Smart Cities Use Low-Power Networks to Flourish

October 6, 2017

Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), at the core, are communications technologies. Data is transmitted between objects, and devices communicate with users using cloud services. Thus far, IoT and IIoT applications have relied heavily on cellular 3G/4G, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for their networks.

As with all tech, limitations to those methods exist. Distance can present an issue. High power costs and subscription fees present budget challenges. Security may be a concern. There is a gap between the three services, but Low-Power, Wide-Area Network (LPWAN) technology has filled it.

Picture a city, whether it’s small or the size of Amsterdam. Placed throughout the city are sensor-based, battery-powered devices called “nodes,” equipped with LPWAN. These nodes collect data. Using LPWAN, they transmit information to any number of “gateways,” which are also LPWAN capable. Using the onboard Wi-Fi or cellular abilities as well, the gateway then shares this information with its cloud or other internet. Relay commands or other automation is delivered back to the nodes from the gateways.

LPWAN uses low power and low bit rate to accomplish many small data transmission tasks, increasing connections to a regional network. It augments, without replacing, the internet to which high-data, high-powered things (such as laptops and servers) connect. It also offers a low-cost and low-effort solution because of the long-term battery life and ease of access to hardware.

LPWAN is the umbrella term for this kind of technology.  The primary physical layer responsible for this type of telecommunications is a chip owned by Semtech. It’s called LoRa, referring to long-range instead of low-power. Using LoRa creates a LoRaWAN, which is a branded type of LPWAN. LoRa is capable of a bi-directional data rate between 0.3kbps and 50kbps on three different frequencies: 433MHz, 868MHz and 915MHz. It offers applications like accurate localization, security, interoperability and public or private usage.

The Things Network and the LoRa Alliance are initiatives dedicated to increasing LPWAN usage. They see the huge potential LoRa and other LPWANs present for ultra -connected smart cities. It provides a way for public programs to answer the question, “where can I park,” quickly, efficiently and easily. Through LoRa, parents can know local parks are safe for kids 24/7. Even sanitary workers can ask, “What trash cans need to be emptied?” without driving all over town. Of course, these aren’t the only questions to which LoRa provides an answer. Where could LoRa make your city, or your facility, smarter and better?