What are LoRa and LoRaWAN?
The proprietary technology Long Range (LoRa) was created by the French company Cycleo in 2010 before being purchased by the American company Semtech in 2012. It is a radiofrequency modulation technique that manipulates chirp spread spectrum (CSS) to equip non-digital, battery-driven devices with wireless communication capabilities. Here these analog devices or physical mediums communicate data between themselves through radio waves. They then convert the radio waves into ultrashort electrical signals (chirps) and transmit them to the data link layer. This layer acts as an interface between the physical mediums and network and dictates how the encoded data (chirps) is transferred to the network. In summary, LoRa is the signal of physical end devices that transmits data to gateways (go-between computers that route data to or from networks).
The Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN) is a continually evolving solution developed by the LoRa Alliance. LoRaWAN is a wireless communication standard and software architecture that piggybacks off the physical layer LoRa. In other terms, it is a cloud-based middleware layer that listens for LoRa signals from hardware and controls their interaction with the network before relaying information onto application servers.
To this end, LoRaWAN networks are equipped with internet-enabled end devices linked to gateways. These LoRaWAN gateways collect and consolidate packets of LoRa data from end-node technology such as (Industrial) Internet of Things (IIoT/IoT) sensors. They then upload these data sets to a cloud server using a company network or 4G/5G technology. From there, information is processed and forwarded to application servers.
What are LoRaWAN’s major benefits?
Many challenges exist in the mass-scale implementation of Industry 4.0 solutions, including secure end-to-end connectivity and safe data processing and storage. The LoRaWAN communication protocol was designed from the very beginning with state-of-the-art cybersecurity in mind. It makes use of tried-and-tested algorithms to determine the authenticity of data being sent to the network server from end nodes. Encryption keys are also standard to keep data confidential on two separate layers: from the end-device via the gateway to the network, and end-to-end at the application server level. The LoRa Alliance also certifies LoRaWAN end devices to provide additional security and ensure reliable and compliant operations. As a result, strong and stable connections are guaranteed to prevent companies and their assets from being compromised or exploited.
LoRaWAN networks are suitable for use in various industries due to the different classes of end devices available. Most of these end devices operate in low power mode and communicate small amounts of data only when required. This not only results in lower connectivity costs, but also extends the lifetime of battery-operated devices by up to several years. In addition, companies can achieve cost savings through LoRaWAN because it is an open standard that can be freely accessed and adapted by anyone. Firmware updates carried out remotely over the air decrease on-site maintenance and servicing costs. Ultimately, these collective savings will increase net profits.
Another key feature of the LoRaWAN system architecture is its star topology. Every single part of this network setup is centrally managed so that end-device communication is uplinked through the most appropriate gateway. As a result, these networks boast high capacity to support massive volumes of data from a huge number of LoRaWAN gateways. The network systems are thus extensive and provide deep coverage to even the most remote or hard-to-reach places.
End-point LoRaWAN hardware is also very robust and can function seamlessly in harsh weather conditions and environments with high signal interference. It often requires little to no modification, as the end nodes are made to interoperate and internetwork with other vendor solutions. The gateways are capable of transmitting and receiving signals over vast distances and penetrating physical barriers such as multistory buildings or underground tunnels.
In summary, companies can quickly deploy and scale IoT operations thanks to widespread availability, reliable long-range transmission, low costs, and universal interoperability.
How is LoRaWAN influencing the development of IoT applications?
Having the right network technology is critical for success in Industry 4.0. LoRaWAN system architecture has been designed for long-distance communication at low power, providing the perfect network solution to drive the development of internet-connectable devices. One such case is the Yokogawa Sushi Sensor.
The Sushi Sensor is a family of battery-powered wireless technologies and environmental monitoring devices designed specifically to leverage LoRaWAN technology. With outstanding receiver sensitivity, high resistance to radio frequency interference, and long-range operability, LoRaWAN provided the ideal communication environment to serve as a foundation for sensor technology. LoRaWAN offers much wider coverage than regular WLAN networks. Its strong signal propagation can reach even the farthest corners and inaccessible locations. In urban areas as well, LoRaWAN is capable of transmitting data through densely packed infrastructure. The LoRaWAN specification also keeps end devices in idle mode, sending data intermittently, which means hardly any power is required for device operation.
Remote monitoring operations that use this kind of cutting-edge technology are typically spread out over wide geographic areas, sometimes in locations that are precarious to work in. This not only makes servicing and maintaining end-node machines difficult, but it also means wiring them is challenging and cost-intensive. IoT sensors are also exposed to other threats, such as vandalism, theft, and adverse weather, so they have to be able to withstand and quickly bounce back from external shocks. All the benefits offered by LoRaWAN made it foundational to the Sushi Sensor’s ability to be implemented quickly and wirelessly at low cost and to ensure safe network operations. LoRaWAN was thus the optimal protocol choice for developing the Sushi Sensor.
IIoT applications that adopt sophisticated LoRaWAN architecture are supporting digital transformation and the way people connect and interact across the process industry. As time progresses, LoRaWAN will be increasingly deployed, enabling companies to future-proof their business. The simplicity and flexibility of LoRaWAN devices have the potential to deliver universal connectivity and meet the ever-increasing technical demands of industrial applications.
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