Oct 20, 2022

How to test your LoRa coverage

Alexis Leibbrandt

This article covers how to test your LoRa coverage before and after your IoT project deployment.

LoRaWAN technology is showing a favorable adoption rate. Alongside the usual benefits of the technology (long-range communication at low power), the commoditization of the hardware and accessibility of IoT software tools explain this trend.

Moreover, community-based network operators and national telcos continuously expand the infrastructure supporting these networks, bringing it to a broader audience of businesses and IoT innovators. Some countries already benefit from nationwide LoRaWAN coverage (e.g. the Netherlands, Switzerland).

That being said, the coverage maps communicated by the network operators sometimes fail to account for the particularities of each geographical location. This can lead to expectations mismatch about the quality of the LoRa signal during the deployment of the IoT solution.

LoRa displays a low susceptibility to interferences and good building penetration. However, dense urban environments submitting the radio signal to structural attenuations, faulty gateways, remote locations, and other factors can affect the quality and coverage of your LoRa signal.

This is why it is essential to test your LoRa coverage.

Before the rollout

Proper planning prevents unfavorable surprises. The first thing to do is find out which networks provide coverage in the areas where you want to deploy your IoT sensors. Most network providers publish coverage maps for the locations they serve. This gives already a rough idea of which LoRaWAN networks can be considered for your deployment.

Don't forget to check as well which frequency band is supported in your country. European countries typically operate at 863 - 873 MHz and 433.05 - 434.79 MHz. You will find a detailed list of the frequency plans by country here.

“What happens if I don't see any coverage in my area?”

In that case, you may want to look into establishing your own private infrastructure or extending an existing public network. Setting up a private network might require a significant initial CAPEX investment for large-scale projects but will give you complete control over your network. Loriot is a LoRaWAN Network Server (LNS) that can help you with this approach.

If you are adjacent to a community network such as The Things Network or Helium, you may decide in this case to install new LoRa gateways and extend the coverage of the existing neighboring network.

There are a few elements to consider if you decide to install new gateways. As mentioned above, the radio signal is subject to structure attenuation. Therefore, pay attention to the materials in the surroundings when you place the gateway, as indoor propagation may vary heavily.

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Some buildings that comply with specific sustainability standards (e.g. LEED-certified) also use low-emissivity (low-E) glass in their construction. This type of window has a thin coating that minimizes the amount of energy passing through it to reject UV light and solar heat. Sadly, this also translates into high radio signal attenuation and poor indoor coverage.

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The antenna obviously plays a decisive role as well. Be sure to check the antenna characteristics to optimize the direction/orientation for better reception. No metal or other shielding materials should be present near the antenna. As a rule of thumb, it is best to place the antenna in an elevated space, especially in outdoor situations. Further, minimize the distance between the gateway and the antenna to avoid further attenuation.

Gateways come in all shapes and sizes. When choosing a gateway, be sure that its technical characteristics fit your project requirements:

  • Indoor vs. outdoor placement

  • Connectivity (hard-wired Ethernet, Wi-Fi, cellular)

  • Internal vs. external antenna

To guide you through the decision, be sure to check this article on LoRa Gateways.

The Things Indoor Gateway

You can optimize how your devices and gateways are installed and ensure optimal signal quality throughout your deployment thanks to a LoRa field tester. A network tester will help you to qualify and validate the network coverage in situ. The adeunis network tester is an ideal tool to check your network coverage and ensure the proper positioning of your sensors and gateways.

Based on the RSSI and SNR readings of the network tester, you can assess the signal quality of your setup.

For larger outdoor deployments, a specialized simulation tool can greatly help. These programs allow running simulations on future deployments to generate insights about the best placement of the gateways. Cloud-RF is an example of such a radio network planning software.

After the rollout

Once the IoT deployment is in operation, it is advisable to periodically assess the network's health and ensure it is stable. A good general practice is to check the signal quality as seen by your assets. The best is to have a notification service that informs you in case of a weak radio signal. That way, you don't have to remember to do it manually but are notified automatically in case of an issue.

The device lifecycle notifications of akenza are a good example of that.

If you want to learn more about LoRaWAN, be sure to check out our previous article: Everything you need to know about LoRaWAN

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