19 Nov 2014

Is LoRa answer for IoT & M2M wireless communications?

A new technology named LoRa could answer many of the questions facing the Internet of Things, IoT and machine to machine, M2M communications in general.

Many people wonder if LTE with its complex modulation format and the large amount of processing required will be viable for M2M wireless communications for the IoT. LTE is aimed at transferring data very quickly, but it is often thought to be too power hungry when low amounts of data for remote battery powered nodes need to be connected. These nodes require small batteries to reduce size and battery life times measured in months or even years. Even with the introduction of LTE Category 0, this may not be achievable.

Another new wireless system named LoRa has been developed. LoRa stands for Long Range and it is a technology that uses unlicensed spectrum below 1GHz along with a form of direct sequence spread spectrum modulation that provides signal detection below the noise level. As a result this technology is able to use extremely low transmit power levels and can fulfil many of the requirements for long battery life.

The LoRa network consists of the end nodes, gateways / concentrators and network controllers. The networks have a wide range and can either be private networks, or they could be operated on a cellular format.

Analogue and mixed signal semiconductor supplier, Semtech has partnered with IBM research and Microchip with their distribution partners to demonstrate the new technology. Semtech has developed much of the technology for the new system and live networks are being set up. Many cellular network operators are becoming interested as they can use existing towers for the system. They only need to install an antenna for the LoRa communications - some operators are even using joint cellular / LoRa antennas where they rent antenna space rather than own the towers. Additionally they can use the existing backhaul arrangements to feed the data back to their core networks.

To demonstrate the system, Semtech set up a network in Munich over the period of electronica. Using just six base stations, it gave coverage over most of the eastern side of greater Munich, including the electronica exhibition area. Using small demonstration nodes it was possible to send messages over the network - its bidirectional capability was needed for authentication, etc.

It remains to be seen whether LoRa will catch the market, but using existing cellular sites it looks like a very attractive proposition for many network operators.

By Ian Poole

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