The popularity of sub-GHz low power wide area networks (LPWANs) in smart city and rural areas (farming and infrastructural monitoring) is booming, but the technology is evolving into other areas, from 2.4GHz to satellite networks.
The challenge moving forward is to ensure that billions of devices in the Internet of Things (IoT) can be connected up simply and seamlessly. Addressing this issue of complexity across multiple applications around the globe is perhaps the greatest issue facing the roll out of IoT at scale. Deploying and managing millions, even billions, of devices is a considerable challenge today. This can be addressed with open standards and interoperable hardware, helping to make all kinds of supply chains, smart infrastructure, and rural sensor networks more effective and more efficient.
Since the launch of Semtech’s LoRa® devices, deployed sensors utilizing the devices now account for more than 260 million in subGHz Internet of Things (IoT) LPWANs. Recently the technology has been enriched to use LoRa in the 2.4GHz ISM band that is available globally. This is opening up applications in global logistics asset tracking and industrial monitoring.
Using LoRa in the 2.4GHz band allows the design of a single wireless node or mobile gateway to trade off data rate, transmission efficiency, power consumption and range without having to have variants for markets around the world. This brings economies of scale in production for lower costs as well as reduced complexity in stocking with a single product.
The 2.4GHz band, however, is cluttered with other wireless networks, from Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Thread and Matter to proprietary and custom links. All these networks can interfere but the robust noise immunity of the LoRa modulation can provide links in challenging environments, from industrial plants to dense urban environments. This allows more rugged connections with low power in 2.4GHz networks in buildings and factories.
LoRa devices have been recently enhanced with a new feature in the LoRaWAN® standard called Long Range – Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (LR-FHSS), enabling low power connections direct to satellites in low earth orbit or even geostationary orbit, opening up a wide range of new applications for the technology.
Furthermore, LR-FHSS improves the noise immunity even further by increasing spectral efficiency, hence network capacity. The protocol breaks up each data packet into multiple blocks and randomly spreads them over a defined frequency bandwidth. It also uses redundant physical headers on messages sent on different frequencies to further improve the modulation robustness against interference.
Using sensor nodes to connect to these satellites allows existing networks to expand quickly and easily without the need to allocate extra capex and wait for terrestrial network infrastructure deployment. The technology allows full interoperability between terrestrial and satellite networks, LoRa and LR-FHSS modulation schemes can coexist at the same time in a gateway or the network server, and the different gateways can coexist in the same network.
Community Neighbourhood Network
Another interesting area is the growth and acceleration of community owned networks. Aside from the commercial benefits, such networks can even drive solutions that will help result in communities taking a more environmentally friendly approach. These peer-to-peer networks have citizens hosting local gateways using LoRaWAN to their home broadband. The long range of LoRaWAN means certain small to mid-sized cities can be covered with a “handful of gateways,” providing coverage quickly and cost effectively.
More interoperability in IoT is a key trend as customers need to use multiple technologies to build a solution, and this is leading to more recognition of both networking and compute technologies, combining LoRaWAN with other IoT connectivity’s all working together with open-source code and open hardware.
The LoRa Alliance®, with nearly 500 member companies ranging from chip, board, gateway, and software suppliers to national and global satellite network operators, is key to delivering this interoperability.
Using a standard, interoperable protocol enables a wide range of open hardware. Developers can be assured that devices using LoRa can connect to a gateway, whether that is in a smart building, on a container ship or on a satellite.
But the issues are broader than just the hardware of a sensor and a transceiver operating in particular frequency band and connecting up the sensors to a gateway is only half the story. That data needs to be captured, collected, aggregated, and turned into actionable data. Connecting all that valuable data to the cloud is a major challenge with all those different technologies.
Using a single protocol across all those frequency bands, terrestrial or satellite networks, with cost effective, low power hardware provides a consistent data model. This helps simplify the cloud-based data management systems that provide actionable insights, regardless of the source of the data. Delivering the insights from millions of devices helps to drive the efficiency of all kinds of processes, from supply chains that stretch around the world to smart infrastructure in every corner of the globe.
The fragmentation of the Internet of Things is a major challenge for scaling networks. With LoRa, a single open protocol enables an ecosystem of hardware, software and Cloud providers. Within this ecosystem, cost effective, low power hardware can operate across sub-GHz, 2.4GHz and satellite bands. This interoperable hardware can deliver the vital data to cloud systems, aggregating many different systems. It is this ability to provide the insights that are needed to optimise operations that can make supply chains, smart infrastructure and rural networks more effective, wherever they are in the world.