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Guides to choose LoRa/LoRaWAN gateways

Guides to choose LoRa/LoRaWAN gateways
Among several IoT network technologies, Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) has been favored due to its low energy consumption and long-range coverage. LoRa and LoRaWAN technology, especially, stand out for their advantage of waiving licensed spectrums, low power requirements and great capacity support. Across smart homes, smart buildings, smart cities and industrial IoT, LoRa/LoRaWAN can been seen adopted in applications.

LoRa gateways serve as a bridge becoming the communication center of multiple concurrent devices. How can companies determine the right gateway product for their IoT application needs? And what are the future challenges for LoRa and LoRaWAN technology?

Why choose LoRa/LoRaWAN over other LPWAN technologies

Usage of LPWAN technologies is projected to grow in the coming years. Among LoRaWAN, NB IoT, Sigfox and LTE-M, which technology should developers and enterprises adopt for their IoT applications? The rising number of IoT-based applications across industries, from manufacturing and healthcare to retail and transportation, aim to improve current workflows by increasing an organization’s operational efficiency. There are several network connection technologies available for IoT applications: existing options such as Zigbee, Wi-Fi and cellular networks, or emerging options such as, Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN). Compared to the former, LPWAN technology promises cost-efficient, low-power and scalable cellular coverage, which makes it a more favored technology by enterprises. LPWAN technologies include LoRaWAN, NB-IoT, Sigfox and LTE-M.

According to the latest LPWAN market report published by Global Market Insights, the LPWAN industry is projected to exhibit a growth between 2019 and 2025, with a CAGR of over 60 percent. LPWAN technologies fall under two categories: cellular-based and unlicensed Low-Power Wide Area Network. Cellular-based technologies such as NB-IoT and LTE-M use licensed spectrum and support high data rates, shorter battery life and costly hardware. They are also often adopted by telecommunication companies because operators only need to update current software to its existing 4G base stations.

The unlicensed LPWAN technologies including LoRaWAN and Sigfox, meanwhile, focus on customized IoT networks targeting low data rates, wide coverage and improved battery life. Waiving the spectrum license fee leads to the lower cost of unlicensed technologies. Compared to LoRaWAN, Sigfox cannot be deployed everywhere, its capacity from the base station back to the endpoint is constrained, and it lacks mobility of IoT devices.

“LoRa’s star-shaped network architecture makes use of various frequency ranges in the Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) band and Short-Range Device (SRD) band,” said Preeti Wadhwani, Assistant Manager of ICT, Global Market Insights. “Moreover, the device connectivity cost of using LoRa/LoRaWAN is much lower in comparison to other LPWAN variants due to which the uptake of LoRa/LoRaWAN for applications, such as smart buildings, smart cities, smart homes, and industrial IoT, is rapidly increasing.”

Open-source solutions

The LoRa Alliance, a non-profit association working on the development of the LPWAN standard, has over 500 member companies worldwide. Around 142 countries have deployed LoRaWAN in various applications, according to the alliance. In May 2019, Semtech introduced the free open-source educational toolset LoRa Basics for IoT development in a partnership with the LoRa Alliance. The toolset aims to let developers or enterprises focus on developing their solutions while getting their applications to market faster with less cost.

The first basic software building block, LoRa Basics Station, is a LoRaWAN-based gateway packet forwarder which delivers secure and robust data communication and remote gateway management protocols. LoRa Basics MAC, the second basic building block, provides the firmware and an end-device developer needs to let LoRaWAN-based radios be initiated for them to be up and running. Semtech plans to include firmware updates over the air (FUOTA) both on the end-device and on the backend server. All LoRa Basics releases can be found on Semtech’s LoRa Developer Portal.

Security of LoRaWAN

LoRaWAN utilizes two layers of security: the network and the application. A unique 128-bit network session key shared between the end-device and network server, and a unique 128-bit application session key shared end-to-end at application level. The network security ensures authenticity of the node in the network, and the application layer security secures the network, therefore the operator doesn’t have access to the end-user’s application data.

Sensor data is encrypted twice; once by the node and then again by the LoRaWAN protocol. Only after encryption will the data be sent to the LoRa Gateway. The gateway will then send data over a normal IP network to the network server. Since LoRa gateways operate over open frequency and are able to receive data from any sensor in the local area, it’s critical that the gateways don’t have the ability to decrypt sensor data. LoRaWAN devices have two ways to join the network due to security reasonsvia Over-the-Air-Activation (OTAA) or Activation by Personalization (ABP).

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