By Patrick Gebhardt • Jun 4, 2018

LPWA: A New Technology? Not as New as It Seems.

LPWA (or LPWAN - the “N” stands for Network but both terms mean the same technology) and Sigfox: you've been hearing and reading about it a lot lately. We have already had an initial overview in our blog, but here we jump between several topics within the generic term LPWA(N). If you think while reading "Okay, I would like more information on this specific point", then please write us a comment.

LPWA covers different offers and radio technologies, whose operation is possible with low energy ("low power") and which can cover large areas of several kilometers’ radius ("wide area") by means of antennas. Depending on the provider, small and large areas can be supplied from, campus to international coverage. The technologies Sigfox, LoRa and Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) are particularly interesting for Germany and Europe.

Sigfox

Let's take a look at the first mentioned company. The French company Sigfox recently announced the expansion of its global IoT network by five countries to a total of 45 countries. Sigfox was founded in 2009 by Ludovic Le Moan (CEO) and Christophe Fourtet (CTO) and describes itself as the first and only company to offer global wireless connectivity for the Internet of Things (IoT). The infrastructure used is completely independent of existing networks, for example mobile radio networks. Sigfox is an independent network operator in Germany, France, Spain, and the United States of America. In other countries, the company cooperates with partners. The Sigfox network currently reaches 803 million people and covers 3.8 million square kilometers. With the new additions, the goal of expanding the network to 60 countries and regions by the end of 2018 and reaching 1 billion people is becoming a reality.

WWI Narrow Band Evaluation

What is possible with LPWA, and what Sigfox has in mind are both... quite a big deal. The Sigfox network and technology focuses on connecting many low-cost, long-lasting devices that require wide coverage. Sigfox uses a radio system based on Ultra Narrow Band technology – something that has already been tested for submarine communication in WWI. This makes it somewhat clearer how this technology is basic and simplistic from today's point of view, while at the same time meeting the physical requirements to be able to communicate over long ranges with very little energy.

Many Advantages

Radio technologies such as mobile radio via GPRS or LTE and WLAN are widely used in the areas of IoT and M2M (Machine to Machine). Although they offer a good transmission rate, they are not useful in many scenarios due to their high energy consumption. In addition, they are relatively expensive to purchase, operate and to build up the infrastructure. To make the sensors and actuators of the IoT more mobile and cheaper, a radio technology is necessary that requires little energy and inexpensive components. That's where LPWA(N) comes in handy. Here is a list of the advantages of LPWAN over the generally established technologies:

  • Power consumption for connectivity is drastically reduced.
  • The range exceeds that of Bluetooth or WLAN many times over.
  • The penetration of buildings is significantly better.
  • Long-lasting radio connections over 10 years or longer are possible without problems.
  • Highly encrypted transmission protects sent data against unauthorized access.
  • The hardware costs are extremely low.

Are There Big Differences?

LPWA is of course a generic technical term under which many individual solutions can fall. Besides Sigfox, we have already named NB-IoT and LoRa. Are there any significant technical distinctions here? Yes, there are. The key differences between the three technologies are the varying power consumption of the IoT devices, i.e. the battery life with times of ten to 20 years, encryption and authentication, as well as the different range - between ten kilometers in the city center and up to 50 kilometers in rural areas. Depending on the application scenario, companies have to consider which LPWA technology makes sense for them. Another difference is that NB-IoT is specified by the 3GPP standardization committee - and uses licensed frequencies on different frequency bands. With NB-IoT, there are no defined output power limitations compared to Sigfox and LoRA, which use license-free tapes.

More About LPWA and Sigfox

As we already mentioned in a previous article on LPWA and Sigfox, this whole topic is very interesting for us. So you can look forward to many follow-up articles and you are welcome to ask us questions in the comments or name topics that interest you most in this section. We are looking forward to hearing from you!