An Increasing Number of Semiconductor Manufacturers are Entering the Market
The specification of the freely available LoRaWAN network protocol is defined by the LoRa Alliance. LoRaWAN operates – depending on the global region – in the unallocated frequency range between 169 and 915 MHz. Semtech was the world's only semiconductor manufacturer for the patented transmission technology.
A number of other semiconductor manufacturers have now acquired licenses to manufacture and market LoRa-based devices, including ST Microelectronics, which develops microcontrollers with on-chip LoRa technology.
Sensor technology and tracking solutions with long ranges, low energy consumption, based on open standards and with numerous advantages for a wide range of economic sectors – made possible by LoRa networks.
Open Standards Guarantee Application-Specific Implementations
Various wireless technologies are available to provide the connection between objects and applications in smart solutions. These include established short-range solutions such as ZigBee, WiFi, BLE, mobile network technologies such as 2G to 4G, and soon 5G, as well as LPWAN technologies with long ranges.
In the unlicensed spectrum of LPWAN, users can currently choose between SigFox and LoRaWAN. Solution providers can develop applications that are precisely tailored to the needs of their customers: Special gateways, network servers, devices, and sensors. The LoRa technology scores with open standards, global distribution and secure communication.
Low Energy Consumption and Long Ranges
Technologies with a similar application spectrum, such as 5G or NB IoT, consume up to five times as much energy as LoRaWAN technologies. The use of LoRaWAN pays off, particularly in applications that do not require large amounts of data or real-time information. Depending on data transfer volume and frequency, the battery life lasts between five and 15 years.
The communication range covers between two kilometers in dense urban infrastructure and over 40 kilometers in rural areas – significantly further than Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 5G. The advantage: Even large urban areas can be covered with minimal network infrastructure. Currently, LoRaWAN-based networks exist in around 140 countries worldwide. Around 100 million LoRa devices are already in use. The billion mark will be reached in a few years.
The Structure of a LoRaWAN Network
A LoRa network architecture is designed in a star shape. End devices, such as nodes or sensor transponders, communicate measured values and information with gateways, which in turn forward the individual data packets to a central server. The collected data is made available to IoT platforms and applications via various interfaces. LoRaWAN applications operate in globally and regionally different frequency ranges of the ISM band and the SRD band.
In Europe, the frequency band from 433.05 to 434.79 MHz (ISM Band Region 1) and from 863 to 870 MHz (SRD Band Europe) is approved for LoRa communication. In North America, the frequency band from 902 to 928 MHz (ISM Band Region 2) is available for use. Frequency spreading based on chirp spread spectrum modulation enables high efficiency in data transfer and power consumption. At the same time, the modulation used minimizes interference. Communication from the end device to the gateway and then on to the application server is twice encrypted with 128-bit AES keys in a LoRaWAN network.
Indoor and Outdoor Suitability Support a Faster ROI
The energy efficiency of products using the LoRaWAN protocol is a unique selling point compared to other wireless IoT technologies. With LoRaWAN, use cases can be realized in which battery replacement would incur high costs. At the same time, LoRaWAN is robust against potential infrastructure-related shading. Regardless of the urban or rural environment, whether indoors or outdoors – the permeability of LoRaWAN is extremely high.
A LoRaWAN gateway can read sensors over several floors within a building. The main features of LoRaWAN are range, energy efficiency, and robustness. These benefits go hand in hand with higher latency and a lower data transfer rate than 4G/5G, for example.
Full Flexibility for Organizational and Business Models
The purchase and operating costs of a Wireless IoT solution are an important decision criterion for the implementation. Public network operators usually charge running costs for use per connected device and month. When using LoRaWAN, cities, companies or system integrators can build a dedicated private network. Recurring costs are avoided. This offers full freedom for business models and gives the user independence in terms of coverage.
With small and cost-effective LoRa gateways, coverage can be increased to 100 percent in a flexible and cost-effective manner. Taking into account the costs for the individual devices (e.g. sensors, trackers, nodes), it can be expected – as with other technologies – that applications will increase and hardware costs will decrease in the foreseeable future.
With LoRaWAN-based applications, public and private companies can generate data in smart cities that contribute to the realization of sustainable and comfortable city life. Data collection via LoRaWAN includes, for example, the fill levels of waste containers, the control of street lighting, automatic reading of energy consumption, various environmental data such as CO2 or noise pollution, or sensors that report the occupancy of parking spaces.
Everyday municipal operations are supported by the long-range, energy-efficient and GPS-free geolocation functions of the LoRaWAN technology. By linking municipal services such as lighting, parking, waste disposal and more, cities can optimize the use of utilities and personnel, thereby saving time and money.
In smart buildings such as shared offices, the acquisition of usage data in offices, conference rooms and workstations enables the optimization of expensive office space: Desks or rooms can be booked in real time and made available online again in no-show situations. If a company knows how many workstations are really needed for shared use, this can reduce the amount of rented office space. On the other hand, room parameters such as humidity and temperature can be continuously controlled and flexibly adjusted by the user.
Asset Tracking and Localization
LoRaWAN will be used to track assets in large areas such as airports or seaports. The position of containers, forklifts, trucks, and other handling equipment can be determined with LoRaWAN down to an accuracy of a few meters. If applications on open spaces require higher accuracy, LoRaWAN can be used in combination with GPS. A LoRa network alone only transmits an approximate position of the object sought.
LoRaWAN is increasingly used in smart agriculture solutions. Farm animals can be monitored with sensors for localization, and sensors in the stomach for temperature measurements. The sensor data can be used for the early detection of diseases, enabling a quick response. To monitor livestock over several square kilometers, a farmer would only need to install one or at most a handful of LoRaWAN gateways.
Industrial 4.0 applications are of great importance in the European industry for production automation and digitalization. Sensors that monitor parameters such as temperature, humidity, acceleration or vibration ensure that correct procedures are followed and enable predictive maintenance processes.
The Automotive Industry
In the automotive sector, LoRaWAN solutions are mainly used to avoid the loss of load carriers and transported goods. Parts and components such as engines and transmissions, which are supplied to car manufacturers by Tier 1 manufacturers, are objects with high values ranging from 500 to 2000 euros. Special cargo equipment is an equally valuable asset. Logistics processes sometimes show loss rates of 5 to 15 percent. LoRaWan applications can ensure seamless transparency along the supply chain.
Sensor networks with climate sensors collect detailed weather data or fine dust measurements, which can form the basis for ecological measures. The distance between the individual sensors can range from 500 meters to a few kilometers. The weather data collected by sensors are sent via LoRaWAN for central evaluation. The data is also used to prepare for climate change.