Selecting the right communication protocol is an important part of any IoT project as not being able to communicate with the server/device cloud quickly takes away the “I” in IoT and could lead to the ultimate failure of the project. Several communication protocols exist, from WiFi and Zigbee to 2G, LTE, and even satellite communications, but each of them is usually plagued by one limitation or the other which makes them unsuitable for certain IoT use cases, with the major culprits usually being a tradeoff between range, power, and bandwidth. Semtech, however, demonstrating an understanding the future of IoT, saw a potential game-changer when they acquired France based Cycleo in 2012. Cycleo had developed a patented wireless communication technology called LoRa, which combined ultra-low power consumption with an effective long-range. Semtech leveraged on the power of the community via a consortium and transformed the technology into one of the key drivers of the current wave of digital transformation being instituted by IoT.
Using LoRa technology, devices can typically communicate over a range of 13- 20Km with the ability to go as far as 80KM in certain Line-of-sight setups, and as far as several 100s of KM from outer space as demonstrated by FOSSAT and Lacuna. This range achieved at a very low power which makes LoRa more suitable than other communication protocols, for remote, battery-powered IoT devices that are expected to run for months (or years) on a single battery charge.
LoRa can be deployed in two major ways:
- As a Peer to Peer Communication protocol
- As a Low Power Wide Area Network
Peer to Peer communication allows two devices with LoRa radios to talk to each other in a manner similar to how two Bluetooth devices communicate, with the major difference being the fact that the range increases massively and less power is consumed.
For deployment as a wide area network, LoRa works hand in hand with Protocols like LoRaWAN which its usually confused with. LoRaWAN is a high capacity, Long Range, open, Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) standard, based on LoRa technology and designed for LoRa Powered IoT Solutions by the LoRa Alliance. The standard takes full advantage of all the features of the LoRa technology to deliver services including reliable message delivery, end to end security, location and multicast capabilities to users while ensuring the interoperability of the various LoRaWAN networks world-wide. This is the standard on which platforms like the things network are built.