Jan 10 2020

LoRa and LoRaWAN: How the Technology Helps Smart Cities

Long-range wireless technology can help cities overcome Internet of Things coverage challenges.

Smart city networks power everything from autonomous vehicles to traffic monitoring, services for first responders and intelligent streetlights

Long-range (LoRa) wireless technology can help cities overcome network coverage challenges and enable them to widely deploy Internet of Things solutions in smart cities, providing coverage where traditional Wi-Fi solutions may not.

Sensors that measure and monitor the environment and enhance services require both a great deal of network bandwidth and, just as important, coverage. After all, if a sensor cannot connect to a city’s wireless networks, what good is it? Getting that coverage deployed throughout a city can be challenging and expensive.

LoRa devices and the open LoRaWAN protocol enable smart IoT applications that solve some of the biggest challenges facing our planet: energy management, natural resource reduction, pollution control, infrastructure efficiency, disaster prevention, and more,” notes Semtech, a founding member of the LoRa Alliance and the developer of LoRa technology.

The LoRaWAN specification is a low-power, wide area networking protocol designed to wirelessly connect IoT devices. As the LoRa Alliance notes, it meets key IoT requirements, such as “bi-directional communication, end-to-end security, mobility and localization services.”

What Is the LoRaWAN Protocol?

As StateTech has reported, LoRa “is a wireless data communication technology that is different from the Wi-Fi standard.” LoRa runs on the 900 megahertz wireless spectrum, providing access to LoRaWAN networks.

According to Cisco Systems, a member of the LoRa Alliance, LoRa is a radio physical layer modulation technology. Cisco notes that LoRa “offers long air propagation distance, low power consumption, high receiving sensitivity, low data rates, robust spectrum spreading, and secured encryption transmission.”

The LoRaWAN open specification is low power, wide area networking (LPWAN) protocol based on LoRa technology, according to the LoRa Alliance. Basically, LoRaWAN is the communication protocol and system architecture for the network. The solution is ideal for covering wide areas where trees and other obstacles might block traditional Wi-Fi signals.

“Designed to wirelessly connect battery operated things to the internet in regional, national or global networks, the LoRaWAN protocol leverages the unlicensed radio spectrum in the Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) band,” Semtech notes. “The specification defines the device-to-infrastructure of LoRa physical layer parameters and the LoRaWAN protocol, and provides seamless interoperability between devices.”

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out how smart cities are deploying edge computing.

What Is LoRaWAN Used For?

LoRaWAN has a wide variety of uses and features for IoT and smart city deployments. LoRaWAN is “optimized for low power consumption and is designed to scale from a single gateway installation up to large global networks with billions of devices,” the LoRa Alliance says.

The specifics include support for “redundant operation, geolocation, low-cost, and low-power.” LoRaWAN devices can use energy harvesting technologies, the alliance notes.

Cisco details several specific IoT or smart city use cases for LoRaWAN including water and gas metering, public security, location tracking, leak detection, disaster precaution, environment monitoring, smart energy, agriculture and more. 

LoRaWAN enables cities to connect their assets “to provide better services, including waste management, parking, street lighting, and public safety,” Cisco says. In terms of asset tracking, cities can use LoRaWAN to get “location information for people and assets, including devices, vehicles, pets, and cattle.” The technology also enables utility customers to remotely read and control gas and water meters and lower costs.

MORE FROM STATETECH: What are the best practices for smart city success?

How Does LoRa Communication Help with Smart Cities?

Smart cities have been making use of LoRa and LoRaWAN. Stephen Dawe, CTO for the city of Opelika, Ala., tells StateTech about how Opelika deployed IoT, and says that when the city was looking to deploy IoT across 52 square miles, LoRaWAN seemed to be a great technology fit.

The city uses LoRaWAN antennas with ranges of up to 7 kilometers (and potentially 10 kilometers for small data packet transfers). The bandwidth is low, so it does support applications like video but is ideal for covering a wide area without deploying hundreds of access points, according to Dawe.

“About seven access points will cover the entire city and we can out any type of sensor that is compatible with LoRa,” he says.

The city’s firefighters asked to monitor for gas leaks along nearby railroad tracks. A Wi-Fi mesh network covering 52 square miles in a largely wooded area would have been impractical to construct, so Opelika turned to Cisco’s LoRaWAN solution, “which connects a radius of nearly 3 miles and uses so little power that sensor batteries will last three to four years,” StateTech has reported.

Opelika was able to cover the entire city with LoRaWAN and is currently testing the gas sensors. “It fits with the goal of having a generic technology that can support city engineering, parking issues, derelict building issues,” Dawe says.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out how 5G networks will impact smart cities.

What Is the Claimed Maximum Range of a LoRa Network?

Semtech says LoRa can connect devices up to 30 miles (48.3 km) apart in rural areas “and penetrates dense urban or deep indoor environments.”

In a typical LoRaWAN network, the connection range is based on numerous factors, including, as the website Electronic Design notes, “indoor/outdoor gateways, payload of the message, antenna used, etc.”

On average, the site notes, in an urban environment with an outdoor gateway, the typical range of up to 2 to 3 km, while in the rural areas it can reach beyond 5 to 7 km.

The world record for a LoRaWAN connection is 766 km (476 miles) and was set in July 2019, according to the Things Network.

Manuel-F-O/Getty Images

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