Low Power Wider Area Networks: Empowering the Internet of Things
Our era is characterized by the rapid proliferation of Internet-connected devices, which enables the digital transformation of physical processes as part of the Internet of Things (IoT) paradigm. High speed and resilient network connectivity is a key prerequisite for any non-trivial IoT deployment since it provides the means for collecting data streams from IoT devices. In order to meet this requirement, IoT applications rely on mainstream network connectivity technologies (e.g., WiFi, 3G, 4G / LTE (Long Term Evolution)) in order to transfer IoT data from the physical world to the edge and cloud systems that comprise an IoT deployment.
Nevertheless, these networking technologies were not designed and developed with the IoT paradigm in mind. Hence, they make no special provisions for the connectivity of IoT devices i.e. they do not consider the nature and characteristics of IoT traffic. For example, they do not cater for energy efficient communications with devices, which are particularly important for Industrial IoT applications. Likewise, they are not designed to support the flexible deployment and management of large numbers of devices, which is a common requirement in IoT and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) applications.
During the last few years, a new wave of connectivity technologies has emerged, which includes technologies tailored to the requirements of IoT deployments. These technologies are characterized as Low Power Wider Area Networks (LPWAN) technologies and are constantly gaining momentum as part of both public and private IoT infrastructures.
The main characteristic of LPWAN technologies is the fact that they require relatively low-bandwidth connectivity, which allows them to operate in long ranges and in a power efficient way. In principle, LPWAN technologies support bi-directional data transmission and cover larger areas, typically larger than conventional wireless and mobile networks. However, they support quite low data transfer rates as they are tailored to devices that operate with low bandwidth requirements. Moreover, they operate in a power efficient way, which is very important for several IoT applications, such as applications in manufacturing shop floors, energy plants, and smart cities. Overall, LPWAN technologies are tailored to the connectivity and networking needs of IoT and M2M applications, as their low power and long-range support properties make them more suitable for device saturated environments than conventional WiFi and 3G/4G technologies.
During the last couple of years, we are witnessing a proliferation of LPWAN deployments in various urban and industrial environments worldwide. LPWAN deployers aim at the following benefits:
The term “LPWAN” denotes a pool of different technologies with the above-listed characteristics and advantages. The most popular LPWAN technologies are:
LPWAN systems are already widely deployed and are currently supporting many IoT applications, including mission-critical and security sensitive ones. They also offer location-aware functionalities in smart environments, which enables many value-added applications in areas such as asset management, security, surveillance, safety and supply chain management. The market momentum of LPWAN technologies reveals that they are here to stay. Nevertheless, we don’t expect them to eliminate the use of legacy IoT connectivity technologies such as 3G/4G and satellite technologies. The latter technologies will rather co-exist with LPWAN in various deployment configurations. LPWAN technologies are here to boost IoT adoption, without disrupting the evolution of mobile/wireless technologies towards their fifth generation (5G).
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