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The Telecom Dilemma: Making the Most of LoRaWAN and 5G to Power the IoT Landscape

What is the anticipated impact of LoRaWAN and 5G on the IoT ecosystem? Read on to find out

Updated: April 25, 2024 8 mins read Published: January 14, 2022

While 5G continues to dominate the discussion around the future of networking technologies envisioning the new era of IoT, LoRaWAN has already seen massive adoption across different verticals. How would these technologies affect the IoT ecosystem?

Looking back a few years, 5G was hailed as the ultimate enabler for the realization of IoT opportunities. As it enhanced existing LTE networks with high data speeds, low latency, and ubiquitous coverage, it seemed like the perfect match for even the most sophisticated connected ecosystems. However, as of 2020, 5G still has a long way to go before entering the mainstream, mainly because of lacking infrastructure and prohibitive costs.

While the leading telcos continue to beat the drum for the 5th generation mobile network, some businesses have grown impatient for its widespread adoption. Looking for an alternative, many are turning to LoRaWAN. Is that a clever choice?

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5G has long been considered the sole enabler for the realization of the full potential of Internet of Things innovation

The Telecom Dilemma: Making the Most of LoRaWAN and 5G to Power the IoT Landscape

Source: MDPI

LoRaWAN: Filling the gaps in 5G connectivity

The popularity of LoRaWAN in the IoT space is rapidly increasing. The recent trends have led industry experts to expect that the technology will seize around 75% of the IoT market (currently worth over $465 billion), ousting 5G from the dominant position. The long-range communication protocol caters to several key demands that 5G networks have so far failed to meet. Critical to the comparison of 5G vs. LoRaWAN is the understanding of principles underlying the two technologies.

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What is LoRa?

Owned by Semtech, LoRa, an abbreviation from Long Range, is the radio layer enabling low-power, long-range communication. Using the LoRa modulation scheme is LoRaWAN (LoRa Wide Area Network), a point-to-multipoint networking protocol and system architecture for IoT networks. LoRa enables communication over long ranges in the physical layer of the OSI-model, while LoRaWAN covers the upper layers.

Overseeing the development of the protocol and its interoperability with smart technologies and devices is the LoRa Alliance. The association includes members from over 100 countries working together to promote and enhance the use of the LoRaWAN protocol as the leading open global standard for secure, carrier-grade IoT connectivity.

The 5G specification, seen as an upgrade from the prevailing 4G networks, defines options to interconnect with non-cellular technologies, such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. LoRa protocols, in turn, interconnect with cellular IoT at the data management level (application layer), providing robust long-range coverage of up to 10 miles. Compared with 5G, LoRaWAN is a relatively simple technology built from the ground up to serve specific use cases. It also entails lower costs, greater accessibility, and enhanced battery performance.

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Nonetheless, this is not to say LoRa-based connectivity can be seen as a 5G replacement. On the contrary, it instead enhances and extends the potential of 5G, supporting implementations that use the already deployed cellular network infrastructure and don’t require ultra-low latency.

In LoRaWAN, you don’t need that huge infrastructure (of 5G) and it can be driven by small devices that are very smart and not very expensive.

Mike Cruse, CEO at Definium Technologies

Key areas for LoRaWAN application in IoT

Designed to wirelessly connect battery-operated devices to the internet, LoRaWAN is a perfect fit for IoT sensors, trackers, and beacons with limited battery power and low data traffic requirements. The intrinsic characteristics of the protocol make it an ideal choice for a wide variety of applications:

Smart cities

As a long-distance connectivity platform, LoRaWAN opens the way for smart city implementations that utilize the Internet of Things infrastructure to spread over vast areas. With long ranges of up to 10 miles, the technology provides capabilities to easily connect a large number of nodes (up to 1,000 devices per gateway), while significantly increasing network resistance to interference and noise and enabling high-accuracy localization.

In this context, LoRaWAN can be used as an out-of-the-box solution, easily deployed to enhance the management and control of smart city systems including street lighting, waste management, environment monitoring, smart parking slots, public transport intelligence, and predictive maintenance.

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Smart metering and utilities

LoRaWAN devices are also proving efficient in smart utility networks, which leverage intelligent meters often located in places that are beyond the reach of sensors operating in 5G networks. By ensuring the required access and range, LoRaWAN-based solutions allow for remote daily operations and the collection of data that turns information into action, without manual interventions of the field technician staff.

A role model implementation of LoRaWAN in the utility sector has been recently deployed in Germany. The pilot flexQgrid project brings together electricity from renewable energies and new, controllable consumers into the grid for the sustainable control of energy transition. Another interesting use case comes from the Washington-based Apana. The company’s water consumption management solution uses LoRa-based connectivity to provide businesses with smart insights needed to reduce their total water footprint.

A simple LoRa network breakdown

The Telecom Dilemma: Making the Most of LoRaWAN and 5G to Power the IoT Landscape

Source: Semtech

Data-driven agriculture

Smart agriculture makes use of Internet of Things systems and sensors to gather and analyze data that enables efficiencies across the entire food production chain, from temperature and humidity readings, to tracking cattle health indicators. High-tech devices such as smart sensors and drones help farmers remotely monitor their equipment, crops, and livestock, significantly improving the efficiency of their daily work, reducing the environmental impact, and automating manual tasks.

LoRa-enabled devices may offer a significant advantage over 5G infrastructure here, being a low-cost alternative that enables flexible deployments. Additionally, the low energy consumption and long-reach capabilities of the technology make it a logical choice for the monitoring of roaming cattle. With LoRa-based trackers, farmers can keep a close eye on their livestock, without the need for frequent battery replacement that entails problematic device removal.

By providing actionable data on weather, soil, and crop conditions, the LoRaWAN protocol and LoRa IoT devices have helped commercial farmers reduce irrigation water usage by 50%.

Intelligent buildings

Building management systems are hardly a novelty, but the emergence of long-range, low power, and inexpensive sensor IoT devices has ushered in a new era in the development of smart spaces.

Thanks to remarkable immunity to interference and high signal penetration, LoRaWAN is a particularly good fit for smart building deployments. LoRa radio waves can pass through all sorts of obstacles, such as doors, walls, ceilings, garages, etc., and reach sensors inside. Moreover, the installation of LoRa-based solutions is quick and easy, and it doesn’t disrupt management operations. By bringing together facility management systems, such as lighting, heating, cooling, and fire safety, LoRaWAN enables centralized, smart building management and monitoring. Additionally, it helps facility managers obtain valuable insights into occupancy, energy consumption, air quality, and environmental conditions, for improved cost-efficiency and better use of resources.

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Cost-efficient IoT implementations

Apart from industry-specific implementations, LoRaWAN makes IoT accessible in emerging economies, where high-cost 5G solutions are unaffordable. With flexible, relatively simple architecture and low network hardware requirements, the technology significantly reduces the cost of implementation, while low energy consumption drives further savings in the operating expenses.

Take India, for example. Aiming to dethrone China as the global manufacturing leader, the country is harnessing the power of IoT, data analytics, and automation to leap from traditional manufacturing into the era of Industry 4.0. However, this is only possible thanks to LoRa-based connectivity. While India is lagging behind other industry champions in 5G adoption, it is actively relying on LoRaWAN deployments to keep an increasing number of manufacturing plants, machines, management systems, and workers connected, transparent, and proactive. As a result, the country is gradually building an advantage over other economies with increased output levels, productivity gains, and competitive pricing.

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5G use cases: Where does 5G remain relevant?

Despite the wide variety of scenarios that LoRaWAN supports, it’s by no means a silver bullet that addresses all use cases. The high-bandwidth, low-latency capabilities of 5G remain crucial for data-intensive ecosystems that require real-time, robust communication.

Connected vehicles and autonomous driving

Many believe that automotive and transportation is the primary sector for 5G solutions. Armed with sophisticated telematics, connected cars are heavily reliant on real-time readings and transmission of data between multiple IoT sensors and systems. They generate and exchange massive amounts of data about a vehicle’s position, location, temperature, traffic conditions, etc., to enhance driving comfort and increase safety.

And it’s precisely the safety requirement that makes 5G telecom solutions irreplaceable here. For a smart vehicle to be able to accurately interpret the fast-changing road and traffic conditions and respond in a split second, it needs a technology that guarantees the seamless transfer of information between thousands of IoT devices. The potential of 5G to handle flawless communication between an infinite number of devices at near-zero latency opens the way not only for direct vehicle-to-vehicle interaction but also for more complex vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication with parking meters, street lights, traffic data management systems, and so on.

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Smart health 5G solutions

5G health systems already play a major role in expanding telemedicine, connecting data from wearables with cloud-based provider systems and supporting high-quality real-time video for remote consultations. By providing the capability to monitor and transmit patient vitals constantly, 5G-powered IoT devices significantly increase the efficiency of personalized and preventive care.

But telehealth barely scratches the surface of what 5G is capable of in the medical context. Hospitals and research organizations across the world are launching pilot implementations of 5G use cases covering remote surgery, mobile ward rounds, intra-hospital monitoring, online specialist diagnostics, and remote emergency rescue.

According to GSMA, by 2025, 5G will account for at least 1.2 billion connections worldwide

The Telecom Dilemma: Making the Most of LoRaWAN and 5G to Power the IoT Landscape
Source: GSMA

LoRaWAN and IoT connectivity — substitute for or complement to 5G?

LoRaWAN shares many of the strengths of 5G while also offering long range, cost-efficiency, and low battery consumption. Still, it cannot resolve 5G IoT use cases that prioritize data transfer speeds, flawless performance, and superior connection quality, such as telemedicine or autonomous vehicles. For that reason, the two networking solutions shouldn’t be seen as competing. Instead, businesses should validate them case-by-case, and proceed with custom telecom software implementations that serve their particular goals.

Would you like to tap into the IoT efficiencies with LoRaWAN and 5G solutions? Contact our experts to learn more about how to get a competitive advantage by offering new value-added services to your customers and leveraging the latest tech trends.

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