Communication and networking protocols are an essential part of the Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Without them, the interconnection of devices and data exchange for the creation of smart applications would be impossible.
Thankfully, there are a variety of options available regarding such protocols, with different technical characteristics and utilities, with each one being suitable for specific fields and use case scenarios.
One of the most popular networking protocols available, especially used in the IoT application fields is the Long Range Wide Area Network, also known as LoRaWAN. The particular technology is defined by its low power requirements and long-range capabilities while enhancing the overall functionality of IoT devices.
In this article, we are going to look at the official definition of LoRaWAN, while we attempt to explain it technically but simple enough to understand and proceed by describing the specification of the protocol.
The official definition of LoRaWAN
Before we dive into the protocol’s definition, we should mention some important facts about its origins.
LoRaWAN was developed by the LoRa Alliance, an industry association created in 2015, with more than 500 members that consist of IoT products and service providers, manufacturers, and telecommunication companies.
LoRaWAN was developed in 2009 by the founders of the Grenoble-based company Cycléo, which was acquired by Semtech in 2012. Three years later, Semtech founded the LoRa Alliance, an industry association, which now has more than 500 members consisting of IoT product and service providers, manufacturers and telecommunication companies. It is through this ecosystem that Semtech promotes the protocol and develops its use worldwide.
Moreover, it is a Medium Access Control (MAC) layer protocol that turned into an officially recognized standard for Low Power Wide Area Networking (LPWAN), by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 2021.
“The LoRaWAN® specification is a Low Power, Wide Area (LPWA) networking protocol designed to wirelessly connect battery operated ‘things’ to the internet in regional, national or global networks, and targets key Internet of Things (IoT) requirements such as bi-directional communication, end-to-end security, mobility and localization services.”
LoRaWAN utilizes a combination of features for the wireless interconnection of IoT devices and networks while maintaining important functionalities for the end user.
Simplifying the LoRAWAN definition
Let’s try and thoroughly explain the definition, one line at a time.
“The LoRaWAN® specification is a Low Power, Wide Area (LPWA) networking protocol” – LoRaWAN is a communication protocol with low energy requirements while supporting larger areas.
“designed to wirelessly connect battery operated ‘things’ to the internet in regional, national or global networks” – It is capable of interconnecting IoT battery-powered devices wirelessly through the Internet, supporting from local to global-level networks.
“and targets key Internet of Things (IoT) requirements such as bi-directional communication, end-to-end security, mobility and localization services.” – As a protocol, it is designed to further enhance vital IoT requirements, such as communication and data transmission in both directions, secure data transmission from one device to another, supports portability and assists in real-time tracking features.
Technical characteristics of the protocol
The basis of its technical specification is its connection to LoRa, a wireless modulation scheme developed by Semtech. Specifically, it functions as an extension of LoRa due to its MAC features and deploys the supported nodes in a star topology into the LoRa system.
Significant characteristics of LoRaWAN are the following:
- Long-distance communication ranges, which differ depending on the application.
- Battery duration of IoT devices lasts up to 10 years, with energy consumption being affected according to the different types of classes provided in the LoRaWAN specification.
- There are low-cost requirements both for operational conditions and maintenance, as well as selected devices.
- Normally, it supports a license-free spectrum for communication and data exchange, but there may be specific regulations in certain regions.
- Data rates are dependent on the payload size to be transmitted. It ranges from 0.3kbps to 50kbps, with a payload size of 51 bytes to 241 bytes.
Advantages and Disadvantages of LoRaWAN
Taking into consideration the technical characteristics of the protocol, as well as its defined features, we can now look at its benefits and drawbacks. Starting with the advantages:
As seen in its definition and technical characteristics, one of the greatest assets of the LoRaWAN protocol is its low power requirements with increased battery capacity, combined with its long-range capabilities. This makes it the perfect solution for the deployment of IoT technologies and smart solutions. The protocol works very well indoors via a private network and allows, in certain situations, the gathering of data from underground equipment using sensors.
Indeed, the protocol supports both public and private networks. The protocol also supports real-time tracking services and geolocation, without the need for GPS chipsets.
However, there are some disadvantages as well:
It is not suitable for large payloads due to its limited data rates.It is also not capable of supporting multimedia files, such as audio or video. Another element to consider is that there can sometimes be a slight latency depending on the sensor installed. Indeed, for a Class C sensor, a command (downlink) is sent as soon as it is programmed, and there is no latency. For a Class A sensor, the command is sent after the sensor sends a message to the server.
Here are some use cases for Class A&C devices:
-Create a simple heating regulation using a thermostatic valve.
-Monitor the ON/OFF relay using dry contact sensors. In these examples, for a reactive regulation or a quick ON/OFF, you'll use Class C devices
Finally, depending on the use cases and the types of frequencies used, additional settings may be required to avoid potential interference.
The LoRaWAN communication protocol is a long-range, low-power wireless protocol designed to connect objects to the Internet, such as IoT sensors in environments where traditional cellular connectivity is not an option or is costly. It is an effective and sustainable solution for Smart Building due to its longevity and cost and can improve energy performance, comfort, air quality, security or equipment management in a building.
The Wattsense solution is a connectivity solution that communicates with the LoRaWAN communication protocol and enables interoperability and integration of IoT solutions with local building management systems or Smart Building applications. More information here.
Want to learn more about LoRaWAN technology? Here are some detailed resources from the LoRa Alliance :
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