What is LoRa and how does it fit in with the IoT?

Al Sisto

Blog by: Al Sisto - 7 / Feb / 2019

Just when you think you’ve learned all the technology acronyms you need, another one comes along. But trust us, LoRa – which stands, simply, for Long Range – is one that you should certainly be thinking about in relation to the IoT.

 

What is LoRa?

LoRa is a patented digital wireless communication technology held by Semtech, which describes it asa ‘spread spectrum modulation technique derived from chirp spread spectrum (CSS) technology’.

The technology incorporates two parts. LoRa itself is the physical layer and is proprietary, with Semtech producing the chips (it has also licensed production out to STMicroelectronics). LoRaWAN comprises the communication protocol built on top, and is an open source communication protocol defined by the LoRA Alliance consortium.

In practice, LoRa offers cost-effective yet long-range connectivity, and as Semtech underlines, it has become ‘the de facto technology for Internet of Things networks worldwide’.

Which means that if your organisation is developing IoT products or applications, or simply wishing to deploy them in your own environment, you need to get on board with LoRa.

How does LoRa fit in with the IoT?

What sets LoRa apart from familiar wireless protocols such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular 4G and 5G protocols is its combination of extremely long range, low power usage and relatively low cost. LoRa technology promises wireless communications over distances of tens of kilometres, and each gateway can handle a large number of nodes.

Fairly obviously, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth don’t offer long range connectivity, which means that IoT ecosystems spread over a broad geographical area or involving moving vehicles or users cannot make use of them. Whilst 4G and 5G cellular networks clearly do offer a much broader range, the costs of developing and maintaining such networks are far higher than for LoRa. Bandwidth in LoRa is low, but given that IoT devices generally need to broadcast simple data such as location or temperature, it is more than adequate.

Perhaps most excitingly, the battery life of LoRa nodes is extremely long. A simple single-sensor connected device with a 9-volt battery should last for around a decade, which in practical terms means that an ‘equip and forget’ approach to IoT products is possible.

LoRa therefore fills a technology gap which is particularly pertinent in IoT applications, allowing data to be communicated over a long range without using much power. The simple data packets which comprise much of the information transmitted via the IoT can be transmitted in both indoor and outdoor settings, rural and urban, at very low cost and with strong levels of security.

The wider ecosystem

The LoRa Alliance mentioned above is a non-profit association dedicated to driving the technology’s adoption globally. There are over 500 members, including over 95 public network operators, and the Alliance has a presence in 51 countries, with more being added all the time. In total, 100 countries offer access to public, private and hybrid LoRaWAN networks, which means that for most organisations, deploying LoRa solutions is quick, easy and accessible.

If you’d like to learn more about LoRa and how to harness it in your organisation, get in touch with Tern today.

 

 

Topics: IoT, IIoT, LoRa

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