LoRaWAN is a wireless communication technology based on open standards and is specifically designed for applications that demand long lifespan, battery operation and long range.
The rapid growth in digitalization and IoT, which connects different types of products to simplify functions in the society, requires new communication technologies that allow for long range and high energy-efficiency.
Standard and compatibility
LoRaWAN refers to the open standard (managed by LoRa Alliance) that uses the LoRa radio technology (developed by Semtech) for communication. LoRaWAN defines almost all aspects of how the solution should work, from the radio layer to receiving server architecture, including end-to-end security - which is non optional. However, the format for the actual meter/sensor data is not defined and up to each vendor to decide and make publicly available or not. While this enables creativity on how to utilize the constrained amount of data transmitted it can also create a burden on the integrating system as all different LoRaWAN devices may have different ways to encode their data.
LoRaWAN has often been put into head to head competition with NB-IoT for the title of “best IoT radio technology”. Rather than choosing a winner this might be more of a choice of which eco-system to invest in and how the infrastructure should be managed. NB-IoT is managed by telecom operators, giving you defined service level but reliant on their geographical coverage. For LoRaWAN there are service providers, just like telecom operators, but you could also choose to build your own network infrastructure and expanding a LoRaWAN network is comparatively inexpensive.
As with all radio technologies using the unlicensed frequency bands it can suffer from interference of other radio devices – all transmitters compete for the same resource “air time” when transmitting – and damping of the signal caused by physical objects between sender and receiver. Compared to other radio solutions LoRaWAN offers long range and high penetration (ability to pass through physical objects).
Messages from meters/sensors that are lost due to e.g. radio conditions are typically considered to be non-recoverable. In comparison with Wireless M-Bus, LoRaWAN devices sends fewer messages per time unit, but has a higher “per message reliability” and with the possibility to acknowledge reception. Additionally, LoRaWAN systems can also scale in a better way using a mechanism called Adaptive Data Rate (ADR)”. This means that meters/sensors that are near a receiver (gateway) optimize their communication scheme to minimize interference with other meters/sensors.
To utilize the full potential of long-range communication with LoRaWAN, data messages must be kept very short, resulting in a low bandwidth. LoRaWAN devices can also offer excellent battery performance, well above 10 years for a single AA sized cell. However, solutions requiring a long battery lifetime, the resolution is typically a few messages per day or the distance between sender and receiver needs to be kept well within the maximum possible range for a LoRaWAN device.
Communication is bidirectional, and although firmware upgrades are now part of the standard, LoRaWAN systems are mainly to be thought of as “one way” due to that downlink communication (server to device) is limited and a complex task for larger amount of data (such as firmware updates).
LoRaWAN is ideal for battery powered low resolution sensors and simpler types of meters. It could in many cases be seen as a similar but improved radio solution compared to Wireless M-Bus. However, it also important to recognize that the LoRaWAN is a different ecosystem with other requirements around the infrastructure with a much higher dependency on supporting cloud services than Wireless M-Bus.