What is LPWAN?
An introduction to low-power wide area networks
The Era of the IoT Sensor
Forget about computers, tablets or smartphones; today, battery-operated sensors are the main engine driving the Internet of Things (IoT).
From asset tracking and occupancy detection to air quality monitoring and leak detection; IoT sensors are used across all industries to gather huge amounts of critical data with the goal of improving operational visibility, efficiencies and lowering costs.
The success of IoT is completely dependent on reliable and scalable IoT connectivity.
This remains a huge obstacle across industrial and commercial industries. These industries are faced with complex or remote environments where traditional wired and wireless connectivity options cannot meet the cost, coverage and power requirements needed for IoT applications.
Bluetooth is designed only for short range applications and cellular connectivity and Wi-Fi are too expensive and power hungry for large battery powered IoT sensors networks and often experience significant coverage gaps when it comes to indoor and remote locations. Mesh networks cannot scale beyond medium-range applications because of their excessively complex network setup and management.
What is LPWAN Technology?
Low-Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technology, provides the low cost, low power and wide-area coverage needed for vast, granular wireless sensor networks. Geared for IoT telemetry applications where small amounts of data are transmitted periodically, LPWAN redefines the way assets and processes are remotely monitored and managed.
Long Range: The operating range of LPWAN technology varies from a few kilometers in urban areas to over 15 km in rural settings. It can also enable effective data communication in previously infeasible indoor and underground locations.
Low Power: Optimized for power consumption, LPWAN transceivers can run on small, inexpensive batteries for 10-15 years; reducing maintenance costs.
Low Cost: LPWAN's simplified, lightweight protocols reduce complexity in hardware design and lower device costs. Its long range combined with a star topology reduce expensive infrastructure requirements, and the use of license-free or already owned licensed bands, reduce network costs.
What You Should Look for in LPWAN Technology
Every IoT application has specific requirements. To ensure you select the right LPWAN technology for your next IoT project, take the following factors into consideration.
QUALITY OF SERVICE: High data reception rate is key to ensuring excellent QoS and industry-grade reliability. To achieve this, interference immunity is a necessity for LPWAN technologies operating in the license-free spectrum.
SCALABILITY:A large network capacity is essential for future network expansion and an exponential number of end devices. One major indicator is the number of daily messages or devices that can be handled by a single base station.
BATTERY LIFE: Low-power consumption can significantly reduce Total-Cost-of-Ownership and help achieve sustainable business goals in remote sensor networks.
MOBILITY:Data transmission from end-nodes moving at high speeds enables key IoT applications such as worker safety and fleet telematics.
SECURITY: Multi-layer encryption with strong identification and authentication systems, ensure secure data transmission and integrity.
PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE NETWORK: Private LPWA networks offer more flexibility in network design and coverage, whereas public LPWA networks often raise concerns around data privacy.
PROPRIETARY VS. STANDARD: An industry standard solution avoids vendor lock-in problems while ensuring credibility and long-term interoperability with other components in the IIoT ecosystem.
LPWAN Technologies Comparison
Cellular LPWAN (3GPP standards)
Cellular LPWAN (3GPP standards) solutions offer high data rates and bandwidth alongside guaranteed Quality-of-Service. However, these benefits often come with higher power consumption and increased costs due to more complex protocols. Also, certain cellular LPWAN technologies, like NB-IoT, are intended for stationary end devices only.
Spread Spectrum solutions like LoRa, transmit a narrow signal over a wider frequency band to improve resilience against interference from other systems. However, this approach uses the shared spectrum inefficiently and often experiences major self-interference challenges which can limit overall network capacity and scalability.
Traditional Ultra-Narrowband (UNB)
While simplifying the transceiver design, traditional UNB technology results in extremely low data rates. This lengthens the transmission time (“on-air” time) of a message which increases power consumption and interference vulnerability. Combined with duty cycle regulations, low data rates also limit the number of messages that can be sent daily and hourly. In addition, UNB networks do not support communication from high-speed end-nodes.
Telegram Splitting is the only standardized LPWAN technology in the license-free spectrum. Packets are split into smaller sub-packets and distributed over different times and frequencies to improve interference immunity, scalability and power efficiency. Telegram Splitting technologies like MYTHINGS, also support communication from high-speed devices with up to 120 km/h velocity. Learn more.
The Importance of Standardization
Standardization is one of the core pillars in a vibrant IoT ecosystem. Providing a rigorous and transparent technical framework certified by Standards Development Organizations (e.g. ETSI, IEEE, IETF, 3GPP etc.), a standardized technology brings distinct advantages including, guaranteed quality and credibility, long-term interoperability and innovation flexibility and global scalability.
In the LPWAN realm, there are two camps of technologies that succeeded in standardization efforts and are endorsed by formal SDO:
- Telegram Splitting technology based on the ETSI standard for Low Throughput Networks – TS 103 357.
- Cellular LPWAN based on 3GPP standards
Note: Several industry alliances have been established around proprietary LPWAN solutions to promote standard development. However, these efforts do not ratify the viability of the technology and may not cover the whole network stack like in the case of the LoRa Alliance.
Robust LPWAN for Industrial IoT
Due to the mission-critical nature of industrial applications, carrier-grade reliability of the communication network is a prerequisite in industrial IoT. High message reception rate ensures critical data is delivered when it’s needed the most for timely response to impending issues.
Yet, with rapidly-growing wireless IoT deployments and extensive use of the license-free spectrum, Quality-of-Service and scalability challenges will become increasingly prominent among many LPWAN solutions.
This new study conducted by Prof. Dr. Thomas Lauterbach compared the performance of MYTHINGS (Telegram Splitting) vs LoRa (Spread Spectrum) in an industrial IoT scenario with high interference from co-existing systems.