LPWAN stands for "Low-Power Wide Area Network", a type of wireless network particularly well suited for projects in Internet of Things (IoT) and machine-to-machine (M2M) systems. LPWANs typically support the interconnection of low-bandwidth, battery-powered devices over long distances. LPWANs can use licensed or unlicensed frequencies, including proprietary or open standard options.
Why is LPWAN important for IoT?
Two key differences between LPWANs and classic wireless networks such as Wi-Fi or cellular protocols is that the devices in the system exchange smaller amounts of data (typically 10 to 10k bytes) over wider areas (several kilometers).
In many applications, let's call them "Smart Solutions", IoT devices do not require the same speed and bandwidth as consumer cellular devices. A low-bandwidth exchange at a fixed interval is enough, effectively reducing the amount of power used by devices generating this data (sensors).
These characteristics make LPWANs ideal for use cases with hundreds, if not thousands of sensors, distributed over large distances. This explains the increase in the adoption of low-power networks in agriculture, smart city, workplace management, asset tracking and environmental sensing.
A few facts:
- LPWANs are designed for low power consumption and long battery life.
- LPWANs transmit data over wider areas than many traditional wireless networks (tens of kilometers).
- Low cost: LPWAN's simplified, lightweight protocols reduce complexity in hardware design and lower device costs. The long-range coverage combined with a star topology reduces expensive infrastructure requirements.
Main LPWAN connectivity technologies
Several connectivity technologies fall under the main LPWAN umbrella; all have slightly different characteristics and typical applications. Here are some of the main ones:
- Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT)
- LTE CAT-M1
- Random phase multiple access (RPMA)
Selecting a particular connectivity technology to support any new IoT venture depends on the project's specific requirements in terms of the amount of data exchanged, speed, and area covered.
With the clear advantages of low-power consumption and low maintenance costs, LPWANs are now used in various industries:
- Environmental sensing: remote monitoring of the soil moisture levels for the construction industry.
- Wildlife tracking: protecting wildlife and supporting rangers in operational decisions.
- Smart building and facility management: IoT system supporting various smart workplace cases and facility management processes.
- Product digital retrofitting: upgrading an existing product with remote monitoring capabilities.
As IoT sensors are becoming a commodity, there is no doubt that we will see many more innovative solutions based on LPWANs in the coming years.