LoRa – When Nothing Else Will Do

LoRa – When Nothing Else Will Do

If you are reading this article, you have probably heard the hype and hyperbole around LoRa technology and its claim to solve all your IIoT communications needs. It is easy to get lost in the noise around this technology. Hence, I prepared a no-nonsense list of pros and cons that will help you determine whether LoRa technology is right for you:

The Pros:

  • The most obvious benefits, of which you probably heard before, are LoRa’s: long range; low power; low cost and network capability. These are all true, but there is more:
  • LoRa is inherently resistant to noise. Due to vastly redundant coding (enabling the range) and spread spectrum, LoRa it is more tolerant towards persistent and transient interference. Therefore, allowing you to do deploy it in areas where other ISM band communications links won’t work.
  • No network? No problem. With LoRa you can deploy your own. Network providers may be hard to find, could charge you an absurd fee or restrict what can be connected. LoRa allows you to install your own network for all your devices for fraction of the price.
  • Low peak power makes the design of the electronics much simpler with peak currents in 10s of mA not Amps. This means smaller batteries, cheaper electronics and ultimately, savings.
  • Development - LoRa supply and service providers are continuously improving and LoRaWAN (the networking part) is constantly evolving, leaving very little room for alternative technologies
  • No Alternatives – there are simply no alternatives that would match LoRa’s capabilities yet.

The above benefits might convince you that LoRa can indeed solve all your communication challenges, however there are a few things to bear in mind before deciding whether it’s right for you:

The Cons:

  • Roaming – Currently your devices can belong to one network only. This posts a challenge for mobile units with patchy coverage or few nationwide networks.  Don’t even think about cross-border.  Even when provisioning static units you need to know where it is going in advance, or else configure on-site.  This applies even using OTAA (Over the Air Activation).
  • Non-international – LoRaWAN uses sub-GHz ISM, of which there is no universal bands as in Europe it’s 868MHz, 915HZ in USA, 865Hz in India, 923Hz in Australia, 470Hz in China and so on . . This disparity causes making one product for all markets an enormous challenge.
  • It’s very slow. Anyone remember the teletype printer on Match of the Day?  That’s about the speed of a long-range LoRa packet. 
  • ISM band restrictions – Duty cycle restrictions in Europe are particularly severe – with restrictions of 1%-0.1% of time, meaning transmissions are limited typically to a few seconds per hour.
  • In common with all long-range technologies, LoRa has a density The networks are mostly Aloha – i.e. disorganized with messages interfering with each other.  ‘Listen before talk’ is not an option as the signals are being detected below the noise floor, therefore receiver doesn’t know when other people are transmitting. Moreover, as you increase the number of nodes in an area (unless they share the same base-stations) they just end up shouting ever louder (or longer in the case of LoRa) in order for that the message to get through.


When to use LoRa?

LoRa’s Iow-power, high link-budget method means that there are applications that are difficult or impossible to deploy any other way.  Here are some real-world examples:

Water metering - Asset in a pit, surrounded by metal and covered by water?  The link budget of LoRa means that the signal still gets though.

Cold Storage - If you asset is in a metal-lined room, surrounded by dense objects or has restricted site access where  food safety is an issue - LoRa is a perfect choice for you.  Monitoring freezers in cold storage facilities is possible due to the high link budget and low power consumption, without complex installation problems.

Anti-poaching - Who’s stalking my rhino?  Poaching is a serious (and dangerous) problem, and wildlife conservation has taken to technology to help defend populations of endangered species.  The wildlife reserves in Kenya are vast and often remote, there’s no network coverage and an inspection means a day’s trek for the rangers.  LoRa is helping solve this with remote camera monitoring and alarms over wide areas.

The Bottom Line

LoRa is Likely to be Around and Useful for a Long Time. It’s not magic, but it puts you in control.  As a communication system, it should keep working long after other ISM band communications links are drowned out by all the traffic.  With roaming on the horizon and the first few 2.4GHz LoRa devices out, we may even get to a truly international standard. Watch this space!

 

Article by Stephen Clarke, Technical Dorector - Wireness Product

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