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A Comparison of Low-Power Wide-Area Network Technologies

In this video, Joel Young, Digi CTO, takes a look at Low-Power Wide-Area Network (LPWAN) Technologies and provides insight into how the various technologies compare.
Mar 14, 2016
5:24
Show Transcript

Hi, I'm Joel Young, I'm the CTO at Digi International.

Many of our customers are asking me about low-power, wide-area networking technologies or LPWA-type technologies. We thought maybe it would be good to tell you a little bit about what's going on in the world today.

What is a low-power, wide-area network?

First off, what is a low-power, wide-area network? Well, the whole concept is, something that can be a network that's wireless of course, that operates at very low power so it can be multiple years on a battery life. Not a lot of data, we call them data-dribblers, so a little bit of data at a little bit of time and you can do some kind of control function. If you want to collect lots of data from lots of sensors or actuate over lots of different types of devices in this Internet of Things world that we live in, well a low-power, wide-area network technology might be right for you.

Sigfox

But what are they? What are the different kinds of standards and technology that's out there today? I'm going to talk about four. The first one is something called Sigfox. Now Sigfox is a technology that came out of France, and it's a extremely low, low, low throughput. I mean, it's the dribbliest of the data dribblers. Comes out of France, I mentioned, and their whole mission is to create a worldwide network. Very low power, and very little bandwidth as I mentioned, and it's kind of an open standard. I talk about it being an open standard because the protocol is open, but you have to use it on the Sigfox network. Not a lot of suppliers out there as far as the network goes, but as far as technology, anybody that makes a narrowband radio in that ISM band 868 or 900 megahertz can use it. Limited security, but it's got some so that's good. There are a lot of deployments. They've gotten a lot of [[00:02:00]] investment today. Whether they stay around for the long term or not, that remains to be seen.

LoRa

The next one's LoRa. Now, LoRa, another protocol coming out of France, technology. It's a little different. It's driven by a chip company called Semtech. What that means is, they want you to buy lots and lots of chips. Matter of fact, they want more networks, they want everyone to put up a LoRa network so they can sell chips. As a technology goes, it's a wide-area technology, not quite as low-power as Sigfox, but still pretty good. More bandwidth, though, so if you want to do control functions and actually send good data streaming, it does pretty well. It is not an open standard because you got to use the Semtech chip, a big weakness as far as I'm concerned. As a result, there aren't a lot of suppliers out there because you got to use Semtech chips. From a security standpoint, pretty good security. They do all the basic authentication, and a good chunk of deployments in Europe. Unfortunately, neither LoRa nor Sigfox are available really in the Untied States.

Narrowband IoT

Now, the next category are those cellular ones. If you've heard of 3GPP or the cellular standards body, they have both narrowband IoT, and something called LTE-M. These are technologies that you're going to see mobile operators carry on. Narrowband IoT, extremely low power, it's a narrowband-type technology, similar to Sigfox, little more bandwidth. Really pretty cool, but the deployments are not quite there yet. But bandwidth is pretty good. It's an open standard because it's part of the 3GPP. It only gets a half a circle, though, because that 3GPP standard is just being ratified right now, here at the beginning of 2016. Lots of suppliers are going out there because it's open, and anybody that makes cellular chips wants to be part of this business. Good, solid security and authentication and a little bit of deployment. Some deployments in Europe. Vodafone's got a big pilot going on.

LTE-M

The last one is something we call LTE-M. Now, as some of you may know LTE from your smartphone. This is kind of like the little brother of the big LTE. What's awesome about LTE-M is that while it may not be quite as power-efficient as some of these other technologies, it's got a good chunk of bandwidth. That bandwidth that you know on LTE today. It's a completely open standard but just being ratified right now. There are lots of suppliers that are going to be emerging. It's got best security out there because it conforms to all the nice quality of cellular networks. Biggest problem? No deployments as of yet. but you wait, a year and a half, two years from now, all those cellular operators out there are going to have LTE-M networks, and/or a narrowband IoT network. What I think's going to happen, in the end, what you're going to see is LoRa and Sigfox, see ya. My money's on LTEM and narrowband IoT.

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