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What is LPWAN (low-power wide area network)?

What is LPWAN vs cellular?

LPWAN

Low-power wide area network technology, or LPWAN, offers lower costs and higher energy efficiency for M2M communication and Internet of Things (IoT) networks.

By creating long-distance connections between low-bandwidth, battery-powered devices, it enables a larger number of linked devices.

Depending on the technology used, LPWANs can handle up to 1,000 bytes for packet sizes, and certain technologies can support up to 200 Kbps for uplink rates. Typically, they use a star architecture to link endpoints to shared central access points.

Cellular

Two categories of cellular IoT connectivity exist: Cat-M1 IoT and narrowband IoT (NB-IoT). NB-IoT can travel up to one kilometer in urban areas and about ten kilometers in rural areas. But has a lower transmission power and bandwidth. Voice data transmission and large-scale networks with dynamic nodes are better suited for Cat-M1.

Cat-M1 is more expensive than NB-IoT, however as it gains traction in the market, its cost is decreasing. IoT apps may be swiftly released onto the market because of the compatibility of both technologies with the current cellular infrastructure.

How does LPWAN work?

1. Communication initiated by a device

As LPWAN connection devices are made to require fewer check-ins with the server, they consume less power. Although this setup isn’t ideal for every use case, reporting from the site solely on predetermined schedules is a significantly more power-efficient use of resources than keeping a continuous connection for many IoT deployments, such as those in smart cities.

2. Advanced signal processing and narrow bandwidth

While some LPWAN technologies encrypt signals to enhance possible range, others use transmissions with limited capacity. For instance, LoRaWAN encodes data using chirp spread spectrum (CSS), a technique that makes use of wideband linear frequency modulated chirp pulses.

3. Longer delay results in a greater range

Compared to other cellular technologies like 3G, LPWAN technologies sometimes transfer data at substantially slower rates. However, it is frequently the case in wireless networking that data can go farther at a slower rate.

Benefits of LPWAN technology

1. Low power consumption

The LPWAN network uses far less power than traditional cellular technologies, thanks to cost-effective batteries that can last up to ten years. This longevity is beneficial for IoT installations in remote places or difficult-to-access equipment, such as smart meters or agricultural sensors.

2. Low rates

LPWAN technology is a cost-effective alternative to 3G and 4G that enables large-scale IoT installations. With LPWAN, a city can install wireless sensors in garbage cans, which would be impossible with more expensive technology.

3. Uses unlicensed radio waves for operations

LoRaWAN and other LPWAN technologies operate on unlicensed airwaves, eliminating the need for ongoing connectivity fees. However, some operators prefer to pay for connectivity on a licensed radio spectrum due to interference issues with the expanding number of connected devices in various regions of the world.

4. Long range communication

Because of their lower data rates, LPWAN signals can reach distances of up to 40 km in rural areas and 1-2 km in urban environments. whereas the range of 4G wavelengths reaches up to 16 miles, at 600 MHz the wavelength is approximately 19 inches (48 centimeters).

5. Minimal specifications for infrastructure

Combining cellular and Wi-Fi technologies, LPWAN architecture offers more benefits with less infrastructure than Wi-Fi. For some use cases, nevertheless, an LPWAN connection is preferable because it is less frequent than ordinary cellular.

LPWAN security considerations

The levels of security provided by different LPWAN technology vary. The bulk of the features include advanced standard encryption (AES), message secrecy, identity protection, device or subscriber authentication, network authentication, and key generation.

LPWAN applications/LPWAN use cases

1. Smart Utilities

Smart meters are an ideal use for LPWAN technology. Thousands or perhaps millions, of these meters are spread across a utility company’s service region. The sensors’ extended battery life is crucial to the deployment’s financial viability, and they only need to report back occasionally to guide billing information. The data load is very low.

2. LPWAN for wearables in healthcare

Similar to smart meters, telehealth monitoring devices like blood sugar monitors usually transmit brief packets of patient data. The patient and/or healthcare practitioner can access a management system to which the data is periodically gathered and provided. A wearable health monitor’s long battery life is essential since it guarantees the patient’s convenience and minimizes disruptions to the data-gathering process.

3. Smart agriculture

Smart agriculture IoT devices for agriculture, including soil moisture sensors and animal trackers, are usually spread over vast rural regions. These devices just need to regularly check in to provide data to a management system; they don’t need to be always connected to the network to gather small quantities of data. For this kind of IoT device, LPWAN is perfect, as it provides the necessary long-range, low-power solution.

4. Small-scale mobility

An LPWAN connection enables low-cost and energy-efficient asset tracking for companies that rent out short-range vehicles in cities, such as bikes and scooters. Wireless sensor networks send data on a regular basis and can be set up to sound an alert when the automobile leaves a designated area.

5. Asset monitoring

Many companies are placing IoT sensors on cargo containers and automobiles; fortunately, LPWAN technologies are perfect for such uses. For asset trackers, which often only need to check in occasionally or sound an alarm if something is wrong, a long battery life is essential.

What is LPWAN’s future?

As a relatively new technology, the LPWAN environment is constantly evolving and far from stable. With so many rivals, it’s tough to determine who will win, especially considering the industry’s growing rate. Any LPWAN variation’s long-term performance is also unknown because large-scale real-world testing has yet to be finished and some remain in the early stages of deployment.

Conclusion

Both cellular and LPWAN IoT technologies offer a number of benefits for different IoT applications. Because of its superior low-power, economical, and long-range connectivity, LPWAN is ideal for large-scale and remote deployments like asset tracking, smart meters, and agricultural sensors. It requires less infrastructure and has longer battery life thanks to its low data rates and power consumption. For applications that require a lot of data and are dynamic, cellular IoT technologies like Cat-M1 and NB-IoT are perfect since they integrate with existing cellular networks and provide enhanced capacity. The ability of the LPWAN environment to meet real-world needs and compete with other emerging technologies will decide its acceptability as it develops.

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