LPWAN technologies are ideal for IoT connectivity that is expansive and covers a lot of ground like agricultural management, manufacturing, asset tracking, smart cities applications, and more. But what is LPWAN, and how do you know if they’ll work for your IoT solution? Let’s take a look at the definition of LPWAN, the pros and cons, and its most common use cases.
What is LPWAN?
LPWAN stands for a low-power wide-area network, and it fits into the wider ecosystem of WANs (wide-area networks). Some people also use the terms low-power wide-area (LPWA) and low-power network (LPN) in reference to LPWANs. A traditional wireless WAN includes Wi-Fi, 2G, 3G, 4G LTE, and 5G connectivity and typically supports bigger data over smaller areas. Compared to WANs, LPWANs support smaller data transfers (10 to 10,000 data bytes at up to 200 kbps) spanning much longer distances (from 2 km to 30 km). There are many different LPWAN networks being used today, but the most common ones include LoRaWAN, SigFox, LTE-M, NB-IoT, RPMA, Symphony Link, and Weightless.
Types of LPWAN Technologies
The most commonly used LPWAN technologies fall under two categories: unlicensed or 3GPP certified. In the early stages of LPWAN, private companies began creating their own LPWAN networks outside of the traditional cellular players. These went on to become unlicensed options known as Sigfox and LoRaWan. Because of this, the global cellular standards body (3GPP) and major carriers quickly adapted to support LPWANs as well. The most popular standardized licensed bands include LTE-Cat M1 and NB-IoT (Narrowband IoT). Here’s a quick look at some of the differences between each LPWAN.
3GPP Certified LPWAN Networks
Narrowband IoT (also referred to as NB-IoT) is a lower power, narrowband option that operates out of the LTE construct. Solutions that use NB-IoT appreciate it for its minimal power usage, cost-efficiency, strong signal, and long battery life. Its LTE-advanced technology also provides a pathway to 5G IoT. Some carriers like T-Mobile offer an NB-IoT network for IoT coverage.
LTE-CATM1, also called Long Term Evolution for Machines (LTE-M), LTE Cat-M1, Cat-M, or eMTC, is a 3GPP-defined LPWAN standard network. It is an extension of the current LTE standard; however, it can transmit much higher bandwidth and data rates than an NB-IoT network can. Major carriers like T-Mobile have recently expanded their IoT networks to include a CATM1 network.
Sigfox is a proprietary, unlicensed network owned by a company called Sigfox. Most solutions that use Sigfox only need small bandwidth applications.
LoRaWan (also known as Long Range or LoRa) is a proprietary low-power wide-area (LPWAN) network owned by Semtech. Its modulation technique doesn’t fall under the 3GPP standard and instead uses an unlicensed frequency. It supports a smaller bandwidth than CATM1 or NB-IoT networks but slightly larger than Sigfox.
Benefits of LPWANs
LPWAN technologies provide many benefits especially when it comes to IoT connectivity. Here are three reasons why LPWANs have grown in popularity for IoT over the years:
- LPWAN Range. An LPWAN can span from 2 kilometers to 30 kilometers. Where your solution will fall within this range will depend by the location. The network can reach even farther in rural areas. LPWAN technology also enables connectivity in underground or closed-off areas that otherwise aren’t connectable.
- Low-Cost. Compared to other connectivity solutions, LPWAN hardware and devices of 3GPP certified networks can be less complex and less expensive.
- Long-Lasting Power. LPWAN transceivers can last over a decade on low-cost batteries, creating a low-cost power option that will last for a long time.
Disadvantages of LPWANs
LPWANs also have a couple downfalls you’ll want to consider when determining if an LPWAN network is the right network for your IoT solution. Here are the common complaints when it comes to LPWANs:
- Infrequent data transfer. If your solution requires data to be passed frequently, a LPWAN might not fit all your needs..
- Low-volume data transfer. Similarly, if you require larger amounts of data to be transferred regularly, a WAN network might be a better solution. LPWANs are typically limited from 0.3 kbit/second to 50 kbit/second.k.
- Private LPWANs. Because it’s a private, proprietary network, there are some disadvantages to these types of LPWANs. Unlike carriers (like T-Mobile and AT&T) who already have vast network coverage to support LPWAN networks, private LPWANs have to be built out over time. This means limitations for use based on location and limits for instant scabaility. Additionally, in order to transmit and receive, you would have to buy additional equipment (added costs), and the network itself is riskier because if the company were to go under, there’s no support to keep your IoT applications running.
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. Some common uses for LPWANs in IoT include:
IoT in agriculture
Agriculture solutions often require sensors spread out over large, rural areas. LPWAN is capable of spanning across these areas.
Manufacturing solutions benefit from sensors that can report from underground and in extreme climates which LPWANs are capable of. Because their transceivers can operate on the same batteries for years, they can perform for long time spans without maintenance.
Smart meters are a perfect example. LPWANs are beneficial to these devices since they’re spread across cities and only need to send minimal amounts of data.
Certain LPWAN technologies support roaming capabilities. These can work for tracking inventory or vehicles.
Enable Your IoT Solutions With LPWAN Access from SIMON IoT
At SIMON IoT, we offer turn-key access to LPWAN technologies through carriers across the globe. Get the benefits of having the nation’s largest and most secure networks propelling your devices in tandem with the transparent pricing and flexible data plans that SIMON IoT offers. Contact a SIMON IoT representative today to learn more or get started right away by registering through our portal.