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What is LPWAN?

LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) connectivity enables low-power and wide-area functionality for IoT deployments in which lengthy battery life and low frequency are key requirements. There are a number of licensed and unlicensed LPWA networks available, each with different benefits suiting different business applications. The most widely used LPWA standards are NB-IoT, LTE-M, LoRaWAN, and SigFox.

How do Low Power Wide Area Networks work?

LPWAN provides an alternative solution for applications that would traditionally require wired connectivity. LPWAN connectivity is usually deployed in hard-to-reach areas where traditional cellular connectivity is poor, making it the perfect solution for IoT devices located in deep urban infrastructure. Because Low Power Wide Area Network connectivity consumes very little power, devices and sensors can last for up to 10 years without needing a battery replacement. As a result, management and maintenance is usually very minimal, making it a very cost-effective option in the long-term.

A great example of LPWAN in action is in multi-storey car parks. Most multi-storey car parks use sensors to identify how many parking spots are available. However, because they are built using thick concrete, mobile signal is very poor (or in some cases, non-existent). The low frequency properties of LPWAN enables the signal to penetrate through the thick walls of the car park, allowing the sensors to traverse data and show the number of free parking spaces.

Low Power Wide Area Network services can be split into two categories, licensed and unlicensed…

Harness the power of LPWAN with NB-IoT

Unlicensed LPWAN services

Whilst unlicensed and licensed LPWAN services share many benefits, unlicensed services don’t provide the added security benefits of their licensed counterparts. Furthermore, they lack the interoperability that cellular networks can provide to customers. However, due to the cost-effectiveness of unlicensed LPWAN services, they are often deployed in high density locations such as cities.

If you are a business looking to deploy LPWA technology and can’t settle on a solution, it’s important to remember that interference problems are a common issue with unlicensed frequencies due to the performance limitations of unlicensed services.

Types of unlicensed services

  • SigFox
  • LoRaWAN

Licensed LPWAN services

Licensed LPWAN services are currently being pioneered by global mobile operators around the world. As the 2G and 3G sunset creeps ever-closer, more manufacturers are turning their attention to licensed services such as LTE-M and NB-IoT. This is because unlike traditional cellular networks, LPWA networks are designed with IoT at the forefront of their development, giving businesses peace of mind that their IoT hardware is futureproof. We expect licensed frequencies to become the go-to connectivity choice for most IoT projects and solutions in the not-so-distant future.

Types of unlicensed services

Feature Sigfox LoRaWAN NB-IoT
Coverage 160dB 157dB 164dB
Technology Proprietary Proprietary Open LTE
Spectrum Unlicensed Unlicensed Licensed (LTE/any)
Downlink data rate  <0.1 kbps <10 kbps 0.5-200 kbps
Uplink data rate <0.1 kbps <10 kbps 0.3-180 kbps
Battery life (200b/day) 10+ years 10+ years 15+ years
Security Low Low Very high