What is LPWAN? Low Power Wide Area Network Technology

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What is LPWAN

What is LPWAN?

LPWANs (Low-Power Wide-Area Networks) are a type of radio-based connectivity used for wireless data communication for IoT devices and M2M (machine-to-machine) applications.

Most LPWAN solutions share common characteristics: They require less power, have extended operating ranges and typically can transmit a limited amount of data per day. Organizations looking to reduce the manufacturing and lifetime operating costs of IoT devices often select LPWANs.

Common features of LPWAN technologies

Among the features shared by LPWAN technologies are:

  • Confined or remote coverage: LPWANs are frequently used to provide coverage for devices in hard-to-access locations. Some technologies are focused more on distance and others on underground facilities. 
  • Power efficiency: Most LPWAN technologies were designed to extend the battery lifetime of a device—sometimes for as long as ten years. While they take different approaches to minimizing power consumption, most allow thedevice to disconnect when not collecting and sending data as a primary way of achieving efficiency.  
  • Security and privacy: Most benefit from the security features of mobile networks, including authentication, device identification, user confidentiality, and data integrity.

While some features are shared, others are available only with specific solutions. It’s therefore important to evaluate all of them to identify which best meets your requirements. Below we have a quick summary of some of the most popular LPWAN technologies.

LTE-M (CAT-M)

LTE-M is a radio technology built to support a longer device and battery lifespan by allowing it to “sleep” when not in use. LTE-M is compatible with LTE networks and leverages existing LTE base stations. This enables device mobility and also means new antennas aren’t required to operate—carriers simply upload new software. Among LTE-M’s key benefits are:

  • Widespread support across mobile equipment, chipset and module manufacturers. 
  • Full duplex communications support for simultaneous two-way communication. 
  • Minimal latency of approximately 10-15 milliseconds.
  • High data throughput rates that enable voice and video transmission as well as faster upgrades.
  • Support for moving assets so mobile devices can function without interruption.
  • Lower deployment costs through the use of existing LTE infrastructure hardware.
  • Lower data transmission costs.

Organizations should consider LTE-M when:

  • Device mobility is required.
  • Devices will be placed in rural or remote areas.
  • Speed for mission-critical apps is important.
  • Large amounts of data, including large files, voice or video will be transmitted.
  • Two-way simultaneous communication is required.
  • The device requires an extended battery life.

NB-IoT (NarrowBand Internet of Things)

NB-IoT is another LPWAN technology designed to reduce power consumption and improve system capacity and spectrum efficiency, especially in deep and remote locations. NB-IoT’s key selling point is cost savings that are derived from two factors: The lack of complexity in its underlying technology and its lack of need for a cellular gateway to aggregate and transmit sensor data. Among NB-IoT’s key benefits are:

  • Lower device manufacturing costs derived from simpler construction and leveraging chipsets specifically engineered for NB-IoT.  
  • Power efficiency due to its simpler waveform and the ability to “sleep” when not in use.
  • Strong coverage deep inside urban environments.
  • Security (user privacy, authentication, and data integrity) by leveraging the existing security features of mobile networks
  • Reliability and guaranteed quality of service gained by operating within a licensed spectrum.
  • Scalability to support large numbers of devices over a wide geographic area.
  • Simple implementation achieved by installing on current networks and leveraging existing cellular infrastructures.

Organizations should consider NB-IoT when:

  • The device will be placed in underground or hard-to-access locations.
  • It will not require mobility.
  • It will not require the high-bandwidth necessary to transfer large amounts of data, including large files, voice or video.
  • It will require an extended battery life.
  • A highly scalable solution is required to handle a large network of sensors.

LoRaWAN (Long-Range Wide Area Network)

LoRaWAN uses gateways to transmit messages between devices and network servers. These gateways translate the radio frequency packets they receive from end points into IP packets that travel across the network.

A LoRaWAN network server maximizes network capacity and battery life by using adaptive data rate (ADR) which allows for a dynamic tradeoff between communication range and message duration for each end point individually. Among LoRaWAN’s key benefits are:

  • A wide coverage range between 5 and 15 km, with the shorter ranges in urban areas.
  • Thousands of IoT devices or nodes can be managed by a single gateway.
  • Operates within globally available MHz ISM bands. 
  • Simple architecture for relatively easy deployment.
  • Maximized battery life and network capacity via the Adaptive Data Rate technique.
  • Already a widely used and reputable solution for IoT applications. 
  • Supports Class A, B and C end devices.

Organizations should consider LoRaWAN when:

  • A wide coverage range is required.
  • Data rates above 27 Kbps are not required.
  • Latency is not an issue: No real-time or critical applications.
  • The limited time during which the channel can be occupied (duty cycle) will not interfere with critical device operations.

When is LPWAN the right choice?

Choosing the right connectivity technology is always difficult. There are LOTS of different options and LPWAN is just one type of connectivity technology (we have provided an overview of the most popular connectivity technologies here). LPWAN technologies are the best option when devices are located underground, in remote areas, or deep within urban infrastructures and t primary applications for LPWANs include smart lighting, smart grid, water metering, gas detectors and smart agriculture.

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