11 Myths About LoRaWAN

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11 Myths About LoRaWAN
Industrial Automation
11 Myths About LoRaWAN
This article attempts to unravel some of the misconceptions and mysteries surrounding the network known as LoRaWAN…or is it LoRa?

Rishabh Chauhan, Keith Lee | Jan 24, 2018

LoRa and LoRaWAN are quickly drawing global attention as a low-power wide area network (LPWAN) alternative to technologies like Sigfox, and gateways are springing up around the world. To the uninitiated, LoRa’s capabilities and potential are either a mystery, or completely unbelievable. It’s about time we dispel some of the misunderstandings or outright fallacies plaguing LoRa and LoRaWAN.

1. LoRa is LoRaWAN.

LoRaWAN is the communication protocol and system architecture for the network while LoRa is the physical radio layer enabling the long-range communication link. The LoRaWAN protocol and network architecture directly influence the battery lifetime of a node, network capacity, quality of service, security, and the variety of applications served by the network.

LoRa is the technology that modulates the data into electromagnetic waves. It uses a transmission method called “Chirp Spread Spectrum,” encoding data in frequency-modulated “chirps.” This transmission method has been used in military and space communication for decades.

2. LoRa signals can’t really transmit over 10 km. That’s nuts!

In a typical LoRaWAN network, range depends on numerous factors—indoor/outdoor gateways, payload of the message, antenna used, etc. On average, in an urban environment with an outdoor gateway, you can expect up to 2- to 3-km-wide coverage, while in the rural areas it can reach beyond 5 to 7 km. In some cases, extremely long range is also attainable—ref: 702 km!

LoRa’s range depends on “radio line-of-sight.” Radio waves in the 400- to 900-MHz range may pass through some obstructions, depending on their composition, but will be absorbed or reflected otherwise. This means that the signal can potentially reach as far as the horizon, as long as there are no physical barriers to block it. Elevating LoRa devices—placing them on rooftops or mountaintops, for example—will maximize their range. Other factors, such as antenna gain, will also have a large impact on range.

3. Okay, but there’s no way my device could last up to 10 years!

One of the unique features of LoRaWAN is long battery life. To achieve this, devices are generally programmed to go into deep sleep mode when not transmitting messages, maximizing battery life. The longevity of any node is still determined by the capacity of its battery, but going to sleep for extended periods will dramatically extend charge cycles.

Also, the LoRa signal itself doesn’t require a whole lot of power to generate and transmit. That means, even when the system is active and transmitting, power consumption is kept at a trickle. With a minimal amount of software tinkering, the Strata node from Gumstix idled at 20 mA in “idle” mode and topped out at less than 110 mA during transmission.

4. Can I share images/files on LoRaWAN?

The speed at which you can send data over LoRaWAN is extremely low. Don’t expect to send large files such as music, video, or images over this type of network. It’s suitable for extremely small sensor data packets that can be used for alarms, triggering, and monitoring purposes. This plays a huge factor in optimizing battery life.

5. LoRa nodes can only send data.

Another key feature of LoRaWAN is its ability to support bidirectional communication. This means that an end device (sensor) can send a message to the network (i.e., sensor data, occupancy, location) as well as receive messages from the network back to the device. Thanks to this, LoRa devices can be programmed or designed to deliver status indicators to remote locations.

A good application for this bidirectional long-range capability could be indicating if a bridge has been washed out on a back-country service road or hiking trail at the trailhead, so that crews and hikers can plan a new route. A floating switch, or humidity and pressure sensors, would detect if the bridge deck was submerged in water and transmit that data to a cloud service. This service, in turn, would send a trigger signal to the sign post node, which would operate a mechanism to indicate that the bridge is out.

6. LoRa isn’t secure.

Security has always been an important aspect for any wireless technology. LoRaWAN utilizes two layers of security: one for the network and one for the application. The network security ensures authenticity of the node in the network, while the application layer of security ensures the network operator doesn’t have access to the end user’s application data. AES encryption is used with the key exchange.

An added bonus is that low-power Chirp Spread Spectrum signals are very difficult to detect and intercept.

7. I have to pay to use LoRaWAN.

For people interested in getting started with LoRaWAN, there’s a global community of over 24,000 people in over 500 cities around the world making use of the open free network “The Things Network.” All you need is some end devices to start with, and you can start diving into LoRaWAN in a flash. In case you’re in an area with no coverage, you can always set up a base station, thereby providing coverage to not only yourself, but also to local members of your network.

Also, various paid networks can provide dedicated network or application servers that offer greater bandwidth, storage, and number of devices; additional privacy and security; and software licensing options.

8. LoRaWAN is for IIoT sensor monitoring. That’s it.

Not just limited to a few monitoring and alert messages, LoRaWAN over time has found applications ranging from smart cities to industrial IoT, manufacturing, and plenty of other verticals.