6 Things You Need To Know About LoRaWAN

What Is It?

LoRaWAN is a Low Power, Wide Area (LPWA) networking protocol that was designed to wirelessly connect battery operated ‘things’ to the internet, in regional, national, or global networks. LoRaWAN ensures secure communication between the end device and the application server using AES-128 encryption, over large distances with minimal battery usage.

LoRaWAN was designed with large service providers in mind. The goal is that a few operators maintain and control the network, while millions of users enjoy the network without the need to care about the infrastructure.

How Does It Work?

LoRaWAN networks can determine the location of end devices using triangulation — without the need for GPS! On top of that, it is easy to deploy public and private LoRaWAN networks using the same hardware and software. You can also remotely update firmware for a single end device or group of end devices that perform seamless handovers from one network to another.

Is LoRaWAN The Same Thing As LoRa?

No. LoRa is not the same thing as LoRaWAN.

LoRa is the technology that modulates the data into electromagnetic waves. It uses a transmission method — “Chirp Spread Spectrum” — that encodes data in frequency-modulated “chirps” pulses (similar to the way dolphins and bats communicate)! It is the physical layer or the (wireless) modularization which creates the long-range communication link.

LoRa transmits over license-free megahertz radio frequency bands: 169 MHz, 433 MHz (Asia), 868 MHz (Europe) and 915 MHz (North America). It provides for long-range communications: up to five kilometers (three miles) in urban areas, and up to 15 Kilometers (10 miles) or more in rural areas (line of sight). Therefore, we can say that LoRa-modulated transmission is robust against disturbances and can be received across great distances.

On the other hand, LoRaWAN is the communication protocol and system architecture for the network, built on top of LoRa modulation.

It’s a software layer that defines how devices use the LoRa hardware, for example when they transmit and the format of messages. The LoRaWAN protocol is developed and maintained by the LoRa Alliance. This can influence the network capacity, the quality of the service, the security and the variety of applications served by the network.

To add more, LoRa is currently operating in unlicensed spectrum, so it is possible to set up your own gateways, have coverage of a few kilometres and therefore run your own network for much fewer costs.

So, LoRaWAN is, effectively, the network: LoRa + WAN (Wide Area Network).

Why Is It So Awesome?

We can give you a few reasons for it:

- LoRaWAN has a very large ecosystem of device makers, gateway makers, antenna makers, network service providers and application developers.

- LoRaWAN is by design very secure. Authentication and encryption are, in fact, mandatory.

- LoRaWAN end-devices are optimized to operate in low power mode, and can last up to 10 years!

- LoRaWAN gateways can transmit and receive signals over a distance of over 10 kilometers in rural areas, and up to 3 Kilometers in dense urban areas.

- LoRaWAN networks can provide deep indoor coverage, and cover multi-floor buildings.

- LoRaWAN Network Servers handle millions of messages from thousands of gateways.

- The LoRa Alliance certification program certifies end devices and provides end-users with confidence that the devices are reliable and compliant with the LoRaWAN specification.

Use cases

Most typical LoRa cases can be found in the IoT (Internet of Things), IoE (Internet of Everything) and Machine to Machine areas.

Usually, it is used for smart devices such as sensors, which are battery operated and can communicate with each other.

These are some examples of use cases:

- Gas, water or electricity metering that sends 1 to 5 messages a day about current usage and which battery lasts more than 10 years.

- Smart parking systems can be integrated with an app so users can find free parking spots easier. It can send a message when a vehicle arrives or leaves a parking space and besides its low maintenance, there is no need for cabling

- Smart bins for waste management can optimize the routes for garbage collection, saving fuel and labour. It can also send a message when a trash can is full.

- Smart lighting, is one of the most traditional IoT applications travelling that makes it possible to control streetlight status and operation

- Environment monitoring such as temperature, pollution and humidity is becoming one of the most important applications, and it can create very valuable insights.

- Asset tracking and management combined with IoT technologies help users and businesses to check the status and the location of their assets and control anything like locks or lights

LoRaWAN Architecture

The architecture of a typical LoRa network looks like this:

Devices — LoRawan — Gateway — Wi-Fi/Ethernet — Network Server — Application

How does it work?

Let’s begin with an end-node device, like a sensor, that sends encrypted information transmitted over LoRa radio. This data is received in one or more gateways and forwarded over another network (usually Ethernet) to a Network Server. Finally, the Network Server delivers the message to the correct end application.

LoRaWAN devices, also known as end-nodes such as sensors or detectors, can send and receive information.

As said before, LoRa operates in an unlicensed spectrum, which means that everyone can use the network without paying or getting a license. The gateway is the device that receives data sent by end-node devices and processes it after. After the message is received by a LoRa gateway, it is forwarded to a Network Server, which is responsible for the following tasks:

- Aggregate incoming data from the gateways in its network

- Forward incoming messages to the corresponding end application

- Select the best gateway to pick up a message in case multiple gateways are in the range of one device

- Stores messages until a device is ready to receive it

- Controls LoRa’s configurations to the gateways

- Removes duplicate messages that can be picked up from multiple gateways

- Monitors the devices and the gateways

Lastly, in the LoRaWAN architecture scheme, is the actual application. The developer uses this application to analyse the messages sent by the devices that are relevant to it. The application receives the data, interprets it, and finally uses it.

In terms of security, as mentioned before, LoRaWAN was developed with a concern for its security. Communication must be secure on multiple levels while travelling between multiple devices, gateways and servers. In fact, the contents of the messages are not read by network servers if they aren’t relevant to the network or the infrastructure.

Fun fact: did you know that this transmission method has been used in military and space communication for ages?

Are you still doubting LoRaWAN’s potential?

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