LoRa vs Zigbee: Which is The Better Technology for IoT Connectivity

LoRa vs Zigbee: Which is The Better Technology for IoT Connectivity
LoRa vs Zigbee

Over the past few decades, the Internet of Things has made significant progress, establishing itself as the technology king in all walks of life. Right from smart wearables to home automation to smart cities, IoT is like a house on fire, continues to open up new possibilities, revamping our businesses and lives. As the transmission basis of the IoT, wireless communication technology has become a hot topic, with various technologies bringing forth new ones to share a big pie of the IoT market. Among the most popular wireless technologies, this article will focus on the differences between LoRa and Zigbee.

IoT development: introduction to LoRa and Zigbee

There are many wireless communication technologies in IoT applications that can help to establish a local or wide area network. The wireless technology of the LAN involves 2.4GHz WiFi, Zigbee, Bluetooth, etc., and the WAN includes 2G/3G/4G, etc. Before low power wide area networks (LPWAN), it seemed like you had to choose between low power and long distance. With the adoption of LPWAN technology, it’s possible to maximize longer-range communications and lower-power consumption, while saving on additional costs.

What is LoRa

LoRa stands for long-range radio, which is a low-power WAN wireless standard adopted and promoted by American Semtech Company. Based on spread spectrum technology, it is one of the wireless communication technologies of LPWAN, performing well in terms of transmission distance and power consumption.

LoRa has longer distances than other wireless technologies for the same power consumption, providing a simple system with long distances, long battery life, and high capacity to scale sensor networks. The coverage of the Lora connection is 3-5 times that of traditional radio frequency communication. At present, LoRa has been popularized all over the world and gradually applied to the Internet of Things.

What is Zigbee

Zigbee is a wireless network protocol for short-distance transmission, which is suitable for data transmission between a series of electronic components with short transmission distance, low transmission rate and low power consumption. It takes its name from the zig-zag dance of honey bees, as bees always dance with their wings to communicate the location of the pollen to their companions.

As a short-range, low-complexity, low-power, low-cost wireless communication technology, ZigBee wireless communication technology is based on IEEE802 15.4 wireless standard in networking, security and application software. The wide application of Zigbee in smart homes and industrial Internet of Things proves that it is a reliable and efficient wireless network solution.

Feature-by-feature comparison between LoRa and Zigbee

LoRa and Zigbee are different standards for wireless communication. To break down the differences, the following part will show you some of the common and uncommon comparisons between LoRa and Zigbee.

Frequency band: LoRa is designed to operate at frequencies between 863 to 870 MHz in Europe, 902 to 928 MHz in America, 915 to 928 MHz in Asia, and 2.4 GHz worldwide, while Zigbee transmits over 868MHz in Europe, 915 MHz in America, and the global standard 2.4GHz Industrial Scientific and Medical (ISM) frequency band.

Transmission range: In terms of transmission range, the maximum range for Zigbee-based wireless connections is 100 m, while for LoRa, it can extend well up to 15-20 km. In LoRa, the range depends on numerous factors such as indoor or outdoor gateways, antenna used, etc. On average, LoRa can transmit signals over 3 miles (4.7 km) in urban areas and 10 miles (16 km) or more in rural areas.

Power consumption: The transmitting current of the LoRa chip is close to that of Zigbee, and the receiving current of LoRa is lower than that of Zigbee, both of which have lower power consumption. Generally speaking, the number of data packets sent and received by the terminal of the Zigbee system in networking and normal operation is larger than that of LoRa, and these interactions will also increase power consumption.

Data rate: The data transfer rate of LoRa varies from 300 bps to 37.5 kbps, depending on the used bandwidth and spreading factor. Zigbee is able to deliver data at the rate of 250 kbps, 100 kbps, 40 kbps, and 20 kbps.

Topology: LoRa network architecture adopts a star-of-stars topology, in which gateways relay messages between the individual end devices and the central network server. There are various network topologies in Zigbee, including star, tree, peer-to-peer and mesh networks. Each topology has different effects on the routing of messages and the connection of devices.

Cost: Due to the long-distance communication, strong wall-penetrating capability, and large system capacity of LoRa, the number of LoRa gateways required by the same number of terminals is much less than that of Zigbee gateways, which can save the networking cost of the system. Compared with Zigbee, the installation and deployment of LoRa devices are simpler, which greatly reduces their installation cost.

Specifications authorityLoRa AllianceZigbee Alliance
Year of development20091998
StandardIEEE 802.15.4IEEE 802.15.4
Frequency band863 to 870 MHz, 902 to
928 MHz, 915 to 928
MHz, 2.4 GHz worldwide
868MHz, 915 MHz, 2.4GHz
Transmission range3 miles (4.7 km) in urban areas, 10 miles (16 km) or
more in rural areas
10 to 100 meters
Power consumption300 bps to 37.5 kbpslow
Data ratelower compare to Zigbee20 kbps (868 MHz),
40Kbps (915 MHz) , 250 kbps (2.4GHz)
Topologystarstar, tree, peer-to-peer and mesh
Applicationused as Wide Area
used as LR-WPAN i.e. low rate wireless personal area network

What are the pros and cons of LoRa and Zigbee

The different features of LoRa and Zigbee determine that they will have different advantages and limitations. Based on their special features above, here is an introduction to the main advantages and limitations of LoRa and Zigbee.

LoRa benefits and limitations

Advantages of LoRa

  • Longer range: This is one of the prominent advantages of LoRa technology. The communication range of LoRa sensors is measured in kilometers.
  • Low power equals more battery: Low power consumption means LoRa devices have a longer battery life, which can achieve a battery life of more than 10 years.
  • Remarkable immunity to interference: LoRa adopts spread spectrum technology, which greatly improves the anti-interference ability of LoRa wireless communication. Even if signals are sent to the host with the same frequency simultaneously, these signals won’t interfere with each other, thus thoroughly addressing the pain point that wireless signal communication is easily interfered.
  • Easy and fast deployment: The LoRa network basically adopts a star topology, handles less bandwidth, and is easy to expand. It is an obvious choice for practical IoT deployments where data transmission is unstable.

Limitations of LoRa

  • Not ideal for large data payloads: LoRa is not ideal for large data payloads because it processes less bandwidth and transmits less data payloads.
  • Unlicensed radio networks: LoRaWAN works on unlicensed radio networks, and as LoRa devices and network deployments grow, you may experience interference on that frequency.
  • Less secure: The LoRa network layer and the application layer are generated from the same root key and random number and are not isolated from each other. Therefore, there are risks of data privacy leakage and data tampering due to private key leakage.

Zigbee benefits and limitations

Advantages of Zigbee

  • Flexible network structure: There is more than one network structure of Zigbee, but due to the short communication distance of Zigbee and the weak ability to penetrate walls, network expansion is difficult.
  • High security: Zigbee adopts the AES-128 encryption algorithm, which provides three-level security during data transmission. Individual applications can flexibly determine their security properties.
  • Short delay: Short delay means that Zigbee response promptly, typically switching from sleep to working mode in 15ms. Moreover, one node can connect to the network in 30ms, further saving power.
  • Large network capacity: A Zigbee network includes up to 255 Zigbee network nodes, of which one is a master device and the others are slave devices. If connected to each other through a network coordinator, the entire network can support more than considerable 64,000 Zigbee network nodes.

Limitations of Zigbee

  • High cost: Due to the short communication distance of Zigbee, the cost is high for applications requiring the deployment of a large number of nodes. And when something goes wrong, replacement costs will be high.
  • Limited transmission coverage: The limited coverage means that Zigbee is primarily applied in indoor environments rather than outdoor contexts.
  • Complex deployment: Zigbee wireless network involves a large number of terminal nodes and gateways, so networking is complicated and network expansion is difficult.

Different use cases of Zigbee and LoRa connectivity

LoRa and Zigbee are born for totally different use cases. Based on the advantages of LoRa’s long-distance transmission, super anti-jamming ability, and low power consumption, its common application scenarios include smart cities, smart homes, smart buildings, smart environmental monitoring, smart measurement, smart agriculture, smart farm, smart industry, smart retail, smart logistics, Intelligent fire protection, etc. To be precise, Lora makes the application scenarios extend seamlessly from indoor to outdoor and even to the whole community.

The wide communication frequency band and short communication distance determine the implementation of Zigbee solution. Common application scenarios include smart home, smart measurement, smart agriculture, smart energy, etc. Zigbee is more preferred in the automatic control and remote control field, and it formed an ecological chain of a certain scale in home automation and industrial field control. With the deepening of application, Zigbee’s own limitations make Zigbee products encounter a bottleneck. At the same time, LoRa is entering the IoT with strong momentum and becoming its strong rival.

LoRa vs Zigbee: what to choose for better connectivity

Comparing LoRa and Zigbee is like comparing apples and oranges. LoRa is superior to Zigbee in terms of range and power consumption. Zigbee is favored in short-range communication and indoor environment. As for which wireless technology is better to choose for IoT connectivity, it’s obvious that the result is based on usage. You can select the best according to your specific business needs.

For general purposes, LoRa is a far more effective option in case of IoT applications that require long distance transmission, low power consumption, large number of connections and location tracking. Typical applications include smart water meter reading, smart agriculture, smart parking lot, vehicle tracking, personnel location tracking, smart community and so on. LoRa can also be integrated with other technologies such as WiFi, Bluetooth, big data, and more to provide better connectivity.

Meanwhile, Zigbee is also a reliable wireless network solution, which had a long standing history in the industrial field and is used for remote monitoring and control. It comes into being in response to the increasing demand for industrial automation for reliable wireless data transmission. The Zigbee mesh network solution will greatly improve the efficiency and interoperability of IoT devices.

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