What is LoRa & LoRaWAN technology?

LoRa is a long range and low power wireless communication system that can send small amounts of data over great distances. These two features make it an attractive solution for application in the IoT and IIoT industries.

LoRaWAN (long range vast area network) is the protocol built on top of the LoRa modulation. It is a software layer that defines how devices use the LoRa hardware, i.e. when transmitting messages and type of format.

The wireless communication and its range of healthcare, agriculture, industrial control, buildings, cities, environment, metering and supply chain & logistics.

What is LoRa?

LoRa is the abstract of long range. It is one of the effective long-range and low-power wireless communication systems developed by Semtech.

“LoRa devices offer compelling features for IoT applications including long range communication, low power consumption and secure data transmission. The technology can be utilized by public, private or hybrid networks and provides greater range than Cellular networks.”

By Semtech

The long range communication and low power features of LoRa make it ideal for industrial IoT applications. Moreover, it solves many new challenges in rural and urban areas worldwide, including climate change, pollution and natural disasters.

Due to its simplicity and attractive investments, it is widely adopted in transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, domestic household appliances and even, in some cases, wearable devices.

How does LoRa work?

LoRa is a wireless modulation technique based on the Chirp Spread Spectrum (CSS) technology. It encodes information on radio waves using chirp pulses. The modulation is, in particular, very robust against disturbances and can be received across great distances depending on the hardware capabilities.

Check out this video from Richard Wenner, who explains how CSS works:

Animation of LoRa CHIRP Spread Spectrum.

LoRa is ideal for applications that transmit small amounts of data with low bit-rates. Data can be transmitted over a more extended range than other wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee. This makes LoRa ideal for sending sensor data in low power modes.

Moreover, LoRa can be used on the license-free sub-gigahertz bandwidth such as 915MHz, 868MHz and 433MHz. It can also be operated on 2.4GHz for much higher data rates at the cost of the range. These frequencies fall into ISM bands that are reserved internationally for industrial, scientific and medical purposes.

What is LoRaWAN?

The LoRaWAN specification is a low power, wide area network standard based on LoRa. It is designed to wirelessly connect battery operated devices to the internet in regional, national and global networks.

LoRaWAN is the software layer that determines how devices use the LoRa hardware, such as when they transmit data and which type of format. The protocol itself is developed and maintained by the LoRa Alliance.

Most importantly, the LoRaWAN specification is a standard that allows seamless integration between devices from other manufactures. This single factor is one of the reasons why LoRa technology has accelerated in the IoT industry.

How does LoRaWAN work?

The LoRaWAN architecture contains four major components:

  • End Nodes
  • Gateway
  • Network Server
  • Application Server

In this architecture, you can see how LoRa and LoRaWAN allow wide and dense networks of edge devices to be connected. This allows you to capture and monitor data from thousands of nodes in a manageable way.

End Nodes â€“ Devices that are situated at the end of the network. They are usually equipped with sensors to collect and monitor data periodically. They usually come in the form of a low powered microcontroller that can be deployed in the field for many years without any maintenance and equipped with a low-powered LoRa transmitter to send the data packets to the getaway.

Gateways â€“ LoRaWAN Gateways are the bridge between the nodes and the network. They receive the information from the end nodes using a LoRa concentrator and then forward the data to the network server via the internet or private network infrastructure. Gateways essential are considered as a packet forwarder since that is the primary function they serve.

Network server â€“ The Cloud LoRa server consolidates all the data it receives from the gateways and uploads it to the application server. An example of a network server would be The Things Network (TTN).

Application server â€“ The application server allows you to interpret the data visually or analytically. You can also integrate the data points within a platform to action a consequence such as turning rain water pumps on for agriculture scenarios or opening windows in greenhouse to keep a certain level of humidity. You can even setup notifications services to notify an engineer when a potential issue may occur.

How is LoRa currently being used?

LoRa technology is suitable for a wide range of applications that requires periodic monitoring using various sensors. Applications include but are not limited to healthcare, agriculture, smart cities, metering, supply chain & logistics. There are specific applications where the technology is best suited, and those applications require sensor nodes to be placed in remote places with very little to no maintenance.

Agriculture and environmental monitoring are prime applications for use with LoRa. Typically they are used in rural locations with no mobile communication or the infrastructure for short-range communications.

Wireless as grass sprinklers.

How can I get started with LoRa technology?

Over the last five years, LoRa technology has accelerated due to the leaders Semtech creating and improving on their transceiver chips and their gateway chip. Many manufacturers are using their LoRa chips to create some innovative lower-powered nodes and gateways perfect for prototyping. Thanks to many of our suppliers, Distrelec stocks a wide range of development boards, sensor nodes and gateways.

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