Low-power wide-area (LPWA) networks are essential for the future of wide-scale industrial, city, and business Internet of Things and machine-to-machine applications. With LPWA networks, municipalities will be able to track traffic conditions, public parking vacancies, and resource usage more effectively and efficiently than ever before at lower cost. Cities can increase emergency response times, lower energy and resource usage, and improve traffic and parking conditions. Factories and warehouses will better monitor performance and diagnostics of machines and track shipments, cutting down on maintenance costs and lost or late shipments. Farms will be able to see exactly where their soil is dry and how their harvesters are operating, increasing overall production yield. These IoT sectors require huge numbers of connected, stationary devices over a wider area than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi networks can handle. LPWA networks share the same goals: affordable, sustainable tracking for wide-range IoT applications.
Low Power for Longer Life
LPWA networks’ strengths – lower data transfer rates and energy usage over a wide sensor transmission area – are specifically tailored for large-scale IoT / M2M applications. The technology drains less energy from devices than traditional cellular and satellite networks, which cuts down costs on battery replacement across hundreds or thousands of wireless IoT tracking devices and the labor associated with it. The GSMA states that devices on LPWA networks can perform for up to 10 years on a single charge.
The longer a device lasts without maintenance, the more sustainable the device is and the easier it is to use. Farms, businesses, and cities have enough to manage, so lowering the stress and barrier to entry for IoT can lead to higher adoption rates. LPWA networks have the opportunity to make IoT a no-brainer instead of a headache.
LPWA Is Growing to Fill in Between
According to Research and Markets, the global market for LPWA networks is expected to grow from 1.01 billion USD in 2016 to 24.46 billion USD by 2021. Due to the rapid growth of the market, companies such as Sigfox in France, Senet in North America, and Loriot in Switzerland have started developing their own LPWA offerings.
One problem IoT runs into on older platforms is interoperability. Different technologies and network protocols created by various companies aren’t standardized to facilitate IoT communication between all devices. Since LPWA was specifically designed with IoT / M2M communication in mind, the LoRa Alliance was founded to standardize LPWA technologies and how they are deployed. Their technology works by having the network server manage the data rate and RF output of devices to maintain long battery life and optimal network communication.
How LPWA Compares to Other IoT Networks
Cellular and satellite networks can handle the coverage needs of large-scale IoT applications, and these are may be setup to transmit large amounts of data, such as HD video streams to your smartphone. Cellular and satellite networks are also great for mobile tracking applications such as following 18-wheelers across a country or monitoring oil and gas equipment in remote areas of the world.
But LPWA technologies are developed to track non-mobile objects in a specific area. Sensors used to measure moisture levels in soil on farms or monitor metered parking on streets in cities. LPWA is ideal for systems that are not in constant motion, and even if the connected devices are moved it will generally be within their pre-established LPWA network.
Where LPWA Is the Right Fit
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are great for the same kinds of connections LPWA provides, but those technologies do not cover the same area or distance that LPWA networks can, making them better suited for consumer or small-scale applications. LPWA networks were created to fill a very specific but growing need that other network architectures cannot provide – that of a local wireless network with long-range capabilities. Wi-Fi works well in your home because it doesn’t need to cover a large area, but if the building is the size of a hospital or commercial farm you would run into connectivity problems unless you had multiple routers set up throughout. LPWA networks communications are built from the ground up specifically for the size and scale that industrial and civic IoT applications require.
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