What is a LPWAN?

LPWAN stands for low-power wide-area network, and it fits into the wider ecosystem of WANs (wide-area networks). Unlike a wireless WAN that supports more data and connects users, LPWANs allow for long-range, wireless telecommunications while keeping a low bit rate. When we say ‘low bit rate,’ a typical data range per channel is 0.3 kbit/second to 50 kbit/second. Some people use the terms low-power wide-area (LPWA) and low-power network (LPN) in reference to LPWANs. 

When to use a LPWAN

A LPWAN is ideal for IoT solutions that require small amounts of data to be sent significant distances over the span of multiple years. This makes it a great network for devices in remote locations or devices spread over larger distances. 

Examples

IoT in agriculture
Agriculture solutions often require sensors spread out over large, rural areas. LPWAN is capable of spanning across these areas.

IoT manufacturing
Manufacturing solutions benefit from sensors that can report from underground and in extreme climates, LPWANs have these capabilities. Because their transceivers can operate on the same batteries for years, they can operate for long time spans without maintenance. 

Smart cities 
Smart meters are a perfect example. LPWANs are beneficial since the devices are spread across a city and only need to send minimal amounts of data.

Asset tracking
Certain LPWAN technologies support roaming capabilities. These can work for tracking inventory or other vehicles

Benefits of LPWANs

Range of a LPWAN. A LPWAN reaches 2-30 kilometers. Where your solution will fall within this range depends on the location; the network can reach farther in rural areas. LPWAN technology also enables connectivity in underground or closed-off areas that otherwise aren’t connectable. 

Cost. Compared to other connectivity solutions, LPWAN hardware and devices can be less complex and therefore less expensive. 

Power. LPWAN transceivers can last over a decade on low-cost batteries, creating a low-cost power option. 

Disadvantages of LPWANs

Infrequent data transfer. If your solution requires data to be passed frequently, a LPWAN won’t meet your needs. 

Low-volume data transfer. Similarly, if you require larger amounts of data than 0.3 kbit/second to 50 kbit/second, you’ll be better off with a different network.  

Disadvantages of Private LPWANs

Operating on unlicensed bands. ISM bands, on which LPWANs often operate, are left open. This affects some solutions much more than others. Some solutions might not be affected much by this. However, if solutions offer medical applications or support self-driving cars, they might want to avoid unlicensed bands. While we’ve mentioned this as a disadvantage, some solutions prefer unlicensed bands as a cost-saving technique.  

High upfront costs. A private LPWAN is only a viable option for operations that can handle significant upfront costs. At SIMON, we offer turn-key access to LPWAN technologies through carriers across the globe.  

LPWAN technologies 

3GPP Certified

LTE-Cat M1
This option offers higher data volume and is considered a good fit for roaming solutions. Cat M1 is occasionally being used to replace 2G and 3G for some devices. 

NB-IoT (narrowband-IoT)
This narrowband option operates out of the LTE construct, which comes with its own pros and cons. Solutions that use NB-IoT appreciate it for its minimal power usage, cost-efficiency, and strong signal. It’s a great option for solutions with sensors in locations that might be difficult for other options to reach, such as underground applications. 

Unlicensed 

Sigfox
Sigfox also uses narrowband. Most solutions that use Sigfox only need an extremely small bandwidth application. 

LoRaWan
LoRaWan (LoRa) uses an unlicensed frequency and supports a bit larger bandwidth than Sigfox. 

Effects of 5G on LPWAN

Recently, there’s been discussion around how 5G will affect the future of LPWANs. 5G will enhance LPWAN because of its ability to provide low-power, low-latency, and high data-transfer rates. However, this may be too narrow-minded, because you can take advantage of LPWAN today using a combination of 4G and 5G networks.
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