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November 29, 2021
By Rémi Lorrain, Director of LoRaWAN Networks at Semtech
Although the Internet of Things (IoT) is being widely adopted by many industries, the issue of which connectivity technology to rely on remains a hot one. With no single IoT network offering comprehensive coverage and meeting all needs, potential users are left to pick and choose among the many options.
One of the major options is cellular. Its main advantage is that it can transmit large amounts of data over long distances, but this comes at the expense of a rapid drain of battery power in the device and higher Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). These features mean that cellular connectivity is usually only used for applications such as video surveillance, or for backhaul, which demand the high capacity it can offer. Backhaul is when a gateway uses a Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) network to communicate with sensors and devices and then uses Ethernet, Wi-Fi, or Cellular to pass data to the Cloud.
A major challenge is to get maximum range for a device while also consuming minimum power. Most IoT use cases can employ LPWA because they often only need to transfer small packets of data infrequently. Using LoRaWAN®, sensors or devices can send data over miles, while their batteries can continue to provide power for many years.
LoRaWAN is also straightforward to deploy, making it practical to build networks of many thousands of devices sending data at a lower cost, over a longer range and with a long battery life.
5G Is Coming
One of the big questions among the industry is whether 5G will be the panacea for IoT connectivity. Its potential to coexist with other network connectivity technologies is also a matter for debate.
5G technology is expected to be rolled out in phases over the next few years as standards are ratified by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), while some network operators have already deployed limited networks (most are non-standalone 5G networks combining a 4G infrastructure with 5G limited capacities to test the nascent 5G technology) serving specific areas.
The end of 2021 is expected to see the ratification of 3GPP’s Release 17 of the 5G specification. One of the Release 17 stakes is to standardize the New Radio (NR)-Lite specification and address lower throughput IoT applications. Despite this, 5G networks and device hardware supporting Release 17 specifications are not expected to be commercially available until early 2024 and 5G NR focus will still be on higher data rate and higher energy consumption ranges compared with actual LPWAN massive IoT applications that will also carry on improving their performances.
The advent of commercial 5G will make it possible for operators to offer capabilities such as deterministic networking, network slicing and high-throughput, and low-latency connectivity.
However, the process of ratifying the standards and building a more mature ecosystem will mean the full potential of 5G could take longer to materialise.
LoRaWAN Networks Are Well-Established
In 2012, Semtech launched its LoRa® portfolio of transceivers, initially to serve IoT applications on private IoT networks. This was followed by the establishment of the LoRa Alliance®, a non-profit association to manage and promote the LoRaWAN standard as an open LPWA network standard. The LoRa Alliance currently has hundreds of member companies, with LoRaWAN networks offered by 163 network operators and we see LoRa/ LoRaWAN deployments in 177 countries.
A LoRaWAN network uses a star topology, with gateways relaying messages between end devices and a central network server. Connected to the network server via standard IP connections, the gateways convert RF packets to IP packets and vice versa. The long range offered by the LoRa physical layer allows a single-hop link between the end-device and one or many gateways. All modes can communicate in both directions.
As a license-exempt, non-cellular LPWA network technology, LoRaWAN serves a wide range of IoT vertical markets. These include smart metering, smart cities, smart agriculture, critical infrastructure monitoring, asset tracking and logistics, smart health, commercial building automation and smart homes. A few examples of these use cases are outlined below.
Enterprise LoRaWAN Implementations
Cold Chain Monitoring
The LoRaWAN standard is the basis of a turnkey temperature monitoring solution for both fixed and mobile assets for industries, including healthcare, food retail, and the energy sector. Launched by JRI in 2018, the solution uses sensors utilizing LoRaWAN and a Cloud-based application platform.
A leading customer of the JRI-MySirius solution is a major grocery retailer in France, which uses it to achieve real-time monitoring of its cold storage supply chain. Used across the country, the system monitors two temperature-controlled refrigerated containers in each of the company’s 650 vehicles. The method used previously was proving cumbersome and labour intensive, with temperatures logged manually from each refrigerated container every week. This method also severely limited the visibility of the supply chain’s flow.
The LoRaWAN network is accessed over public networks provided by Orange. To meet the challenge of penetrating metallic structures, thick walls and insulated cold rooms, the system uses private LoRaWAN networks.
LoRaWAN is also making inroads into the oil industry. Chevron’s San Joaquin Valley (SJV) business unit in California operates six oil and gas fields over 38 square miles. The unit now operates a LoRaWAN network consisting of several dozen MultiTech Conduit gateways with 4G Cellular backhaul connectivity. These send data from the gateways directly to Chevron’s Microsoft Azure IoT service.
Previously, the fluid level reading of wells had to be performed manually using dipsticks and paper records. With the new network, smart lids are connected to more than 3,500 wells and tanks to transmit fluid level readings remotely, cutting labour time and costs by avoiding the need to drive between well sites to conduct tests.
The success of the smart lid solution has seen Chevron achieve a Return on Investment (ROI) of nearly 10:1 and the company is set to increase the number of connected wells to 10,000. Chevron’s SJV facility plans to implement other remote condition monitoring use cases, while the company also has plans to connect all of its high-value critical field assets with wireless IoT sensor devices.
France’s national state-owned railway company, SNCF, deployed a tracking solution to provide real-time visibility of its valuable assets. Developed by IoT device maker Ercogener, the solution employs a LoRaWAN network for monitoring industrial assets.
With location and sensor information sent only every 10 minutes up to a maximum of 144 messages per day, battery life of the IoT devices is maximised, dramatically improving overall life cycle management costs.
A Cohesive Coexistence
The success of LoRaWAN is set to continue, with ABI Research estimating that it will be the leading non-cellular LPWA network technology by 2026. In fact, ABI believes it will account for more than half of all non-cellular LPWA connections, estimated to reach 1.3 billion by that year. Cellular LPWA connections, which include NB-IoT, LTE-M, and 5G, are forecast to reach 1.5 billion connections, a figure which will include the large number of 2G customers migrating towards NB-IoT and LTE-M.
LoRaWAN and 5G will both find a role in the future, mainly through the deployment of hybrid networks that will serve a number of use cases. 5G networks will complement and interconnect LoRaWAN networks, both as an access network technology in their own right and to backhaul data from gateways in remote areas to the Cloud or head-end systems. And as we are seeing in France, network operators—who are migrating to 5G—will also employ a public LoRaWAN network. Both 5G and LoRaWAN are currently coexisting and are here to stay.
As IoT continues to connect millions of physical devices to digital assets, Semtech’s LoRa devices and the LoRaWAN standard will play an integral role.
For more detailed information, download “LoRaWAN and Multi-RAN Architecture Connecting the Next Billion IoT Devices” white paper by ABI Research and the “Ultimate Network Comparison” infographic to learn the pros and cons for the top six IoT network options: LoRa/LoRaWAN, NB-IoT, Zigbee, Wi-Fi, BLE, and 5G.
Semtech, the Semtech logo and LoRa are registered trademarks or service marks of Semtech Corporation or its affiliates.
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