The Internet of Things (IoT) is well positioned to see a significant increase over the next several years. It has been estimated by the GSMA that 75 billion devices will be connected by 2030. Many network and connectivity developments can be attributed to aiding in the anticipated rampant adoption of IoT, with one of those being low power wide area (LPWA) networks.
An exciting development in the 3GPP Release 13 was the specification of two cellular LPWA networks: Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and Long-Term Evolution for Machine-Type Communications (LTE-M), also known as Cat-M.
Described well by its name of LPWA, these cellular technologies permit low-power devices to operate reliably in wide distribution and deployment. The ability to support devices that do not have high bandwidth requirements and are intended to be deployed long-term is one of the largest appeals of LPWA technologies. And because LPWA networks do not draw large packets of data like 4G LTE or 5G might, usage costs are not as high, which makes deploying large IoT solutions more affordable.
NB-IoT and LTE-M also bring wide reach, large bandwidth, and the reachability/penetrability needed to support use cases where IoT devices are embedded, buried, or in rural locations.
NB-IoT is slightly more power efficient than LTE-M because of its specifications (not supporting voice or mobility) and it is well-suited for the following use cases:
LTE-M has Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and mobility capabilities, which means it is more suited for slightly higher-complexity devices than NB-IoT. Use cases include:
The two main categories of non-cellular LPWA networks are LoRaWAN, which stands for long-range wide area network, and Sigfox. Both LoRa, which is the network protocol for LoRaWAN, and Sigfox have been available as LPWA networks since the early 2010s. Deployments of LoRaWAN and Sigfox are anticipated to be deployed alongside NB-IoT and LTE-M as the leading LPWA networks.
Sigfox works better in fixed locations because of its specifications, and key uses cases include:
LoRaWAN works well in single-building applications, but also can pair with devices in motion. Use cases include:
The differences in the various network technologies might seem slight, but they can have an impact on solution success. One consideration for leveraging LPWA networks is determining the area for solution deployment. While North America, EMEA, and a majority of South American regions have LTE-M and NB-IoT, other parts of the globe are focused more on NB-IoT, or in the case of Brazil, have a heavier focus on LoRa.
It also is pertinent to understand the details of your deployment not just now but also into the future and whether scaling solutions would ultimately demand a different type of network and if that network can integrate into your expansion. This could be either a global expansion or a capability expansion. For example, an organization might choose NB-IoT for a warehouse solution, not needing a network that can move with devices, but ultimately want to monitor assets in transit and need to expand to LoRaWAN or LTE-M.
KORE will be hosting a webinar on October 12 at 11 a.m. to talk about the practicalities of LPWA and how to maximize these new network opportunities. Register now.
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