IoT applications involve tethering together with various computing devices to create a communications network. IoT applications are found all over society, the most popular ones being the lines of various “smart” home appliances. These smart devices communicate with each other on a single network to create an integrated computing system. In the case of smart devices. The result is a multifunctional network where you can control all your home devices at once.
IoT applications have a much larger range of applications than just home appliances. IoT applications can be used in the medical, scientific, and business worlds. However, they have certain limitations. IoT systems often used WiFi networks to communicate with one another. This draws a lot of power comparatively.
In some IoT applications, low power is required. Consider a sensor on a soil monitor. This kind of device needs to be able to send information from a distant location and have a long battery life, Traditional communication networks like WiFi or cell networks are either not available in these areas or eat up too much power.
What Are LoRaWANs?
LoRaWANs are a class of low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN) designed to deal specifically with the problem of communicating information over long distances while using minimal power. The original LoRaWAN protocol was developed by Semtech but it has since become the de facto communication system for IoT applications. LoRaWAN networks work by turning radio frequencies into efficient ‘packets’ of info that can be transmitted over long distances with minimal signal dispersion and noise.
Technically, LoRaWAN networks are composed of two parts: LoRa & LoRaWAN. A lot of people think these two terms mean the same thing, but they are actually different.
LoRa refers specifically to the protocol that is used to turn radio frequencies into packets of information. LoRa chips use a technique that is known as ‘chirp spread spectrum’ (CSS) to convert a continuous radiofrequency into discrete bits. The cool part about LoRa devices is that they can convert radio signals without a need to use any code.
LoRaWAN, in contrast, refers to a multi-point communications network protocol that uses LoRa devices as individual points. LoRaWAN includes things like gateways and encryption protocols; the things the network does with the converted signals sent from LoRa devices.
In other words, you can think of LoRa as the low-level physical technology and LoRaWAN as the abstract network connecting the base physical layers.
How Does LoRaWAN Work?
The basics are fairly simple, but get quite complex in practice. LoRaWANs work based on what is known as a ‘star topology.’ LoRaWAN gateways communicate with individual nodes. The nature of this connection is generally asymmetrical in that the nodes communicate with gateways but not vice versa. The ‘shape’ of these networks look like a bunch of nodes spiraling out from a central gateway, which is why these kinds of networks have picked up the ‘star’ nickname.
Once a gateway picks up a signal from a node, it sends it up to the cloud. In most cases, gateways do not confirm that they received the information but they can be configured to. However, the more back and forth there is between nodes and gateways, the more time the network needs to respond to simple commands.
LoRaWANs have further classes of protocols designated Class A, B, and C. You do not need to know the specifics of each class, but suffice to say, the integrated working of these three protocols allow LoRaWAN to communicate effectively across long distances.
The main benefit of LoRaWANs is that they can be set up with minimal cost and maintenance. The actual protocols governing network communications are not actually that complicated and can be scaled rather easily. Additionally, tech that enables the LoRa chirp spread modulation technique is relatively cheap and low-cost to maintain and operate. So a LoRaWAN can serve as a reliable communication network across low-power IoT devices separated by large geographic distances.
LoRaWAN, WiFi, and IT
Strictly speaking, WiFi networks can send more information than LoRaWANs. However, WiFi networks draw considerably more power than LoRaWANs, which means that remote devices run out of power more quickly. In the case of your smartphone or something equivalent, this is not a big deal as you can just charge it at the nearest outlet. Some IoT devices need to be able to run for days or months at a time without being recharged, so using WiFi networks is out of the question.
Fortunately, LoRaWANs can be used both in the presence or absence of WiFi. WiFi networks are not required to set up a LoRaWAN and their presence won’t interfere with a LoRaWAN.This is because the two communications networks use different protocols. So a LoRa node won’t accidentally end up communicating with a WiFi gateway unless it is specifically programmed to do so.
By the same token, since LoRaWANs use simplified protocols, you don’t need a complicated IT team to set up networks. For example, CareBand’s wearable SafeTrack monitors and sensors can be configured rapidly using just a smartphone. This process requires no extra IT setup and requires no specialized technology aside from the wearable sensors.
WiFi networks are an adequate communications solution in places that have high WiFi penetration rates. In other areas, though, WiFi-based solutions are inadequate due to a lack of infrastructure or a lack of WiFi-enabled devices.
In these contexts, LoRaWAN-based communications can be effective. LoRaWANs enable communication across long distances with minimal power consumption. CareBand’s SafeTrack wearable devices are a LoRaWAN based solution for public health management. Using SafeTrack Wearable devices, public health organizations, businesses, and governmental agencies can configure low-cost and scalable networks to combat the spread of disease. SafeTrack solutions include devices for contact tracing, proximity monitoring, patient monitoring, and more.
In the global age, new methods to deal with the spread of sickness are needed. LoRaWANs are a novel low-cost and low-power solution to traditional problems faced by public health management.