New and emerging wireless standards such as LoRa (short for Long Range), are key to the Internet of Things industry since they are designed specifically for simple sensor devices requiring long range and long battery life. Wireless standards such as LoRa are prominent across countless industries and applications, from health care to agriculture and retail, proving to deliver long-lasting benefits to companies around the world.
Though LoRa is rising in popularity, not every company understands the advantages and implications of using LoRa-based IoT sensors and solutions. When businesses use LoRa-based wireless sensors in their commercial or industrial facilities, they can realize the maximum benefit of these innovative devices.
What is LoRa vs. LoRaWAN?
LoRa is a popular new standard for connecting wireless sensors with very long range and long battery life. The name LoRa is a shortened version of “Long Range” and uses a proprietary modulation scheme called chirp spread spectrum developed by Semtech. This modulation scheme enables excellent link margins and is thus able to communicate over long distances and through noisy environments. Much like other LPWAN technologies such as Sigfox, LoRa is typically run at lower data rates which further increases link margin.
LoRaWAN is the protocol that runs “on top of” the LoRa modulation which manages the network connectivity. In other words, LoRa can be thought of as the PHY layer and LoRaWAN is the link layer. The LoRa sensors from IpinfraIOT, using Multi brand, all run with the LoRaWAN protocol and are compatible with industry standard LoRaWAN gateways.
What Is LPWAN and How Does It Relate to LoRaWAN?
LPWAN stands for Low Power Wide Area Networks, and is a category of wireless standards that manage long-range connections to wireless devices. Unlike cellular networks, LPWAN is cost-effective and energy-efficient, making it ideal for applications that involve many low-power devices, such as irrigation systems and smart lighting.
LoRaWAN is a type of LPWAN that limits network interference and maintains low battery demand. Due to its many advantages, LoRaWAN is considered one of the best specifications among LPWAN standards.
What is a LoRaWAN Gateway vs. Network Server?
A LoRaWAN gateway is a box that connects wireless LoRaWAN end devices such as sensors to the Internet or a local network. This is similar to the way a WiFi router connects WiFi devices to the Internet. Gateways are typically deployed by the end user or solution provider, and often in remote areas that do not have other types of coverage.
The LoRaWAN network server is software that manages the device connectivity and communication. The network server software may reside on the physical gateway or in the cloud. When the network server is in the cloud as it is with a managed service like AWS, the gateway operates in what is called “packet forwarding” mode which simply passes all raw LoRa packets in the air to the network server and from the network server back over the air. In this case, all intelligence about decoding the packets, managing connectivity to devices, etc. resides in the cloud, which makes for easier upgrades and management of the server itself.
If you buy a LoRaWAN sensor from IpinfraIOT, you can connect it to any standard LoRaWAN gateway and/or network server, many of which are sold by our partners.
What Are LoRaWAN Sensors?
Before companies can understand the concept of LoRaWAN sensors, they must first learn about IoT sensors. IoT sensors are wireless devices that gather sensory information from their surroundings and detect irregular changes in the environment, such as temperature, movement, air quality, and lighting. These monitoring devices are designed to interact with central hubs, gateways, and servers through nodes organized to support the user’s individualized network goals.
LoRaWAN sensors are IoT devices created to function on LoRaWAN networks. These networks are particularly useful for wireless sensors due to their ability to transfer data across long distances. They also have high-performing link margins that reach signals below the radio frequency (RF) noise floor. Both of these features allow LoRaWAN to make network connections more attainable for IoT sensors, especially in remote areas without public access.
Why use LoRaWAN instead of WiFi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Cellular, etc?
2.4GHz protocols such as WiFi, Zigbee, and Bluetooth are generally poor choices for wireless sensors for a number of reasons. First, protocols that run in the 2.4GHz spectrum have very poor range and propagation through objects such as walls and floors. One might note that they commonly have trouble getting a WiFi connection on the second floor of their house when the WiFi router is in the basement and there is any type of obstruction in the way. Home automation systems utilizing protocols such as Zigbee will often find that they have trouble connecting to the very next room. LoRa devices, on the other hand, can reach distances of many miles in open-air environments and perform very well through obstructions such as buildings or equipment.
Second, the 2.4GHz spectrum is very “noisy” meaning that there are 2.4GHz devices all around us competing for air time which affects link quality. LoRa runs at 915MHz in the US and thus does not have interference with local WiFi and most other wireless devices.
Third, security and key management are unreliable with protocols such as WiFi. For example, if someone changes the password on a WiFi router, all WiFi devices will likewise need to be updated. How though, does the password get updated on small battery-powered devices that have no user interface? Common WiFi devices such as smartphones, TVs, laptops, etc. have displays and allow you to easily change the password, but for very simple battery-powered sensors, this is not the case.
LoRaWAN, on the other hand, provisions and secures devices differently. Instead of a single password defined at the network server, the key originates at the sensor itself and has a unique value that can be provisioned at the network server, often in the cloud. All Radio Bridge sensors have unique ID/Key pairs that allow for efficient provisioning and management of security.
Fourth, battery consumption for devices such as WiFi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, and cellular devices is relatively high. Not only is the transmit power high, but the devices must maintain regular communication to a gateway or base station to maintain their connected status. LoRaWAN devices, on the other hand, can enter a deep sleep mode and only wake up to transmit when necessary to communicate a new event. This allows for very long battery life on the order of 5-10 years in most applications.
Does LoRaWAN require a monthly data plan?
LoRaWAN does not require monthly data fees as would be required with a cellular device. A private LoRaWAN gateway can be purchased and deployed on a private network. That said, managed network servers requiring monthly data plans can provide a lot of value to small organizations that do not wish to reinvent the wheel and get to market quickly. For example, the TTI LoRaWAN network service from Comcast provides a high quality, managed network server that is ready to go for new deployments.
The web-based device management console from Radio Bridge provides additional value with the automatic provisioning, monitoring, and configuration of LoRaWAN sensors in the field. For large organizations with over 10,000 to 50,000 deployed devices, it may make sense to develop all of these systems from scratch. For smaller deployments under 10,000 or so units, there is generally a better return on investment to utilize these managed services and get to market quickly.
Advantages of Using LoRaWAN for IoT Applications
LoRaWAN sensors come with numerous benefits. When commercial and industrial businesses use LoRaWAN for IoT applications, they can experience everything from cost and energy savings to convenience on the job site. Some of the many advantages of LoRaWAN sensors include:
- A wide coverage range. As the name suggests, LoRaWAN technologies extend across broad coverage ranges, with operators stationed in over 100 countries. Typically, this specification connects devices up to 30 miles apart in rural areas and even reaches less-accessible environments such as dense urban locations and indoor spaces.
- Long-lasting battery life. The LoRaWAN specification consumes less power than most networks, meaning LoRaWAN sensors maintain remarkably long battery life compared to other IoT devices. LoRaWAN supports extended battery life for years before users are required to recharge or replace the battery.
- Unlicensed frequency bands. Because LoRaWAN systems use unlicensed frequencies to operate, no licensing fees are necessary as you would have in, say, a licensed cellular band.
- Low bandwidth. LoRaWAN networks operate with very low bandwidth, making them ideal for IoT technologies with low data rates.
- LoRaWAN systems are user-friendly, with fast and simple setup capabilities.
- Easy deployment. Systems that use LoRaWAN comprise a relatively simple architecture, which means they are easy to deploy.
- Cost-effective. Because the LoRaWAN specification offers lower connectivity, operating, and battery replacement costs than other specifications, it provides better overall cost savings.
Applications of LoRaWAN Technology
Due to the many benefits, LoRaWAN sensors have become increasingly popular across many diversified industries. Some of these uses include:
- Smart agriculture. LoRaWAN technologies are excellent for agricultural use, increasing production and minimizing environmental impact and overall expenses. These sensors are commonly used to monitor livestock health, improve ground conditions, and measure surrounding environments to ensure efficient crop production.
- Healthcare. In health care settings such as hospitals and doctor’s offices, LoRaWAN sensors maintain facility environments, monitor assets, and optimize workflow to deliver the safest and most efficient patient care.
- Transportation and logistics. LoRaWAN sensors provide functionality and visibility to fleet maintenance and warehouse operations and can monitor loading docks and container conditions, track assets, and manage order assembly.
- Industrial applications. Many industrial facilities such as factories and warehouses use LoRAWAN sensors to keep track of energy use, machine functionality, and air conditions to minimize costs on the job site.
- Smart cities. LoRaWAN sensors for IoT make smart cities possible, providing a way to monitor public transportation, light streets, and promote cost-effective city services.
- Gas, oil, and mining. LoRaWAN technologies help mining, gas, and oil companies ensure job site conditions are safe for workers. They are also used to monitor tank characteristics such as level, temperature, leaks, and pressure.