LoRa Looks to Leverage Options Before NB-IoT Proliferates
In terms of technical specs, LoRa bandwidth ranges up to around 50 Kbps, and the technology can transmit at a variety of distances, with 5-15 km a frequently reported range (though longer distances are possible.) LoRa’s transmit and receive power consumption also is low. In fact, it is several times less than for NB-IoT devices, according to a technology comparison from Semtech, a founding member of the LoRa Alliance. (In 2012, Semtech acquired original LoRa technology developer Cycleo.) Thus, LoRa-connected devices are well-positioned for long battery life.
These attributes — modest capacity, low-power operation and little need for battery maintenance — make LoRa ideal for many types of already common, fairly low-priority LPWAN IoT applications. Such use cases range from automated meter reading to monitoring the status of a remote piece of machinery, said Daniel Quant, vice president of strategic development at MultiTech.
“If you’re doing a very mission-critical application connecting very expensive machines with high bandwidth, you’re going to look at other technologies,” he said. “But, if you’re connecting a broad number of assets that are not profit-generating, where you want to receive and occasionally transmit messages, and if you miss maybe one message a week it’s not a big deal, then LoRa lets you collapse the level of investment you otherwise would need to make in cellular LPWAN technologies.”
LoRaWANs support three classes of service, according to the LoRA Alliance. Class A is described as the lowest-power class, supporting bi-directional communications that are not latency-sensitive. Class B supports bidirectional communications with “deterministic downlink latency.” Class C offers the lowest latency for a bidirectional application.
“LoRa technology — and LoRaWAN standard-based systems in particular — has applicability across nearly all major IoT markets, with the largest adoption currently for water metering and other smart water applications, smart cities (waste management, streetlights), smart buildings (energy/HVAC, submetering, condition monitoring),” according to Mareca Hatler, director of research at market research firm ON World. “Adoption is also growing for a variety of asset tracking solutions due to LoRaWAN’s network-based geolocation capabilities. Using a network of three or more geolocation-ready gateways, LoRaWAN devices can be located within 20 to 200 meters without GPS.”
As an example of real-world, large-scale applications, Hatler cited French water company Veolia, which is connecting millions of its water meters with LoRa connectivity for smart meter reading. He also mentioned Mkomazi National Park in Tanzania, which uses a LoRaWAN to monitor the safety of black rhinos, which are coveted by poachers. “LoRaWAN non-GPS trackers [are] embedded in the rhino horns to enable park security to monitor their location as well as solar-powered trackers installed on park vehicles to track personnel and tourists in high-risk areas,” Hatler said.
Other application examples were cited by Quant, who described LoRa modules attached to a utility company’s pylons, poles and transformers to monitor their condition during bad weather. In another case, an oil and gas company is using LoRa and audio-enabled devices to remotely monitor the sound of chemicals flowing through a pipe. Fluctuations in the pipe potentially indicate problems with flow or infrastructure.