Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA) technology
Is enabling the next big jump towards a connected world and IoT. LPWA networks are designed for IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) applications that have low data rates, long battery lives, cost optimized and operate also in remote and hard to reach locations. They will be easy to implement and deploy and serve a number of vertical markets such as manufacturing, wearables, utilities or transport. Various analysts anticipate to reach up to 5 billion LWPA connections in 2020 and generate nearly US$ 1 billion already in 2018.
The term LPWA covers standardized cellular as well as proprietary wireless technologies such as LoRa or Sigfox. These Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) networks will support devices requiring lower mobility, low power consumption, long range, low cost and security. Not all of the LPWA technologies will combine all the benefits equally.
LPWA solutions are considered complementary to short range technologies such as Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low Energy, WiFi or Zigbee.
At the moment, there is still a lot of confusion around the question which technology will prevail. No less than seven different technologies are now being discussed. Inevitably, some will fail. Others will ultimately serve niche markets with limited use cases. For IoT device manufacturers and solution developers, betting on the wrong one could prove a costly mistake.
The discussion remains which technology is the best suitable option for a project and how to choose. There are good reasons for licensed technology like LTE-M1, LTE-NB1 (M2) or ECS-GSM-IOT and connect with one of the many global carrier network as there is to connect with a more private network based on RMPA, Sigfox or LoRa technology.
How to distinguish between the technologies and understand the differences and how they matter to your project? There are plenty of whitepaper already published, webinars held and info graphs published. We do not intend to decide for you but link to valuable resources and guide you through the technologies.
LTE-M1 is a cellular technology and standardized under 3GPP and included into Release 13.
Mobile network operators globally will support the standard and deploy it in the network. Mass deployment is on the way and live networks are expected 1H-2017 with focus on North America, Australia and Europe. The standard will be widely adopted and offers the market a choice of products and mobile network operators. LTE-M1 will benefit from a lower device complexity and will allow reuse of the installed LTE base. Expected to support battery life up to 10 years and even beyond with modem cost advantages over current LTE solutions.
Multiple chipset providers are available such as Altair, Sequans, Intel, Qualcomm, Mediatek Multiple module vendors will provide ready to use modems such as: Sierra Wireless, u-Blox, Telit, Gemalto, Quectel, Huawei, etc.
LTE-NB1 is a cellular technology and standardized under 3GPP. Originally started as NB-IOT and proprietary technology provided by Noel and later acquired by Huawei. Finally became a standard initiative within GSMA and had some name changes. But after modifications adopted as a standard within the LTE technology and now called LTE-NB1 and included into Release 13.
Mobile network operators globally will support the standard and deploy it in the network. Deployment is expected for early 2017 and catching up from the late acceptance of the standard with focus on Europe. A choice of modem providers and network operators will be available.
LTE-NB1 will benefit from new physical layer signals and channels designed for demanding extended coverage (rural areas and indoor penetration) with a very simplified device design but achieving 10 year plus battery lifetime.
Multiple chipset providers will be available such as Altair, Sequans, Intel, Qualcomm, Mediatek and others. Multiple module vendors will offer ready to use modems such as: Sierra Wireless, u-Blox, Telit, Gemalto, Quectel, Huawei and others.
Extended coverage GSM IoT (EC-GSM-IoT or short EC-GSM) is one other standard-based Low Power Wide Area technology. It is based on eGPRS and designed as a high capacity, long range, low energy and low complexity cellular system for IoT communications. The optimizations required to the existing GSM networks can be made as a software upgrade, ensuring coverage and accelerated time to-market. ECS-GSM-IoT is considered an evolution of GSM optimized for IoT and included in Release 13. The standard was concluded mid-2016 and is supported by all major mobile equipment, chip set and module manufacturers. The ECS-GSM-IoT networks will co-exist with 2G, 3G, and 4G mobile networks and commercial launches are expected within 2017.
RMPA is a non-cellular technology and utilizing the globally available license-free 2.4 GHz band. The 2.4 GHz band has 80 MHz of spectrum. A single RPMA channel takes up 1 MHz. That means RPMA can have 40 channels worldwide. RPMA stands for Random Phase Multiple Access and is currently deployed in 30 cities in the United States by the end of 2016.
In open spaces without obstructions like deserts and rural areas the technology can cover large open space with a limited number of cell towers. In urban areas with building, trees and other obstacles more access points will be required.
Sigfox UNB (ultra-narrow band) is a proprietary non-cellular technology deployed in unlicensed bands. The spectrum is below 1 GHz and helps to achieve maximum coverage but higher bands in the spectrum might still be used. Sigfox as per today has commercial network coverage in about 25 countries including countries in Europe and also trials in the US.
Sigfox devices are not designed to carry heavy amounts of data, but being able to handle approximately 12 bytes per message, and at the same time no more than 140 messages per device per day. However, this enables the transmission of simple messages that might be sufficient for many IoT applications.
Various chip manufacturers provide transceivers or SoC (system on Chip) that will be needed to add SIGFOX connectivity at the start of any connected device. Thr chip vendors include: M2Communications, Microchip, NXP, On Semiconductor, Silicon Labs and TI. Module makers that bring Sigfox together with all you need to manage radio communication include: ATIM, CG-Wireless, Eolane, Innocom, Microchip, Radiocraft or Telit.
Is operating in the non-cellular and unlicensed bands sub 1 GHz. The LoRA Alliance is an open non-profit association and working on a standard for LPWA networks in the IoT market that is using the LoRaWAN protocol based on CSS (chirp spread spectrum) modulation technology and patented by Semtech. LoRaWAN supports data rates from 0.3 kbps to 50 kbps and is a secure bi-directional communication that includes localization services. There are three different classes of end-point devices available (Class A, B, C).
Chirp spread spectrum was originally designed to compete with ultra-wideband for precision ranging and low-rate wireless networks in the 2.45 GHz band. The technology supports low power usage and data rates less than 1 Mbit/s.
Various modules, modems and other certified products are available from a variety of vendors.
Currently there are several operators that are deploying or trialing LoRa (i.e. KPN, Bouygues, Swisscom, Proximus, Orange, SKtelecom, 3, FastNet, etc.) and networks will be operational in 2016 .
- Links to whitepaper and other resources
- LoRa Alliance:
- Release 13 ref. TR 36.888).:
A selection of links to major contributors to the mobile IoT and white papers published covering the various angles of LPWA.
Huawei – NB-IOT:
Alcatel Lucent / Nokia: