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We talk a lot about the number of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices accessing Wi-Fi networks. But that is nothing compared to the explosion of sensors, cameras, automation systems and other network-connected devices. 

Known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), these devices collect and transmit data and perform many useful tasks without human intervention. They are transforming operations in a wide range of industries, from manufacturing to transportation to healthcare, by enabling new levels of automation, efficiency and cost reduction.

A subset of the IIoT is machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, which involves the transmission of data from sensors to applications that use it to control processes. For example, a milk processing plant might have sensors that capture temperature, liquid flow rates and other information, and send it to programmable logic controllers (PLCs) that adjust the machinery as needed.

For all this to work, you must have reliable and secure wireless connectivity, and that’s where LoRaWAN (long-range wide-area network) comes into play. Designed for the IIoT and M2M, LoRaWAN provides the range, reliability and cost to support hundreds of use cases.

IoT Connectivity Challenges

For many IIoT and M2M applications, long-range, low cost and low power consumption are the most important connectivity factors, making many common network technologies impractical.  For example, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi offer low power consumption and reliable connectivity at a low cost, but lack the range required for the IIoT. 4G/LTE and 5G networks deliver connectivity over longer distances but consume more power at a higher cost.

LPWAN (low-power WAN) technology provides a better option for connecting battery-powered endpoints that continuously transmit small amounts of data over long distances. Although data transfer rates are relatively low, LPWAN solutions can support more devices over a larger coverage area than Bluetooth and Wi-Fi at lower cost and with less power consumption than cellular.

There are several LPWAN technologies, each with its pros and cons. Sigfox, which has a range of up to 10km in urban areas, is good for sending small bursts of data. However, it’s not an open protocol and requires a subscription to a Sigfox network. RPMA (random phase multi access) technology has a 33-mile range, provides significant bandwidth and device capacity, and can penetrate almost anything, including the ground and concrete. However, it operates in the crowded 2.4GHz used by Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other technologies, making radio frequency interference a potential problem.

Benefits of LoRaWAN

LoRaWAN is the ideal LPWAN solution for many IoT applications. This open standard protocol, defined by the LoRa Alliance, is designed to allow long-distance communication between low-power devices and Internet-connected applications. LoRaWAN operates in the unlicensed radio spectrum in the Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) band, with data rates in the .3Kbps to 50Kbps range. Data integrity is assured through 128-bit encryption.

LoRa is the physical layer of the device-to-device infrastructure, and LoRaWAN is the networking protocol. LoRaWAN networks typically are laid out in a star-of-stars topology in which gateways relay messages between endpoint devices and a central network server. Gateways are connected to the server via standard IP connections while endpoint devices use LoRa or FSK (frequency shift keying) communication.

Despite growing deployments, LoRaWAN remains a niche technology, and few network administrators have experience using it. Rahi has designed and implemented LoRaWAN networks and can assist customers in evaluating the technology and developing a deployment strategy.

LoRaWAN delivers the long-range connectivity, lower power demands and cost efficiency needed to support IIoT devices. With extensive expertise in a wide range of networking solutions, Rahi can help you explore ways to leverage LoRaWAN technology to enable specific IIoT and M2M use cases.

Shreyans is a Solutions Engineering Manager at Rahi and he leads the Networking team. His experience includes enterprise, data center and service provider routing, switching and security solutions across multiple vendors, as well as cloud computing solutions such as Amazon Web Services and OpenStack. He has a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering degree from San Jose State University. In his free time, he takes pictures of landscapes around the Bay Area.