LPWAN: the low power approach to smart objects

With Internet of Things (IoT) devices becoming ever more common around the world and growing in number exponentially, what is the state of play with low power connectivity?

Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technology continues to evolve and standards proliferate. LoRa, NB-IoT, Sigfox, Weightless and HaLow are helping provide the connectivity many basic IoT devices need.

What do we mean by basic? LPWAN connectivity typically operates in unlicensed spectrum (usually 868 MHz in Europe and 915 MHz in the US) and is effective in a range of around 15-30km in rural areas. It is best suited to IoT devices that are “on and off” operationally, in that they are not required to receive and transmit data constantly so do not need a lot of power.

IoT analyst ON World predicts that LPWAN technologies will help the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) expand in coming years, and forecasts that LPWAN connections will increase from 35 million in 2016 to almost half a billion by 2025.  Here are five emerging use cases for LPWAN technologies.

Smart metering

Smart meters are a good representative IoT use case of a solution that transmits around a single, short transmission per day, most commonly the meter’s electricity, gas or water readings to the utility provider for monitoring and analysis. Australia and New Zealand provide great testing grounds for smart water meters connected using LPWAN, and 2018 will see the first pilot projects rolled out in Australia while New Zealand plans to see 70 percent of the population covered by smart water meters by mid-2018.

Street lighting

Another smart solution that can benefit from LPWAN technology is street lighting. It is everywhere, often in remote locations, requires minimal power to function and requires connectivity to operate as efficiently as possible. Smart street lights transmit just a few packets per day and with light sensors, can turn themselves on and off as required. In India smart street lighting is forecast to grow at an annual rate of 42 percent to be worth $1.9 billion by 2022. LPWAN could provide the ideal connectivity backbone.

Smart parking

Utilizing more data still than street lighting, smart parking solutions transmit their status several times a day. This helps drivers save time and reduce petrol emissions by reducing ‘circling’.  In San Francisco’s SFPark initiative, the time taken to find a space decreased by 43 percent and total traffic volume decreased by 8 percent.


Advanced agriculture

LPWAN is a good connectivity option for sensors that gather data on weather, moisture, humidity and soil quality in fields. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) predicts that by 2050, to meet the world’s growing population numbers, agricultural production will need to grow by 60 percent. Precision agriculture using IoT technologies could assist this, with research by PrecisionAg in 2013 finding that corn growers reported average yield increases of 7.6 percent using IoT technologies via better harvesting techniques, precision application of seed and chemicals and optimization of fuel and labor resources.


Tracking the vulnerable

LPWAN can also be used for wireless locator devices, both for children and elderly relatives. Systems already exist that let busy families keep an eye on loved ones, with users able to use a simple mobile app to get visibility into the location and activities of children or the elderly in their homes using wristband locators. In South Korea, SK Telecom in 2016 launched a ‘safe watch’ project in collaboration with local governments to keep track of children and the elderly, leveraging the country’s nationwide LoRaWAN network.

Mining/oil & gas

Another industry that requires remote site location of connected devices is mining and oil & gas. Mining companies in Australia and New Zealand market are using LPWAN technology to connect monitoring devices down mineshafts and also extend the technology to connect wearable safety technology too. In Brazil, LPWAN IoT solutions are being deployed in the mining sector, connecting remote mines and improving hazardous conditions. LPWAN gateways can connect to sensors more than 15 kilometers away or to water meters deployed underground.

What’s the future for LPWAN?

These examples point to a bright future for LPWAN technologies like LoRa.

The right partner can help you make the best LPWAN choice. Orange operates a major LoRa network in France and works with over 100 customers on LoRaWAN™ connectivity projects, across numerous business sectors. Initiatives include intelligent communities, smart homes, health, industry and agriculture, with uses varying from smart buildings and connected parking garages to patient home monitoring, logistics/supply chain and geolocation.

Read about the roaming trial for Lora networks involving Orange and KPN, and discover the LoRa developer kit at Orange Partner.
Steve Harris

I’ve been writing about technology for around 15 years and today focus mainly on all things telecoms - next generation networks, mobile, cloud computing and plenty more. For Futurity Media I am based in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a close eye on all things tech happening in that exciting part of the world.