LPWAN (low-power wide-area network) technologies use wireless telecommunications to transmit data over a wide area network. This technology is specifically designed to enable the transmission of long-range communications at low bit rates. These two features distinguish the LPWAN technologies from other wireless WANs that use more power and carry more data when connecting to the users. The data rate of LPWAN range from 0.4 Kbit/s to 40 Kbit/s per frequency.
Besides LPWANs being used to create a private wireless sensor network, they can also be used as a third-party infrastructure that allows sensor users to set them up in the field without necessarily putting in the LPWAN gateway technology.
At MOKOLoRa, we are technology-agnostic. We will contemplate your LPWAN vs LoRaWAN IoT project holistically and recommend the most appropriate technology for your exact application.
LPWAN technologies and platforms
Some of the competing standards and sellers for the LPWAN technologies are:
• DASH7 – is a bi-directional firmware standard with a low latency that works over several LPWAN radio technologies such as LoRa.
• Chirp spread spectrum (CSS)
• Sigfox – It is based on the UNB technology
• LoRa – It is a patented LPWAN technology that applies the chirp spread spectrum radio modulation.
• MIoTy – It is an LPWAN standard that implements telegram splitting technology.
• Weightless – It is an open standard that applies the LPWAN narrowband technology.
The ultra-narrow band (UNB) is a modulation technology used for LPWAN technologies by different companies such as;
• Sigfox – It is based on UNB technology.
• Weightless – It is a Weightless SIG set of communication standards.
• NB-Fi Protocol – WAVIoT Company developed it.
• DASH7 – It is a mode to development framework that uses wireless networks with low power. This platform runs over multiple wireless radio standards such as LoRa, LTE, 802.15.4g, and many more.
• LTE Advanced – It is an advancement of LTE infrastructures designed by the 3GPP for connected things
• MySensors – It is a do-it-yourself home automation framework that supports various radios such as LoRa.
• NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT) – It is a 3GPP LPWAN standardization effort applied in cellular networks
• Random phase multiple access (RPMA) – is an LPWAN standard used in GE’s AMI metering. It is based on CDMA technology variations for cellular phones, although it applies the unlicensed 2.4GHz spectrum.
• Byron – It is from the Taggle Systems in Australia.
• Wi-SUN – This platform is based on IEEE 802.15.4g.
LPWAN core features
1. Long-range – In rural areas, the LPWAN technologies actively works in a radius of more than ten kilometres and less than a kilometre in urban settings. It enables operational communication of data in formerly infeasible interior and underground settings.
2. Low power – LPWAN is optimized to consume low power. Its transceivers use small, cheap batteries that can last for up to 20 years.
3. Low cost: As LPWAN has a low operating range, it minimizes infrastructure requirements when combined with a star topology. It reduces the costs of the network since it is also license-free, or licensed bands reduce the cost of networks.
4. Few access points – LPWAN needs fewer access points like base stations and gateways to cover vast regions like big cities or countries.
5. Enhanced propagation and penetration – The LPWAN technologies typically operate in an unlicensed spectrum under the Sub-GHz ISM band. This band has enhanced propagation properties and better coverage in tight areas, allowing penetration through buildings and walls.
What to consider when purchasing LPWANs
Each LPWAN IoT application has definite necessities. Always consider the following factors to certify that you choose the proper LPWAN technologies for your IoT project.
a) Service quality – The key guarantee to an exceptional QoS and industrial-grade reliability is the high data reception rate. This is achieved by the interference immunity for LPWAN technologies that work on a license-free spectrum.
b) Scalability – It is essential to have an extensive network capacity to expand future networks and an incredible number of end devices. One main pointer to note is the number of devices and daily messages that a particular base station can control.
c) Battery life – Consumption of low-power considerably minimizes the total ownership cost, and it also assists in achieving sustainable business objectives in remote sensor networks.
d) Mobility – It is essential to have end nodes that transmit data at high speeds, enabling major IoT applications like fleet telematics and the safety of workers.
e) Security – Ensure that your LPWAN technologies has multi-layer encryption with robust authentication and identification systems that safely integrate and transmit data.
f) Public vs private network – Private LPWA systems are more flexible network coverage and design, while public LPWA systems regularly raise data privacy concerns.
g) Propriety vs standard – Standard solutions are better as they ensure long-term interoperability and reliability with other IIoT network components while at the same time evading the problems of vendor lock-in.
Importance of Standardization
One of the main pillars of a robust LPWAN and IoT network is standardization. It gives a demanding but clear technical framework certified by Standards Development Organizations such as 3GPP, ETSI, IETF, IEEE, and many more. A standardized technology offers different benefits like improved quality and reliability, longstanding interoperability, invention elasticity, and universal scalability.
The LPWAN realm has two technologies that thrive in the standardization efforts.
• Telegram Splitting technology – This technology is for the Low Throughput Networks and is centred on the ETSI standard.
• Cellular LPWAN – This technology is based on the 3GPP standards
Other industrial alliances that support standard growth have been established around the proprietary LPWAN solutions. Nevertheless, these struggles do not sanction the sustainability of the technology and cannot cover the entire network stack like in the LoRa Alliance.
Comparison between licensed vs unlicensed LPWANs
Licensed LPWANs apply a radio spectrum that is licensed and works on unrestricted networks. It supports both the 3GPP and GSM standards. These standards improve how LPWAN devices roam from one network to the other as it facilitates network mobility. Moreover, using a licensed LPWAN gives the connected device a greater level of exceptionality to connect. This improves its reliability and security. Some types of licensed LPWAN are Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and LTE-M.
On the other hand, the unlicensed LPWANs apply an unlicensed radio spectrum. It is usable by everyone without exclusiveness. Unlicensed LPWAN isn’t built to handle continuous movements at high speeds. Instead, it is suitable for applications like in areas where an unlicensed LPWA network is required for the single drive of linking devices in that region and places where a public LPWA system is unavailable. An example of unlicensed LPWAN is LoRaWAN.
LPWAN vs LoRaWAN: Which is the leading technology in the current market?
Currently, the market of LPWAN is still in its initial stage. It is characterized by a high degree of a network trail and disintegration of the technology that is still remote from global technology. Nevertheless, market analysts propose that this is promptly merging around some significant technologies. In 2017, the LoRa technology was the global market leader in deploying both public and private networks.
However, LoRa is anticipated to be the fastest-growing technology by the end of 2022. Market analysts expect LoRa to overtake NB-IoT on the number of connected devices; hence, it will likely become the leading LPWAN technologies. On the other hand, LoRa will still be the leading provider of a private network. Both LoRa and NB-IoT represent around 70 % of public and private networks in the current market. Furthermore, LoRa is anticipated to improve its market share to approximately 85% by the end of 2027.
Limitations of LPWANs
Although the LPWAN technologies has significant benefits with its application, it also has some limitations. These limitations include;
a) LPWAN transmits much less data than other technologies – The data rates of LPWAN technologies mostly range from 100bps to 10s of Kbps. These low rates make the technology inappropriate for moderately powerful applications. Devices that continuously transfer large amounts of data between the sensors on low latencies require higher capacity networks to function fully.
b) Interference and errors – As most LPWAN protocols are conveyed over unlicensed LPWAN frequency bands, they risk experiencing errors and interferences when exchanging data. For instance, a retail environment at times experiences interference when it has RFID readers coexisting in its settings.
c) Underdeveloped coverage – LPWAN coverage is comparatively underdeveloped compared to the other technologies. Most cellular operators have developed extensive networks that readily support the Internet of Things. To fully support LPWAN IoT applications, cellular providers have a complex upfront obstruction they need to overcome. Moreover, cellular operators have strict infrastructure guiding principles, which are relatively expensive, while LPWAN operators aren’t subject to synchronized tower properties.
History of LPWAN Technologies
The introduction of the LPWAN to the market can be traced back to the late 1980s. This was after the building of a low data network by ADEMCO, used to monitor alarm panels. The Motorola Company also introduced ARDIS (a low-speed vast area network) used in transaction tracking and sales automation processes in the same period. Although these innovations are different from present LPWANs, they still serve as predecessors to emerging technology.
With the introduction of the 2G in the 1990s, most cellular carriers could transmit data together with voice over long distances. Moreover, the demand for the internet increased rapidly over time, pushing companies to embrace connectivity capabilities in their devices. This trend led to the emergence of low-cost, low-power wireless communication solutions like LPWANs.
Recently, LPWANs have coursed as one solution. Sigfox was the first LPWAN Technologies to be introduced in the market by a French Company in 2009. The technology was able to incorporate real-time applications more efficiently than past radio technologies. Today, the LPWAN of LoRa is patented and widely used in more than 57 countries globally.
Later after 3 years, Semtech introduced the LPWAN LoRa protocol that operates in several unlicensed bands depending on its location. Instead of developers using the already existing infrastructure, they can use LoRa to set up their wide area networks. This has led to the emergence of some public LoRaWAN providers such as The Things Network, Senet, and machineQ.
Currently, various companies are installing LPWANs for several applications, where most of them actively participate in the LoRa Alliance. The LoRa Alliance was established in March 2015 to promote the triumph of LPWAN protocols. It is a charitable association with over 500 organization members.
Do mesh networking-based LPWAN Technologies exist?
Briefly, mesh networks cannot be categorized as LPWAN networks. Mesh networks are designed with interconnected web nodes where each of them independently extends radio signals. Mesh networks have three components that work jointly to transmit data from one wireless sensor to the other. These mesh network components are; gateways, endpoints, and repeaters. Nevertheless, the mesh technology is energy incompetent and is better for use in devices that send data over medium distances.
The relationship of LPWANS and IoTs
LPWANs are set to become more critical as the Internet of Things space is likely to boom. Multiple LPWAN devices in various industries and spaces work jointly to computerize their functionality, minimize operations costs, and soar to greater productivity heights.
There is a need for wireless networks that can quickly transfer data over long distances while consuming less power. Moreover, companies that set up IoT devices require cost-effective solutions that effectively link several sensors to the internet concurrently. Or else, most exciting IoT applications won’t be realistic.
Impact of 5G on LPWANs
The next revolution in communications of wireless cellular mobile is 5G. The technologies promises exceptional data rates at minimizes costs and latencies. Thus, due to the 5G performance capabilities, the technology will open incredible technological innovation.
Moreover, the 5G technology is set to enhance the connectivity of IoT enormously and improve the number of wireless sensors that can be concurrently linked to the internet and each other. The importance of LPWAN technologies is likely to grow with the spread of the 5G coverage.
Below are the various application use cases of the LPWAN Technologies.
LPWANS can be applied in electric metering. Companies in the electric metering market usually need regular communications, high data rates, and lower latencies. Essentially, these LPWAN electric meters do not require long-lasting batteries or lower energy consumption rates as they have an uninterrupted source of power. For the electric meters companies to make instant decisions such as interruptions, loads, and outages, they require a real-time grid for monitoring purposes.
LPWANs are also used in agriculture. Here, the LPWAN technologies must have sensor devices with long battery life. These sensor devices significantly improve the yields and minimize the rates of water consumption. The devices also regularly update the data they sense anytime they experience any change in the environmental conditions.
In manufacturing automation, LPWANs monitor real-time machinery, thus improving efficiency by allowing remote control and significantly improves the industrial production line. Several types of communication and sensor necessities exist in factory automation. LoRa is a perfect solution for applications that need long-lasting batteries and low-cost sensors for monitoring and asset tracking.
LPWAN IoT sensors in smart buildings for security, temperature, humidity, electric plugs, and water flow are deployed to alert property managers. These sensors also help prevent damages and promptly react to demands without necessarily having a manual building monitor. These sensors require cheap LPWAN Technologies devices with long-lasting batteries.
Retail point of sale stations
LPWANs are used in sale-point systems that need assured quality services. These systems handle regular communications; hence they are built with a continuous source of electric power. They strongly require a vibrant low latency that does not limit the number of transactions made.
Logistics pallet tracking
Presently, LPWANs are applied in logistics pallets tracking to determine the location and conditions of the products. Every logistic company needs to have its LPWAN Technologies system to ensure they have guaranteed coverage in their facilities. The application of logistics pallet tracking is a perfect example of a hybrid-deployment solution. It requires cheap devices with long-lasting batteries and can be easily deployed on all vehicles.
Security of LPWAN Technologies
All LPWAN IoT infrastructures experience several security-related challenges. IoT widens the attack platform because of its relatively huge time of transmission and long connectivity ranges. Each technology secures its communication with its security measures as they are all at risk of potential vulnerability.
The LoRA handles its security using the AES-128 encryption method. This technique offers multiple encryption layers in LoRaWAN. LoRa uses application keys and network to secure its packets to the network safely. The network and application session keys are created using the 128 bit AES application key (App key).
The Network session key shared by the network server and end devices is responsible for generating and verifying the message integrity code that warrants the message’s integrity. Moreover, the network session key can be used to develop unique signatures for every device. The Application session key does data encryption and decryption. An XOR operation encrypts each message. In addition, it generates the encrypted payload using a keystream created by the network and application session keys, along with the uplink and downlink message counter.
Lora gives the same message length before and after encryption, and it offers a chance to the malicious entity to reconstruct the mainstream from the messages encrypted. Even with the security mechanism laid down for LoRa devices, these devices are still vulnerable to jamming, wormhole, and replay attacks.
The future of LPWAN Technologies
Although LPWANs come with critical benefits and possibilities, they still have several severe challenges and risk factors associated with them. LTE-M and NB-IoT, both of which are cellular standards laid in place by several incumbent industries such as Nokia and Qualcomm, are one of the main risks to LPWANs. These networks can be easily upgraded and deployed in network cellular software by major operators such as Verizon and AT&T with just a flip of a switch. This enables cellular companies to efficiently service their narrowband applications by reframing the voice GSM frequencies without necessarily requiring any extra hardware.
What’s better is that these cellular companies can still articulate this using the same achievable price point when they wish to do so. Cellular companies are most likely to market LTE-M to big companies that use large amounts of mobile data and voice services. As cell providers collect huge sums of dollars in handset contracts, they still need to provide cheap low-end data services. This can enable them an opportunity to steal some in case they implement this as their strategy. Preferably, cell providers should try to offer more value than only data transportation. If the LoRa Alliance members develops targeted applications, LTE-M opportunities can never move them.
How to determine the right LPWAN Technologies
It is essential to consider several factors when selecting the right LPWAN Technologies for your IoT project. These three primary concerns that you must consider are;
Consumption of power
It is essential to consider the number of days your sensors will be in the field while on battery power. Also, consider if the devices will be used outdoors, even on winter days, and how often your sensors will be required to transmit data.
Keep in mind the range covered by communications, the amount of data required to send each message, and the geographical location of the devices. Furthermore, consider if you prefer outsourcing the service and infrastructure of your network or if you will personally control your network and the data that runs over it.
Mobile or stationary
Consider if your devices will be static where the LPWAN gateway distance is constant or if your devices will be movable with their infrastructure covering all the possible locations.
All LPWAN networks have different strengths and weaknesses on the cost, power, and power. MOKOLoRa has LoRaWAN Solutions for location monitoring,temperature and huimidity monitoring that are perfect for use in larger areas such as farms, campuses, or cities requiring small-volume data transmissions.