IoT has become a transformative force in our interconnected world. It’s like the magical key that unlocks the door to seamless connectivity and communication between devices. Yet, to truly transform industries and our daily lives, we need connectivity that is both dependable and efficient. That’s where the LPWAN technologies step in. They swoop in to bridge the gap, unlocking IoT’s full potential and revolutionizing how we work and play. In this blog, we will delve into the world of LPWAN technologies, exploring their definition, advantages, and their pivotal role in shaping the future of IoT connectivity.
Understanding LPWAN technologies
LPWAN refers to a category of wireless communication technologies designed specifically for IoT applications. It provides long-range and low-power connectivity, enabling devices to communicate over vast distances while consuming minimal energy. LPWAN technologies are optimized to deliver extended battery life and can penetrate through obstacles, making them ideal for large-scale IoT deployments in various scenarios.
Key advantages of LPWAN technologies
LPWAN technologies offer several advantages that set them apart from other wireless communication options for IoT:
- Extended Range: LPWAN technologies can cover areas ranging from a few kilometers to several hundred kilometers, suitable for IoT applications spread across wide areas or even spanning multiple cities.
- Low Power Consumption: LPWAN devices have low energy consumption, enabling them to operate for extended durations. This minimizes the need for frequent maintenance and battery replacements.
- Cost-Effective: LPWAN networks are designed to be economical and cost-effective, ensuring that businesses can adopt IoT technologies without incurring exorbitant expenses.
How LPWAN networks work
LPWAN networks are composed of three primary elements: end devices, gateways, and a network server. End devices, such as sensors or IoT devices, collect and transmit data to gateways. Gateways act as intermediaries, receiving data from end devices and transmit it to the network server. The network server manages the LPWAN network, handling data routing, security, and connectivity management.
7 most important LPWAN technologies today
LPWAN technologies have experienced rapid growth, with a projected CAGR of 109% and connectivity spending exceeding US$4.7 billion by 2023. Among the fragmented market, NB-IoT, LoRa, and Sigfox have emerged as the top LPWAN technologies, gaining popularity in both end-user adoption and ecosystem support. Below will show some of the popular LPWAN technologies.
NB-IoT (Narrowband IoT)
NB-IoT is a cellular-based LPWAN technology standardized by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). It operates on licensed spectrum, leveraging existing cellular infrastructure. NB-IoT offers excellent coverage and penetration capabilities, well-suited for applications requiring deep indoor coverage or deployment in remote areas. It utilizes narrowband technology to enable efficient use of spectrum resources and simultaneous connections for a large number of devices.
LoRa is an unlicensed LPWAN technology that operates in sub-gigahertz frequencies. It utilizes chirp spread spectrum (CSS) modulation, which provides robustness against interference and enables long-range communication. LoRa offers flexibility in terms of data rates and modulation schemes to meet various application requirements. The exclusive transceiver chip from Semtech Corporation is essential for LoRa implementation. The LoRaWAN protocol manages communication between LPWAN devices and gateways, making it a popular choice for low-cost, battery-efficient IoT deployments.
Sigfox is another unlicensed LPWAN technology that operates in the sub-gigahertz spectrum. It utilizes a unique proprietary protocol to enable long-range, low-power communication. Sigfox offers a simple and cost-effective solution for connecting numerous devices over a wide area, but it has limited bandwidth and data rate capabilities. Sigfox devices have a maximum range of 40 km in outdoor environments and 10 km in urban areas.
LTE-M (Long Term Evolution for Machines)
LTE-M, also known as Cat-M1, is a cellular-based LPWAN technology designed to optimize IoT applications over existing LTE networks. It offers extended coverage and improved battery life in comparison to traditional cellular networks. With faster data rates than NB-IoT, LTE-M is ideal for applications that demand frequent data transmission or real-time communication.
Weightless is an open standard LPWAN technology that offers both licensed and unlicensed spectrum options. It caters to delivering high-performance, low-power, and scalable connectivity for IoT devices. Weightless SIG developed three LPWAN standards: Weightless-N, Weightless-P, and Weightless-W. The Weightless-P variant operates in unlicensed spectrum, while the Weightless-N variant operates in licensed spectrum, offering enhanced security and quality of service.
Ingenu (formerly known as RPMA)
Ingenu, formerly known as RPMA (Random Phase Multiple Access), is a proprietary LPWAN technology that operates in unlicensed spectrum bands. It utilizes a unique modulation scheme and random phase access techniques to deliver long-range, low-power connectivity for IoT devices. Ingenu operates on the 2.4 GHz ISM band and offers robust coverage and excellent signal propagation. Its unique technology enables interference-free operation and efficient communication for IoT devices in various industries.
EC-GSM (Extended Coverage GSM)
EC-GSM is an LPWAN technology that leverages existing GSM (2G) networks to provide extended coverage for IoT devices. It utilizes efficient power-saving techniques and advanced coding schemes to enable long battery life and reliable connectivity. EC-GSM operates in the licensed GSM spectrum, offering compatibility with existing GSM infrastructure and a smooth migration path for cellular operators.
LPWAN technologies in the Internet of Things
LPWAN technologies play a crucial role in enabling widespread IoT deployments. With their long-range capabilities and low power consumption, they enable the connection of numerous devices across large areas. This facilitates the establishment of IoT networks in various locations, including remote areas, cities, and even across countries, contributing to the development of smart cities and interconnected industries. The following are key applications where LPWAN excels:
Smart Cities: LPWAN enables smart city solutions such as smart lighting, waste management, parking management, and environmental monitoring. These applications contribute to improving urban efficiency, sustainability, and the overall well-being of residents.
Industrial IoT: LPWAN facilitates remote monitoring, predictive maintenance, and asset tracking in industrial settings. By harnessing LPWAN, businesses can optimize operations, improve productivity, and reduce downtime.
Agriculture and Farming: By leveraging LPWAN, precision agriculture is enhanced as real-time data on soil moisture, temperature, and crop health is made available. This information enables farmers to make informed decisions, improve resource usage, and ultimately boost yields.
Asset Tracking and Logistics: LPWAN technologies help track and monitor assets across the supply chain, ensuring efficient logistics operations and reducing losses.
Environmental Monitoring: Better environmental management is facilitated by LPWAN, which allows monitoring of environmental parameters including air quality, water quality, and noise levels.
Smart Healthcare: Enhancing healthcare delivery and patient care, LPWAN technologies enable remote patient monitoring, asset tracking in hospitals, and drug temperature monitoring.
LPWAN technologies comparison
NB IoT vs. LoRaWAN vs. Sigfox
NB-IoT, LoRaWAN, and Sigfox are LPWAN technologies designed for low-power, wide-area IoT applications. While they all provide long-range communication and wide coverage, they differ in key aspects. NB-IoT operates in licensed spectrum bands, offering higher data rates, deep coverage, and support for high device densities. LoRaWAN operates in unlicensed bands, excelling in long-range coverage and scalability, making it ideal for rural or remote applications. Sigfox, known for its simplicity and low cost, is an ideal choice for applications requiring global coverage and low data rates.
|10 km (urban)
40 km (rural)
|5 km (urban)
20 km (rural)
|1 km (urban)
10 km (rural)
LPWAN is a general term for low-power, wide-area network technologies, while LoRaWAN is a specific implementation of LPWAN. LoRaWAN operates in unlicensed frequency bands and provides advantages such as long-range coverage, low power consumption, scalability, and good interoperability.
Comparing LPWAN and LoRaWAN, it’s important to understand that LPWAN encompasses a broader range of technologies, while LoRaWAN is a specific subset. The choice between LPWAN and LoRaWAN depends on specific requirements, including range coverage, power consumption, device density, and interoperability needs.
Future outlook and emerging LPWAN technologies
The future of LPWAN technologies is filled with exciting advancements and emerging options. Consider the following trends:
LPWAN and 5G integration: As 5G networks continue to roll out globally, the integration of LPWAN technologies with 5G is expected to bring significant advancements to IoT connectivity. The combination of high-speed 5G networks and LPWAN’s long-range capabilities will enable new use cases requiring both high-bandwidth and long-range communication.
Enhanced LPWAN features and capabilities: LPWAN technologies are evolving to offer enhanced features and capabilities. These include improved data rates, increased device density support, and enhanced security measures. As LPWAN technologies mature, businesses can expect even greater reliability, flexibility, and efficiency in their IoT deployments.
Introduction of new LPWAN technologies: In addition to the existing LPWAN technologies, new ones are continually being developed and introduced. Some notable emerging LPWAN technologies include:
- Wi-SUN (Wireless Smart Utility Network): Wi-SUN is a wireless communications standard designed for utility applications, such as smart grid systems and smart cities. It provides wide-area coverage, high scalability, and interoperability.
- DASH7 (ISO/IEC 18000-7): DASH7 is an open standard LPWAN technology designed for long-range communication in challenging environments. It operates in the unlicensed ISM bands and supports data rates suitable for industrial applications.
LPWAN technologies are driving the future of IoT connectivity. With their long-range capabilities and cost-effectiveness, LPWAN technologies are revolutionizing a myriad of applications across industries. As the future unfolds, we can expect even more exciting developments and emerging LPWAN technologies that will shape the IoT landscape. Embrace the power of LPWAN and embark on your IoT journey today!