Momentum is building for LoRaWAN

By John Koon

Technology Researcher

Tech Idea Research

August 17, 2018


Momentum is building for LoRaWAN

The LoRa Alliance member meeting in Vancouver showed that the technology has gained a lot of momentum over the past two years. Google Cloud joined just prior to the event and delivered keynote.

The open LoRaWAN standard for IoT low-power wide area networks (LPWANs) enables smart sensors, devices, and other objects to connect wirelessly via gateways that relay messages to a central network server. It is known for its bi-directional communication with end-to-end security, mobility, and localization services.

Perhaps most noticeable of all is its combination of low power consumption and long range. Depending on the application, battery life can be up to 10 years and its range can extend greater than 10 miles. The applications of LoRaWAN are very broad; they cover smart cities, smart manufacturing, industrial IoT, smart homes, smart grids, infrastructure, smart farming, smart metering, supply chain management, and transportation, including asset tracking. The LoRaWAN ecosystem includes providers of chipsets, modules, devices, gateways, servers (network, security, application, or geolocation), networks (public, private, or hybrid), cloud platforms/data management, and complete solutions.

Many legacy wireless systems use frequency shifting keying (FSK) modulation as the physical layer because of its efficiency in power use. LoRaWAN’s physical layer is based on chirp spread spectrum modulation which has similar low-power characteristics but is able to communicate over a much longer distance. Chirp spread spectrum has been used for many years in military and space communication for its long-distance capability and robustness. Additionally, LoRaWAN provides bi-directional communication and supports secured multicast for applications like firmware over-the-air (FOTA) updates (Figure 1).

Figure 1. LoRaWAN system diagram showing how sensors are connected to network servers. The LoRaWAN specification also provides security protocols to safeguard the network.

Behind the LoRaWAN standard is the LoRa Alliance, which is a non-profit association founded in 2015. Today it has more than 500 members and boasts millions of devices connected globally via the LoRaWAN protocol. Board members include tech companies such as Cisco, Alibaba, IBM Research, STMicroelectronics, Semtech, Comcast, and others. The vision of the alliance is to continue to support the LoRaWAN specification and promote global adoption of the standard by ensuring interoperability for all LoRaWAN products through its certification program. Most importantly, the LoRa Alliance certification program offers multiple test houses all over the world to ensure the interoperability of LoRaWAN devices.

Momentum is building

In a short few years, LoRaWAN has captured the fascination of many tech companies worldwide. With Google showing interest in LoRaWAN, the technology is building momentum quickly. “The vision of the LoRa Alliance around interoperability and openness aligns with our mission to build the world’s most open cloud and enable faster innovation and tighter security,” said Antony Passemard, Head of Product Management for Google Cloud IoT. “With the rapid growth of the LoRaWAN ecosystem, we look forward to contributing to the growth and acceleration of this technology and simplify the process of developing, deploying, and managing IoT solutions.”

“Google Cloud joining the LoRa Alliance is a clear signal that LoRaWAN connectivity is gaining strong traction for IoT,” echoed Donna Moore, CEO and Chairwoman of the LoRa Alliance. “All of the data generated by connected devices will enable new insights to be derived. Google Cloud’s participation in the LoRa Alliance will strengthen our efforts to realize value from this IoT data. It is my honor to welcome Google Cloud to the LoRa Alliance and we look forward to its support to make the value proposition for LoRaWAN even stronger.”

In the recent member meeting held in Vancouver, B.C. Canada, many operators were showing their solutions. LoRa Alliance member operators include A2A Smart City, Axatel, Blink Services, Bouygues Telecom/Objenious, Cisco, Comcast/machineQ, Digita, eleven-x, IoT Network AS, Kerlink, KPN, Loriot, M2B Communications, National Narrowband Network, Netzikon, NextField, NTT, Orange, OrbiWise, Proximus, Quaenet, Senet, SK Telecom, STC, Swisscom, The Things Network Foundation, and Unidata.

In the USA, Comcast recently announced machineQ, its enterprise Internet of Things (IoT) service. To date, it has deployed LoRaWAN IoT networks in more than 15 U.S. metro areas. Most recently, in the San Francisco Bay area, where it now provides coverage in Cupertino, Fremont, Hayward, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Oakland, Palo Alto, Redwood City, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale. Sprint is said to be testing their LoRaWAN services in multiple cities.

This represents new momentum for LoRaWAN. Only a few years ago, the major operators in the USA were solely supporters of LTE and NB-IoT solutions. The following are examples of companies rolling out LoRaWAN solutions

Actility launches international roaming hub

Actility, a key player in LPWAN connectivity, announced the first hub for international IoT roaming dubbed ThingPark Exchange. Several LoRa Alliance members, including Australia’s NNNCo and Finland’s Digita, will connect their LoRaWAN network servers to the Actility ThingPark Exchange platform.

While roaming between different LoRaWAN operators is standardized, the process is typically expensive and inefficient, requiring operators to establish individual connections between many public or enterprise operators. Once setup on the ThingPark Exchange platform, operators will have instant connections to the other partner operators. Global rollouts will become substantially easier, allowing companies to contract with only one operator for their IoT connectivity. The primary operator connected to ThingPark Exchange can make use of other Exchange-connected roaming partners for a complete connectivity solution for its customers.

Fully compliant with the new LoRa Alliance roaming specifications, ThingPark Exchange is a component of Actility’s ThingPark Services Center, which offers a range of services to enrich and augment the capabilities of deployed networks. Actility’s ThingPark multi-tenant platform is being utilized in a project with Conexxion for the City of Hull, in the north of England. A true “build it and they will come” smart city infrastructure project, the company will offer paid and free services once the network is deployed.

Cypress offers silicon-based secure LoRaWAN solutions with partners

Security is a primary concern for smart city applications. The module, offered by Cypress partner Onethinx, connects to Bosch Sensortec’s Cross Domain Development Kit (XDK) for Micro-Electromechanical Systems (MEMS) sensors and to the provisioning system from ESCRYPT to securely connect.

“With its long range and low power capabilities in a compact footprint, Semtech’s LoRa Technology is ideal for vertical applications,” said Vivek Mohan, Director of IoT in Semtech’s Wireless and Sensing Products Group. “Combining LoRa Technology with Cypress’ PSoC 6 MCU in a purpose-built IoT module will accelerate the delivery of leading-edge IoT solutions for smarter cities and a smarter planet.”

“Devices for LoRaWAN networks need to be secure to protect the data they generate and process,” said Jack Ogawa, senior director of marketing for the MCU business unit at Cypress. “We’re excited to work with LoRaWAN ecosystem members to offer developers the unique combination of secure PSoC 6 MCUs and Semtech’s new lower power, longer range LoRa Technology to address smart city applications.”

Platform From eleven-x Enables IoT Connectivity for Unconnected Devices

Retrofitting currently deployed but unconnected IoT sensors and devices just got a bit easier thanks to a new platform from eleven-x Inc. that includes interface units that enable easy and secure wireless LoRaWAN connectivity.

Rather than having to absorb the high costs of removing and replacing existing devices, the platform is designed to extend the capabilities of existing sensors and devices to provide real-time data collection and monitoring. The initial interface units include those designed for use with water and gas meters (MIU-X), tank fill-level monitoring (TIU-X), and remote data collection from water-level monitoring sensors (WIU-X).

The MIU-X essentially creates smart meters out of unconnected meters and the TIU-X enables cost-effective remote tank fill-level monitoring to eliminate costly manual tank readings. The WIU-X eliminates the need for manual data collection without having to replace currently installed data loggers.

Part of the eleven-x LoRaWAN wireless interface connectivity platform, the interface units are battery operated and will last for more than ten years with almost no maintenance. Installation of the interface units is a simple three step process that takes only a few minutes and does not require any wiring or specialty tools. Bringing wireless connectivity to existing assets that would otherwise need to be replaced enables substantial cost savings to utilities and other customers.

Kerlink and eleven-x Join Force to Provide LoRaWAN Tracking and Monitoring Systems

Deployed in 22 markets and powered by Kerlink Wirnet Stations, eleven-x has launched pilot programs in smart parking, asset tracking, water metering, fuel tank monitoring, smart waste management, and other applications across Canada on its recently deployed LoRaWAN IoT network. Kerlink’s stations manage millions of bi-directional messages every day from sensors and other data-collecting devices. The two companies completed a rollout of the network early this year, enabling testing, development, and proof-of-concept deployment of IoT solutions. Kerlink’s LoRaWAN gateways are powering nationwide LoRaWAN networks in many European countries, as well as in India, New Zealand, Argentina, and Canada.

Kerlink is building a strong track record of LPWA deployments for key machine-to-machine (M2M) and IoT sectors. These include fleet management and tracking, utility metering, smart farming, smart cities, and asset tracking. It also pioneered a land-based geolocation service leveraging radio and core network components that is less costly and far more energy efficient than GPS tracking.

Microchip Provides LoRa Alliance-certified wireless module

For decades, wireless developers faced the dilemma of choosing between longer range and lower power consumption. The LoRa technology offers a very compelling mix of long range, low power consumption, and secure data transmission, making it one of the top technology choices for battery-powered end devices that need long-range connectivity. With the growing Internet of Things, Microchip offers LoRa wireless technology solutions to address increasing demands for end devices that need long-range connectivity, low-power battery operation, and low infrastructure costs for volume deployment.

Microchip’s fully certified LoRa modules enable seamless connectivity to any LoRaWAN compliant network infrastructure. The RN2903A/RN2483A modules come with the LoRaWAN-certified protocol stack, so customers can easily connect with the established and rapidly expanding LoRa Alliance infrastructure to create low power wide area networks (LPWANs). This stack integration also enables the modules to be used with any microcontroller that has a UART interface, including hundreds of Microchip MCUs. These modules feature Microchip’s simple ASCII command interface for easy configuration and control, allowing for reduced development time. Additionally, the modules are also FCC and RED certified, saving significant certification costs and time.

Figure 2. Microchip DM164139 LoRa Mote board is LoRa Alliance certified.

MultiTech offers remote monitoring systems for the energy sector

MultiTech provides a solution for monitoring assets used in the energy sector to ensure not only the physical safety but security from long-distance hackers as well.

When a network in, say, nuclear energy is hacked, the damage is beyond power shut down – it could cause a hazardous materials leak. Using the LoRaWAN-based MultiConnect devices, system operators can remotely monitor line sensors, tanks, power plants, refineries, and solar/wind arrays to see if they are performing within desired parameters. Additionally, the distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS) can be used to manage load balance when multiple energy sources (solar, traditional coal, nuclear and wind turbines) are available on demand. Many of these remote sensors can operate for years without changing batteries.

To facilitate the deployment of the LoRaWAN design, MultiTech also provides a LoRaWAN development kit, which includes everything a developer needs to work with LoRaWAN. The kit includes all the needed test modules to connect to the cloud using LoRaWAN and all the cables and AC adapters with various foreign power options.

Figure 3. MultiTech LoRaWAN Developer’s Kit comes with test modules, cables, and components.

OrbiWise’s OrbiWAN network server for LoRaWAN

OrbiWise SA, a solutions provider for IoT networks, is featuring its OrbiWAN Network Server, a carrier-grade server capable of scaling from small local utilizations all the way up to nation-wide deployments. OrbiWAN provides the intelligence to view, run, maintain, and manage LoRaWAN network devices, gateways, and interfaces, ensuring secure delivery of device data.

For data center-based deployments incorporating millions of devices and thousands of gateways, additional servers can be added dynamically to handle increases in traffic volume and provide additional computing power. Designed for high availability and full redundancy, OrbiWAN is managed via a web-based user interface and provides full support for network-based geolocation of devices.

Ventia announced that it will utilize the OrbiWAN Network Server in its network. Vianet, Ventia’s IoT business, provides IoT solutions including water and wastewater network monitoring, facilities management, environmental and asset monitoring, and smart city solutions.

Also of note, OrbiWise has partnered with ESCRYPT and eleven-x Inc. to enhance data security by integrating ESCRYPT’s new KMS for LoRaWAN with the OrbiWAN server on eleven-x’s network. The solution addresses secure key management by storing unique keys for LoRaWAN devices in the ESCRYPT KMS. The handling of the keys ensures the inherent security of LoRaWAN is fully realized while eliminating the added expense and risk of manual key handling.  Users can be assured of the mutual authentication of the device and network while the data communicated over the network is encrypted from the device through to the customer’s application server, protecting the customer’s application data from end-to-end.

Network provider QuaeNet Inc. announced partnerships to deliver LoRaWAN solutions to vertical markets

QuaeNet is partnering with myDevices on supply chain refrigeration management for restaurants, hospitals, and pharmacies. Government regulations require the monitoring and reporting of refrigeration unit statistics, thus automated temperature monitoring that provides alarm reporting and eliminates human error (or manual effort) will allow for safer deliverables.

QuaeNet is also leveraging Senet’s Radio Access Network (RAN) operator services to meet the growing demand for automated tank monitoring solutions across Canada. With the extensive use of propane and fuel oil to heat residential and commercial properties, a reliable means of monitoring the fuel levels of a large number of tanks is essential. By providing LoRaWAN connectivity, QuaeNet is supporting Senet’s partnership with WESROC, an industry leader in fuel tank and asset monitoring. The monitoring solutions capture tank levels throughout the day, enabling more accurate usage forecasts and more efficient and cost-effective deliveries.

In a more down-to-earth application, QuaeNet is also partnering with Sensoterra, maker of soil moisture sensors. QuaeNet will be offering the solution that delivers real-time data regarding moisture levels in soil. Sensoterra’s sensors help growers make more informed irrigation decisions, enabling them to provide the right amount of water at the right time, conserve water, and even improve crop yields. The remote sensors could also help to reduce water waste in public landscaping and golf course maintenance, as well as consumer usage.

Semtech and Cypress Semiconductor collaborated on smart city solutions

Long range, low power, and security are the essential requirements of a Smart City LoRaWA solution. To that end Semtech and Cypress Semiconductor collaborated on a compact, two-chip LoRaWA-based module. Deployed by Onethinx, the highly-integrated module is ideal for smart city applications that integrate multiple sensors and need to operate in harsh radio environments.

Using Cypress’ PSoC 6 microcontroller's hardware-based secure element functionality and Semtech’s LoRa devices and wireless radio frequency technology, the solution enables a multi-layered security architecture that isolates trust anchors for highly protected device-to-cloud connectivity.

The Onethinx module utilizes the integrated secure element functionality in the PSoC 6 MCU to give each LoRaWAN-based device a secret identity to securely boot, on-board, and deliver data to the cloud application. Using its mutual authentication capabilities, the PSoC 6 MCU-based LoRa-equipped device can also receive authenticated OTA firmware updates. Key provisioning and management services are provided by IoT security provider and member of the Bosch group, ESCRYPT, for a complete end-to-end, secure LoRaWAN solution.

John Koon’s current roles include embedded technology research and publication. He was the Editor-in-Chief of the RTC Magazine and COTS Journal.  Additionally, he has published numerous technical articles, blogs, and ebooks. His areas of research include aviation, AI, autonomous driving, robotics, automation, medical innovations, wireless technology (including 5G and low-power WAN, fog computing (beyond cloud), IoT, NB-IoT, and LoRaWAN), cybersecurity, blockchain, M2M, software, aerospace, manufacturing, and COTS advancements. He holds a BS in engineering (California State Polytechnic University, Pomona) and an MBA (San Diego State University), and had 20 years of management experience.