technologies like Z-Wave. The arrival of LoRaWAN has significantly changed the dynamics of Low-Power, Wide-Area Network (LPWAN) ecosystem due to its low-power, low-cost, and simple architecture.

Additionally, the unlicensed market represents huge potential for service providers. There is new technology set to capture a big part of the LPWAN market. However, mobile network operators must combine their offerings such that their end-customers (enterprises) can focus on the use cases rather than connectivity solutions.

The implication is that mobile network operators have both LoRaWAN and Cellular IoT (NB-IoT, LTE-M) in their portfolio. And they need to have a strong potential to provide premium value to end customers with such a combination. At the end of the day, it’s about being customer-focused and driven by the practicality of use cases.

The combination of LoRaWAN and Cellular IoT in the mobile network operator portfolio represents a huge opportunity for operators to build IoT offerings that address all the use cases but require building a horizontal platform that leverages both LoRaWAN and Cellular IoT.

When Will Enterprise Customers Demand both LoRaWAN and Cellular IoT?

Consider a building management company that wants to deploy different IoT solutions within the same building. It’s impractical to replace all the sensors in the building with NB-IoT or LTE-M. It would be too expensive to put SIM cards and a Cellular IoT (C-IoT) module in a sensor that’s active only a few times daily to send few bytes of data (e.g. humidity or pressure sensors).

Such low-cost, low-power sensor requirements are better addressed by unlicensed solutions such as LoRaWAN. Cellular IoT technologies would, however, be necessary in, for example, a motion detecting sensor activating a camera that sends a live stream of photo or video if a burglar alarm were to go off in the building. 

In this scenario, the building management company will most certainly demand a unified way to manage devices (LoRaWAN, NB-IoT, LTE-M) and data for cloud applications (and also billing).

This is a simple example, but reality lies somewhere near here, where a service provider needs an offering that combines both licensed and unlicensed technologies in a single multi-technology connectivity agnostic platform. The figure below provides a nice summary as to why LoRaWAN and C-IoT complement each other.

LoRaWAN Vs Cellular IoT Comparison
Image Credit: Actility

A LoRaWAN and C-IoT combination is what will win the future. It isn’t about LoRaWAN vs. Cellular IoT, but rather a smart interplay of unlicensed and licensed-based LPWAN technologies that will set mobile network operators apart in their IoT offering to address all use cases with a horizontal platform.

There has already been a similar transition in human-centric communications where operators have adopted WiFi to be an integral part of their portfolio to combine with their cellular offerings.

Example Use Case Mapping to different LPWAN Technologies
Image Credit: Actility

And for this reason, LoRaWAN is meant to be the WiFi of LPWAN IoT.

LoRa Alliance’s Success

LoRa Alliance was founded by Actility, Semtech, and IBM, in 2015. Since its inception, it has grown exponentially to over 500+ members. It a technology that has proven itself, and its legacy speaks for itself. 

Major players such as Google and Alibaba are joining the alliance. This growth will inevitably demonstrate that there’s a real business case for using LoRaWAN for LPWAN IoT, as well as, as discussed here, cellular IoT the ability to service all uses cases in a connectivity- and use case-agnostic way.

This post was originally published by Rohit Gupta on LinkedIn. 

Rohit Gupta
Dr. Rohit works as Senior Wireless product manager at Actility. He manages the Cellular IoT and Geolocation product portfolios. He has worked in National Instruments, EURECOM, STMicroelectronics, Ericsson, and CEA-LETI in several roles related to RnD project management on various topics in wireless communication. His interests lie in technology/product management for IoT, Geolocation, and 5G