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Is LPWA the key to affordable and globally available IoT?

By Kai Ping Lew
Wed 9 May 2018
FYI, this story is more than a year old

In the age of the Internet of Things (IoT), everything that can be networked and monitored in a meaningful way is connected to each other.

The basis for this is usually the mobile network.

Although they provide good coverage, WLAN, Bluetooth and the like are not suitable for sporadically sending a small amount of data over many miles.

LPWA is the remedy.

This article will explain exactly what LPWA is and why this technology is celebrated as a core enabler of IoT.

It will also look at the French company Sigfox and answer the question why Sigfox is considered the most important and innovative pioneer in the LPWA field.

Low Power Wide Area

Low Power Wide Area (LPWA), is a technology that uses existing mobile radio networks to connect endpoints that are located far apart from each other - at low cost and low power consumption.

An important feature of the Low Power Wide Area is, therefore, cost efficiency.

Transmission via a low power wide area network is at least ten times cheaper than GPRS or 3G.

The solutions already available today for the Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) are fascinating from a technical point of view.

Receiver sensitivity from -120 to -130 dB allow ranges of many kilometres, even if the output power is only in the milliwatt range.

And all this with miniaturised monolithically integrated ICs at the cost of a few euros.

In addition, LPWA networks are usually much less complex.

Network administration is much easier compared with traditional cellular mobile phone technologies.

How do LPWA transceivers work?

There are essentially two approaches that make the high sensitivity of LPWA possible.

On the one hand, virtually all systems are narrow-banded, which reduces noise power when using good filters.

Secondly, the net data rates are low, so that a lot of energy per bit can be integrated.

Under certain circumstances, modern coding algorithms may also be used, which then also enable a process gain and further increase the so-called link budget.

Do LPWA networks have competition?

Under the influence of the extremely rapid market success of LPWA technologies, the activists of cellular mobile communication technologies have also perceived the attractiveness of this market.

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) as a relevant standardisation body for cellular mobile communication has already adopted the first narrow-band IoT standard as an extension of the fourth LTE generation in record time last year with the so-called Release 13, for which transceivers are now already available and considerable network coverage has already been achieved worldwide.

Various other approaches are being prepared for 4G and 5G technologies.

System developers should consider very carefully which technologies are suitable for their application.

There are numerous decision criteria that need to be considered to lead to a good and rational selection.

What is Sigfox?

Sigfox is a French telecommunications company that sets up its own global wireless network to wirelessly connect low-power objects to the Internet.

The Sigfox radio module for a terminal is to be charged at the purchase of at least 50,000 modules for one US dollar per year, while the connection of the device to the Sigfox network is to cost another US dollar per year.

Sigfox was founded in 2009 by CEO Ludovic Le Moan and CTO Christophe Fourtet, and describes itself as the first and only company to offer global wireless connectivity for the Internet of Things (IoT).

The infrastructure used is completely independent of existing networks, such as mobile phone networks.

Sigfox operates as an independent network operator in Germany, France, Spain and the United States of America.

In other countries, the company cooperates with partners.

Currently, a total of 45 countries and regions are (partly) covered (the goal is 60 by the end of 2018).

The aim of Sigfox is to establish a worldwide, uniform network structure via its own network, which focuses on the networked object and its data.

Sigfox sees "billions of objects and thousands of new use cases" in this segment.

Paessler’s investment in LPWA 

LPWA enables completely new applications because it is so cost-effective and energy-efficient.

Paessler has seen for years that these two properties are essential prerequisites for providing devices and applications with connectivity, in order to access more information in a way that is faster, easier and cheaper.

In terms of costs, both investment and operating costs are very promising.

LPWA networks can be used wherever cost-effective devices or systems need to be connected in a narrow band, i.e. with low data rates over longer distances.

These can be sensors of all kinds, for example.

Spatially distributed environmental sensors for air or water quality can be networked, but also garbage bins, wind turbines, taxis, city buses, short, everything.

LPWA technologies have already achieved an impressively strong market position in just a few years.

This development will continue for years to come, even though more technologies are entering the market.

Paessler believes it has a crucial market ahead of it in LPWA, which will become the connection standard of IoT.

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