WAN is an emerging technology that offers several benefits compared to traditional technologies. Wireless network technologies such as WiFi, ZigBee, Bluetooth etc can handle only consumer applications of the Internet of Things (IoT), but many industrial, civic, and other IoT applications need to operate over vastly greater territory than these technologies. Even-though cellular and satellite machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies have traditionally filled this gap, but cost, power,and scalability concerns make these choices less appealing for the future. A number of low- power,wide-area networking (LP-WAN) alternatives have arisen that need careful consideration to address these wide-ranging IoT applications.
M2M connectivity options that combine low- power and long-range present huge opportunities. Civic infrastructure systems such as parking resources, traffic control, utilities monitoring and distribution control, and environmental monitoring are just a few. Agricultural uses such as monitoring of crop conditions and livestock movements need wide-area coverage. Asset monitoring and tracking, from taxicabs to refrigerated produce shipments need regional, national, or even worldwide coverage. Transportation infrastructures such as rail lines and roadways need wide-area monitoring. Even consumer applications such as health monitoring could benefit from having an alternative to cellphones for their wide-area connectivity.
SIGFOX is the first and only provider of cellular connectivity dedicated to the Internet of Things and M2M communications. Its ultra-narrowband-based radio technology enables long-range two-way wireless Internet connections for a wide array of devices. Its network eliminates the cost and energy-use barriers to wide implementation of IoT and M2M solutions by providing low-throughput communication and greatly extending the battery and service life of connected devices. Sigfox technology has low modem costs and longer battery life,they reduce the time and money spent maintaining and replacing connected devices once they have been installed.
To provide security the SigFox system uses frequency hopping, this helps to avoid message interception and anti-replay mechanisms in their servers and to avoid replay attacks. The content and format of data sent in the transmission is user-defined and the SigFox system is transparent to that data. Only the user knows how to interpret their device information.
LoRaWAN is a Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) specification intended for wireless battery operated things in regional, national or global network. LoRaWAN target key requirements of internet of things such as secure bi-directional communication, mobility and localization services. This standard will provide seamless interoperability among smart Things without the need of complex local installations and gives back the freedom to the user, developer, businesses enabling the role out of Internet of Things.
The biggest advantage of LoRa is its Low Power Consumption followed by operation in non licensed frequency. With Data range between 0.3 kbps to 50 kbps and limited network range it would be more optimal for communication between end IoT sensors and Network Gateways on LoRa with the long distance communication over conventional Telecom frequencies and hence a Hybrid Model.
Weightless is the name for the new standard for machine to machine, M2M communications using white space wireless technology. It is intended to extend the cost advantages of existing short range M2M technologies like Bluetooth and ZigBee to a wide area environment by using frequency hopping spread spectrum technology to enhance range at the expense of data rate.
Comparing LP-WAN Alternatives
The table above offers an overview of the major alternatives currently available or emerging for low-power, wide-area wireless networking for IoT applications.
What makes these technologies different ?
Weightless is an alliance, not a technology, and the only one ISM Band player who joined is nWave. nWave are already operating in the UK in a very high profile project in Milton Keynes with BT and are making plans to deploy services regionally in Europe and also in the USA and they have ongoing pockets of business and trials in both markets. Other industry heavyweights who have joined Weightless include Accenture and ARM.
The technology backed by Weightless is unidirectional at the moment, but future revisions in the coming quarter plan bidirectional service, and are only suitable for ultra low band applications like sensor networks (such as smart agriculture, smart parking, smart grid and smart cities).
LoRa is an alliance that has gathered around a single proprietary technology developed by chipmaker Semtech. Companies in this category include Kerlink, Senet, and long time M2M Equipment manufacturer Multitech Systems. Startup Senet is deploying services in the USA, and others are popping up in global projects. Most notably Dutch Mobile Operator KPN recently announced that they were joining LoRa and are planning to deploy the technology in Holland, and a slew of other MNOs have jumped on board recently as well, including a fully operational network in South Africa run by Fastnet, an M2M-focused subsidiary of South African’s Telekom MNO.
In USA, the technology is bi-directional and is already being used widely by Senet in tank monitoring applications nationwide and appears to gather traction. But the way in which LoRa might do bi-directional in the European market is fuzzier because of bandwidth restrictions on duty cycle. Multi Tech Systems (US Equipment Manufacturer ) has also announced a suite of products using LoRa technology that includes both programmable modules and Gateway/Hubs, integrated with their legacy cellular hubs.
In the proprietary non-standard camp, SigFox has been well backed by Intel ventures and others, and has been operational in France for some time, and pushing into other markets through partnerships. The most notable of these is the recent announcement by Arqiva that they will jointly pursue UK Metering with SigFox, and another announcement with Swedish MNO Tele2 that they will deploy SigFox technology in Holland. SigFox also announced a whopping investment of nearly $114 Million by a group of investors including Telefonica, SK Telecom and NTT Docomo.
Summary of LP-WAN Alternatives
The SigFox LP-WAN offers a complete end-to-end system beginning with a certified modem and ending with a web-based application that users configure to forward device messages to their IT systems. Developers must either license the modem technology from SigFox or acquire a modem from a certified manufacturer to integrate into their IoT end node device design. Third-party service providers make SigFox-compatible access point networks available to handle traffic between the end nodes and SigFox servers. The SigFox servers manage the end-node devices and make their data traffic and other information available to the user through a web-based API.
The LoRaWAN architecture is a “star of stars” structure with gateways serving as a transparent bridge between end node devices and network servers. The wireless hop between end nodes and gateway use a proprietary chirp spread spectrum radio scheme available from Semtech and its licensces. The network structure allows three classes of end-node device. Class A (bidirectional) devices have a scheduled uplink transmission window followed by two, short down-link receive windows. Class B devices have additional, scheduled downlink windows and Class C devices have nearly continuously open receive windows. The radio scheme allows the network server to manage the data rate for each connected device via an adaptive rate algorithm to ensure optimal system performance under local radio conditions. The LoRa connections allow a tradeoff between payload and range. Security for LoRaWAN includes use of unique network, application, and device keys for encrypting data at different OSI levels.
Weightless is a collection of three LP-WAN standards under the control of the Weightless SIG. The original Weightless-W called for use of television whitespace for the wireless link using technology. Packet size and data rates are flexible, depending on user need and link budget. The Weightless-N standard is based on nWave’s ultra narrow band LP-WAN technology and targets low-cost applications needing only unidirectional data transmission.The Weightless-P standard is under development and scheduled for release in late 2015 with hardware available in early 2016.
SigFox , LoRaWan and Weightless are 3 technologies and 3 business models. In any case, this is an advent of a new generation in mobile networks, which will reveal new practical examples, for applications requiring miniature sensors (a few centimeters), not powered on mains and of which operational costs will be calculated in tenths of cents per month in the long term.
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