5 Common Myths about LPWAN for IoT Debunked

BehrTech Blog

5 Common Myths about LPWAN for IoT Debunked

With 2021 expected to witness an uprising of massive machine-to-machine communication, Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) are no doubt a central topic among the wireless community. Still, industrial and commercial users who are unfamiliar with this wireless technology might struggle to understand the current landscape and how different technologies compare. To help you get you crack the LPWAN code, we’ve debunked 5 common myths around LPWAN for the Internet of Things (IoT).


1. All LPWAN technologies are equally low-power

The term Low Power Wide Area is self-explanatory. Even if you haven’t heard of LPWAN, you probably could still figure out that it’s designed for low-power IoT applications. However, don’t fall into the trap that energy consumption is uniform across LPWAN solutions. While all promise a battery life that spans years, there’s a big gap in power efficiency among different technologies under the same conditions. Often, this gap is boiled down to two major factors: on-air radio time of each message; and the amount of packet overhead required. Technologies that send the same message several times for redundancy multiply total on-air time and power consumption respectively. Also, extra energy spent on handshaking quickly depletes the power resource.

Find out more: What Enables a Long Battery Life in LPWAN

2. LPWANs and other wireless solutions are mutually exclusive

There’s a lot of comparison between LPWANs and legacy wireless technologies when it comes to different IoT use cases. Nonetheless, it’s important to know that LPWAN networks do not live in a bubble. Quite the contrary, many scenarios benefit from enhanced flexibility and functionality brought by a hybrid wireless architecture. LPWAN and 5G, especially private 5G in the CBRS band,  can actually work together to create a powerful IoT architecture. This is particularly true in challenging environments where great distances often mean that a terrestrial backhaul adds additional cost and complexity in order to get LPWAN generated data from the gateway to an edge compute resource or the cloud.  Private 5G provides cost-effective, reliable over-the-air QoS for massive IoT data.  Likewise, LPWAN extends the power efficient and high data rate capabilities of short range technologies such as BlueTooth Low Energy devices by serving as a reliable and robust backhaul for long range communication in both complex indoor environments and remote locations. 

3. Most LPWAN solutions are standard-based

As the term “standard” gains significant traction in the IoT age, vendors are looking to make their solution a standard. You could lightly claim a proprietary technology a standard just by publishing its technical specifications for third-party development. But, this doesn’t ratify the quality and long-term viability of the technology. Not to mention, in some cases, like the LoRa network, only part of the protocol stack is truly open. While the MAC layer (LoRaWAN) is made public, the PHY layer (LoRa) is entirely proprietary and tied to a single chipset vendor.

On the other hand, few LPWAN technologies have been standardized and endorsed by impartial, established Standard Development Organizations. One is cellular LPWAN solutions that implement 3GPP standards, and the other is Telegram Splitting as specified in the ETSI standard on Low Throughput Networks – TS 103 357. By going through a formal, rigorous evaluation process, these technologies are verified for convincing, future-proof performance in various network criteria, while coming with a transparent, robust technical framework to fuel vertical and horizontal interoperability.

4. Public LPWANs are omnipresence and borderless

The appeal of ubiquitous coverage offered by public LPWAN might be too good to be true. Trans-border roaming is still a major challenge for technologies like LoRa and NB-IoT, which depend on roaming agreements between different telco providers. And, even if roaming isn’t a prerequisite for many use cases, the coverage of public LPWAN within national boundaries is still far from omnipresence. Urban areas are often less of a concern, but remote industrial areas require extra caution. You’ll need to look at the network operator’s coverage map and make sure your facility doesn’t overlap with the “blind spots”.

Also, when it comes to NB-IoT, the lack of support for cell handover is another factor to consider. If a device is moved out of its assigned cell, it must execute the whole registration process again, which can take up to 30 seconds. As this is cumbersome and power-consuming, NB-IoT pertains more to stationary use cases.

5. Unlicensed-spectrum LPWANs aren’t reliable

For a long time, the unlicensed spectrum has been associated with reduced radio performance and limited scalability due to the high interference in a shared band. Due to low-cost and high-flexibility benefits, the unlicensed spectrum is now a go-to option for many radio developers; but this notoriety doesn’t easily fade away. When it comes to LPWANs and their simplified MAC layer design, reliability concerns further intensify. For this reason, many would advocate for the growing uses of cellular LPWANs in demanding industrial applications. The truth is, with a technology designed from the ground up for interference immunity, you can get the best of both worlds. Such a solution provides robust, scalable and cost-effective connectivity while eliminating the dependency on network operators.

Predicted to generate a market value of $65 billion by 2025, LPWAN is quickly establishing its place in the IoT space. With a lot of excitement around this wireless class, it’s important to understand the truths behind existing solutions, if they suit your use case and what the whole architecture will look like.

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