Is LoRaWAN the answer to the questions of the IoT?

LoRaWAN promises tracking solutions with high reliability based on open standards with numerous advantages especially for high-priced assets.

High Ranges, Low Energy Consumption!

RFID, Bluetooth, Cellular (4G,5G) or LPWAN – there is a wide choice of technologies to identify objects in IoT applications. On top of the advantages of other LPWAN solutions such as wide range and high penetrating power at low energy consumption, LoRaWAN offers a communication via open standards.

The semiconductor manufacturer Semtech is focusing on the production of LoRa transceivers for a wide range of applications.

Roelof Koopmans, Senior Director Vertical Marketing LoRa at Semtech, presents a number of use cases in which LoRaWAN ensures a reliable identification of objects.

Anja Van Bocxlaer
Anja Van Bocxlaer
Chief Editor & Publishing Director
Lüneburg, near Hamburg, Germany
Jan Phillip Denkers
Jan Phillip Denkers
Deputy Editor in Chief
Lüneburg near Hamburg, Germany

From Water Consumption Measurements to a Wide Range of Use Cases

Semtech offers analog and mixed-signal semiconductors, and almost 60 years of experience in semiconductor development. The company is headquartered in Los Angeles, the R&D knowhow is based in France and Switzerland, and product design is mainly done in Europe. Roelof Koopmans describes how the company came into contact with high reach, low energy consumption radio technologies:

“In 2012, we became aware of a French manufacturer whose modulation technology was able to transmit signals over a distance of several kilometers with low power consumption. Based on this technology, Semtech has created the worldwide patented LoRa product. Initially, this solution has proven its worth in the Americas, Asia and Europe for automatic readout of water meters.”

An increasing number of possible use cases for this technology emerged within a short period of time. “That was the starting point for the formation of the LoRa Alliance, which Semtech launched in 2015 together with founding members such as IBM.”

From the Small Startup to the Cloud Provider: 500+ Members in the LoRa Alliance

Since its foundation, the number of LoRa Alliance members has grown to more than 500. Currently, there are LoRaWAN based networks in 100 countries.

“Its members cover a wide spectrum in the LoRaWAN area. There are small startups which design and market sensors and trackers, but also mobile network operators offering national networks such as Orange or KPN. Moreover, cloud providers such as Alibaba and Tencent as well as large system integrators like TATA Communications and Tech Mahindra are involved as members of the LoRa Alliance. The efforts of the Alliance are essential in promoting technology based on the open LoRaWAN standard on a worldwide scale,” says Roelof Koopmans.

Wide Ranges and Open Standards

Various wireless technologies are available to ensure connectivity between objects and applications, explains Roelof Koopmans:

“There are many established short-range solutions such as ZigBee, WiFi, BLE, cellular network technologies like 2G through 4G and soon 5G, and also long-range LPWAN technologies. In the non-licensed spectrum of LPWAN, users can choose between SigFox and LoRaWAN, with LoRaWAN having the advantage of being an open and safe standard that lends itself very well for the creation of IoT solutions”.

Solution providers can design applications that are well aligned with their clients' needs: Dedicated gateways, network servers, devices and sensors. “Already today, hundreds of vendors all over the world are offering sensors, trackers and other hardware based on LoRa technology.”

Lower Energy Consumption ensures faster ROI

The energy efficiency of the products using the LoRaWAN protocol is a clear advantage over comparable solutions, explains Roelof Koopmans.

“One of the key features of LoRa/LoRaWAN is its low energy consumption, which allows battery runtimes of more than 10 years. The technology thus enables use cases in which battery exchange would cause high costs and therefore ensures an attractive ROI. Applications based on 4G or 5G have a much higher energy consumption and cannot offer such sustainability,” says Roelof Koopmans.

At the same time, LoRaWAN is robust against potential, infrastructure related shading: “Regardless of urban or rural environments, indoor or outdoor – the radio penetrating power of LoRa/LoRaWAN is extremely high. A LoRaWAN gateway can read out sensors across several floors in a building.”

Supplementing Instead of Competing With Other Technologies

The LoRaWAN advantages are range, energy efficiency and robustness. This goes hand in hand with a higher latency and a lower data transmission rate than e.g. 4G/5G.

“We therefore see LoRaWAN less as competition, but rather as a complement to other radio/wireless technologies. Interesting possibilities arise e.g. when combining LoRaWAN und RFID. RFID is more like a point solution using gates or handhelds: An object that leaves the RFID reader’s area becomes invisible.”

In this context, Roelof Koopmans sees LoRaWAN technology as a solution.

“If an application requires precise data or position sensing with long-distance visibility, then LoRaWAN functionality can be an interesting complement to RFID for trackers and sensors. Large companies can decide to use the public network part of a public operator or an inhouse campus network. The latter variant offers high transparency indoor and outdoor at extremely low infrastructure costs as compared to RFID. The user must assess how many assets he needs to track. LoRaWAN is not designed for bulk readout. If assets need to be identified in large batches, RFID is the solution of choice.”

Full Flexibility for Organisation and Business Models

Costs are an important decision criterion: “Public network providers charge ongoing costs for usage, generally per connected device and month. When using LoRaWAN however, every company or any system integrator can generate a dedicated private network and avoid any recurring costs. This provides full freedom for business models, and also gives the user independence in terms of coverage ratio. Using small and very cost-efficient LoRa gateways, the coverage can flexibly and cost-efficiently be increased to 100%”.

Considering the costs for the individual devices (i.e. sensors, trackers, nodes), it’s reasonable to expect that there will also be reductions in the foreseeable future.

Users are Unbiased in the Search of Suitable Technologies

Many customers are confronted with choosing a suitable technology even before contacting a vendor. According to Roelof Koopmans, the first question often is how much a user wants to invest in tracking an item.

“When considering a LoRaWAN tracker, a battery life of 10 years and permanent availability are strong arguments. They additionally offer a virtual guarantee of readability even in radio situations that appear impossible. The increased data robustness and higher reliability of LoRaWAN are further strong arguments for items with elevated costs.”

Roelof Koopmans expects a steady decrease in price for LoRaWAN solutions in the coming years because the number of deployed end points (e.g. sensors, trackers) is rising continuously.

“As of today, almost 100 million LoRa devices have been deployed worldwide. The one billion mark will be reached in just a few years”.

Use Cases From Shared Offices to Agriculture

High penetration capability and wide range qualify LoRaWAN as the technology of choice for a large spectrum of application areas. Roelof Koopmans underlines his view with seven use cases.

Shared Offices

“In smart buildings such as shared offices, the capturing of utilization data in offices, lie meeting rooms and workplaces enables the optimization of expensive office spaces: desks or rooms can be booked in real time, and can be made available again online in no-show situations. If a company knows how many workplaces are really needed for sharing, it can reduce the rented office space. On the other hand, room parameters such as air humidity and temperature can be measured continuously and adapted flexibly by users.”

Asset Tracking and Location

LoRaWAN can be used to track assets in large areas such as on airports or seaports.

“The user can determine the position of containers, forklifts, trucks and other handling devices using LoRaWAN. If high accuracy outdoor is required, LoRaWAN can be deployed together with GPS; otherwise, the LoRaWAN network would only provide an approximate position of the sought-for asset.”

Smart Agriculture

LoRaWAN also finds use in smart agricultural applications.

“Livestock can be equipped with sensors for localization in the stomach for temperature measurements. Illnesses can therefore be detected earlier, allowing for a quick reaction. To survey the entire livestock over several square kilometers a farmer would need to install just one or a few LoRaWAN gateways.”

Smart Cities

According to Roelof Koopmans, the demand for LPWAN applications in smart cities is growing continuously.

“Public and private companies can generate data in smart cities, enabling a sustainable and comfortable urban life. This includes the filling level of waste containers, controlling street lighting or sensors that report parking space occupancy rates. Smart city use cases are particularly widespread in Asia, but they are increasingly gaining importance in Europe and North America too.”

Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 applications are highly relevant in the European industry for production automation and digitalization.

“Sensors monitoring parameters like temperature, humidity and shock, enable compliance with correct procedures and preventive maintenance”, explains Roelof Koopmans. “A number of lean LoRaWAN-based solutions already exist that can be deployed for process optimization without additional cabling or substantial integration expenditures.”

Smart Building

Facility management offers many business opportunities that wait to be taken up, as Roelof Koopmans outlines on the occasion of a Semtech product rollout in a hotel chain:

“The goal of this smart building project was to reduce the hotel chain’s CO2 footprint. Giving the customer a detailed overview of how much was being consumed in which location in the building helped him meet his goals, but also saved costs. The interesting feature of this solution is easy deployment: hotel staff can mount the sensors themselves without any cabling, and these sensors register themselves in the application.”

Automotive Industry

In the automotive area, LoRaWAN solutions are mainly deployed to avoid asset loss of transport assets and the transported goods.

“Assets carrying parts like engines and gearboxes coming from Tier-1 manufacturers to the car OEMs are objects with a high value between 500 and 2000 €. Logistics processes often feature loss rates of 5 to 15%. LoRaWAN can provide the answer to the question where the assets are and where they possibly disappeared,” says Roelof Koopmans.

More and More Semiconductor Manufacturers will Enter the Market

The specification of the freely available LoRaWAN network protocol is being defined by the LoRa Alliance. LoRaWAN operates in the non-locatable frequency range between 169 and 915 MHz.

Until recently, Semtech was the world’s only semiconductor manufacturer for this proprietary and patented transmission technique which is based on chirp spread-spectrum modulation.

“We are deeply interested in achieving a broader market for LoRa-based solutions in the near future. A number of other semiconductor manufacturers have acquired licenses to produce and market LoRa-based devices, including ST Microelectronics who design microcontrollers with on-chip LoRa technology. In parallel, other large vendors are planning an entry into the market of LoRa-based devices.”

Meet Semtec at the RFID & Wireless IoT tomorrow 2019 on Oct 29 & 30 in Darmstadt near Frankfurt, Germany. Roelof Koopmans is speaking in the "Hardware I" Forum on October 29: “How LoRaWAN can Provide Long-Range Visibility with Minimal Asset Tracking Infrastructure”

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