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What to know when choosing a LPWAN technology

What to know when choosing a LPWAN technology
Currently many LPWAN technologies exist; these include NB-IoT, LoRa, Sigfox, Weightless and and HaLow, among others. When choosing a particular technology the systems integrator should know about the unique features of the technology as well as the specific user needs and demands.
The Internet of Things concept has certainly taken hold in different aspects of our lives, whereby connected devices communicate wirelessly with each other to generate data and help end users achieve more automation in their operations. In certain applications, for example city surveillance or projects covering large spaces, conventional cellular or wireless technologies have proven less than ideal for transmission between end-node devices that consume little power and transmit low volumes of data. This is where users can benefit from Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) technologies.
 
In fact, LPWAN has gained popularity in recent years, and that trend is expected to continue. In a research note, ABI Research estimated that 4 billion IoT devices are expected to rely on LPWANs by 2025. “This technology will be the fastest growing connectivity segment in the market through 2025. The rise of LPWANs will translate into 1 billion chipset shipments with the technology generating a total value of more than US$2 billion in 2025,” the report pointed out.
 
What makes LPWAN attractive is its ability to optimize long-distance transmission between low-power devices. “Wireless transmissions from IoT end nodes often must communicate across long distances or need to penetrate barriers such as concrete or soil. LPWAN technologies are a good option for these conditions, enabling data that might otherwise be inaccessible or too costly to access to be connected to the cloud,” said Tom Pannell, Senior Marketing Director for IoT Products at Silicon Labs. “Ultimately, LPWAN connections help provide more insights into what is happening in the physical world (i.e., via sensor nodes in our homes, offices, factories and urban infrastructure), thus contributing to real-time cloud-based analytics.”
 
“Many potential ‘connected things’ are located in remote or hard to reach areas, at long distances from the next cellular base station. When there is coverage, it is often poor and requires the device transmitter to operate at high power, draining the battery,” said Steve Dunn, CEO of LEAPIN Digital Keys. “Additionally, cellular networks are not optimized for applications that only transmit small amounts of infrequent data. Further, the existing cellular standards don’t support power saving capabilities, which makes these standards unsuitable for inexpensive devices that require battery lives of several years.”
 

Technologies and applications

 
Currently many LPWAN technologies exist; these include NB-IoT, LoRa, Sigfox, Weightless and and HaLow, among others. When choosing a particular technology the systems integrator should know about the unique features of the technology as well as the specific user needs and demands.
 
NB-IoT (NarrowBand IoT) is a LPWAN technology that provides low power consumption, good penetration coverage and lower components cost. It is standardized by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), the same organization that standardized 3G/4G cellular technologies. As a result NB-IoT is compatible with a telecom operator’s existing network.
 
“NB-IoT is optimized for applications that need to communicate small amounts of data over long periods of time. Since it operates in licensed spectrum, it is secure and reliable providing guaranteed quality of service,” Dunn said. “NB IoT will eventually work virtually anywhere in mobile network operators’ existing infrastructure. It connects devices more simply and efficiently on already established mobile networks, and handles small amounts of fairly infrequent two‑way data, securely and reliably.”
 
NB-IoT has various applications from smart parking to smart hotels. “We see NB-IoT as being most applicable for use in hotels. This solution is going to create value for hotels and guests alike as being able to add digital keys to hotel guest loyalty apps. This will streamline hotel operations and help them to capture data to improve the overall guest experience,” Dunn said. “We also believe there are many new applications for smart locks in areas that don’t require on-site power or Wi-Fi such as parcel delivery lockers, storage spaces, cabinet locks and even vehicles.”
 
LoRaWAN is another popular LPWAN technology. It is specified by the LoRa Alliance whose members include prestigious IT firms including Cisco and IBM. According to the alliance, the LoRaWAN network architecture is typically laid out in a star-of-stars topology where end devices transmit data to a gateway, which then relays that data to a central network server in the backend, at data rates ranging from 0.3 kbps to 50 kbps.
 
Sigfox meanwhile is a French company that created the Sigfox LPWAN technology. According to the company, Sigfox operates in the 200 kHz of the publicly available band to exchange radio messages over the air, with each message being 100 Hz wide and transferred at 100 or 600 bits per second, depending on the region.
 
According to Pannell, LoRa and Sigfox are best suited for city surveillance applications. “This involves disparate, spread-out end nodes, which are often located in hard-to-reach environments. A good example is a vibration sensor embedded in a bridge, providing data on the bridge’s physical condition and potential for stress-induced failure,” he said.


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