What is LPWAN?
LPWAN is an acronym for “low-power wide-area network”, a type of radio technology used for wireless data communication in Internet of Things (IoT) applications. It’s not a single technology, but a group of various wireless network technologies. LPWANs can use licensed or unlicensed frequencies and include proprietary or open standards. Today’s LPWAN networks consist of cellular (licensed band) and non-cellular approaches.
LPWAN wireless protocols enable long range communications (up to 10-40 km in rural zones and 1-5 km in urban zones) between connected devices with minimal energy requirements (batteries can last up to 10 years).
An IoT network can run at lower cost and with greater power efficiency, meaning more devices can be supported at once. LPWANs operate at a low bit rate, and are used to connect sensors to a central system through wireless gateways.
Designed for sensors and applications that need to send and receive small amounts of data just a few times per hour or maybe only once a day, LPWANs are transforming the way things are monitored and measured, and are contributing to a new wave of IoT innovation which is pushing the boundaries of technology to create solutions with business models and revenue streams that otherwise would not be possible.
The application sweet spot for LPWAN resides at the intersection between long-range transmission capabilities, coupled with low power consumption, low cost and near real-time communication—applications such as metering, monitoring, tracking and control.
General Characteristics of LPWAN
- Lower cost and greater power efficiency than other wireless networks and supports a greater number of connected devices over a larger area.
- Devices (sensors, switches) are autonomous—battery powered, wireless and completely cable free.
- Range from 1 to 30 km in different environment conditions.
- High autonomy of smart devices, with a lifetime up to 10 years.
- Data transmitted with low throughput—packet sizes from 10 to 1,000 bytes at uplink speeds up to 200 Kbps.
- Radio modules and chipsets are relatively inexpensive.
- Low latency (although not a key parameter in most IoT applications).
- Fewer access points (base stations, gateways) than other wide-area technologies (ex. cellular) required to cover a wide area such as a city.
- Good penetration of structures and walls; able to be used underground and inside buildings.
- Many devices are environmentally hardened, so can be used year-round in Canadian climates.
Our LPWAN Focus
LoRaWAN is a low-power, long range wide-area networking protocol optimized for low-power consumption and supporting large networks with millions of devices. LoRaWAN is designed to support low-cost, mobile and secure bi-directional communication within IoT, M2M, smart city, and industrial applications.
LoRaWAN (which stands for LOng RAnge Wide Area Network), is the undisputed leader in open standard LPWAN networks with deployments globally. The technology is backed by the LoRa Alliance™, which is a global organization comprised of over 500 organizations with the goal of moving IoT forward.
Cellular LPWAN Networks
IoT applications have several requirements that are not ideally met by 2G, 3G, or LTE modems. Unlike traditional cellular applications, IoT devices tend to transmit small, often infrequent bursts of data. IoT applications often operate in remote, temporary, or mobile locations, where they rely on off-grid power. And because they’re usually unattended they may have to rely on backup battery power for some time if grid power fails.
For these reasons, IoT modems need to draw as little power as possible, both in use and in standby modes. Modems for non-IoT cellular networks consume a lot of power to support relatively high data rates required by voice calls and consumer Internet applications.
IoT applications also tend to require large numbers of nodes, so modem cost can be a significant issue. The ideal IoT modem costs much less than a traditional cellular modem.
Cellular providers have joined the LPWAN movement by developing standardized LPWAN technologies based on current cellular networking. The two most prominent options currently and for the expected near future are Cat-M1 and NB-IoT, which are both deployed on existing cellular (LTE) networks.
Both Cat M1 and NB-IoT operate on licensed spectrums, which provides excellent security and quality of service. They both provide better access in challenging sites like buildings than some of the earlier cellular service options, due to the reduced channel sizes and features like coverage enhancement modes. Both can take advantage of power saving mode (PSM), in which the device can, when not actively communicating over the network, go into “deep sleep” mode for long periods of time while keeping time and storing data in flash memory.
Which LPWAN Technology is Right For You?
When selecting a low-power, wide-area network for your IoT project, there are several factors to consider. There are three primary considerations:
- Do sensors need to stay in the field for days, months or years on battery power?
- How often will they need to transmit data?
- Will devices be used outside where it’s cold in winter?
- What range must communications cover, and how much data will they need to send in each message?
- What is the geography like where devices will be placed?
- Would you prefer to outsource the network infrastructure and service or maintain control over your own network and the data that runs over it?
Stationary or Mobile?
- Will devices be stationary where the distance to a gateway is constant, or will they move such that the infrastructure needs to cover all locations they may possibly be?
Each LPWAN network option has a distinct mixture of strengths and weaknesses when it comes to power, range and cost.
For larger areas like farms, campuses or cities, where small-volume data transmissions are needed, self-contained low-power wide-area networks (LPWANs) like LoRaWAN are the perfect answer. When talking about covering regional areas and across boundaries, a cellular protocol like NB-IoT or Cat-M1 may look increasingly practical.
One thing to consider about deploying an LPWAN like LoRaWAN: you’re responsible for monitoring, support, security, maintenance and repairs when things go wrong. For this reason, it’s recommended that you deploy an LPWAN that includes the whole solution packaged together. This means the sensors, gateways, cloud and application as a complete solution designed by one company rather than assembled piecemeal. The advantage is that everything will be pre-integrated and designed to work securely together, and you’ll always know who to call when you need support and maintenance.
It’s important to note that Citykinect is technology-agnostic. We’ll consider your project holistically, and recommend the most appropriate network technology for your particular application.