People are excited about all the possibilities brought by new sensors and devices that stream mass amounts of useful data. But what if these sensors are out in the middle of no where? Will batteries need to be changed every few days or weeks? And how will networks handle mass data traffic?
Clearly, one of the key challenges in building out the Internet of Things is ensuring that all those “things” are in fact able to communicate over the Internet. The number of IoT devices is massive—25 billion devices by 2020, according to one estimate—and any network that supports that communication has to scale to handle the traffic. So there are problems for the network, and there are problems with the IoT devices themselves: they run on battery power, have weak radios, and have limited memory and processing power.
IoT devices today pick from several technologies to support their communications, but none of them is ideal. Wi-Fi is everywhere, but it uses lots of energy and transmits lots of data—not a perfect match for IoT devices that don’t have energy to spare and usually send limited data in small quantities. There are also limitations on the number of devices a single Wi-Fi router can handle, and they can run out of capacity as the number of IoT devices in a home increases.
Bluetooth lets devices communicate, but only over a limited range. Like Wi-Fi, it can also require too much power. ZigBee is low power and transmits over longer distances at low data rates. That’s what the IoT requires, but not all implementations of ZigBee are compatible.
A New Protocol Designed for the Internet of Things
LoRa technology, developed by Semtech, is a new wireless protocol designed for long-range, low-power communications. The protocol provides the kind of communications capabilities smart devices need, and the LoRa Alliance is working to ensure interoperability among multiple nationwide networks.
The part of the spectrum LoRa uses presents little electromagnetic interference, so signals can span a long distance, even passing through buildings, with little power. This suits IoT devices with their limited battery capacities. It also means lower-cost crystals can be used, so building LoRa into devices is cheaper.
Each LoRa gateway can handle millions of nodes. That, plus the fact that the signals can span significant distance, means less network infrastructure is required, thereby making construction of a LoRa network cheaper. The LoRa networks can be co-located alongside other communications equipment, like cellphone towers, significantly decreasing building constraints.
LoRa’s other features also make it ideal for IoT. LoRa uses an adaptive data rate algorithm to help maximize device battery life and network capacity. Its protocols include multiple layers of encryption, at the network, application, and device levels, enabling secure communications. The bidirectionality of the protocol supports broadcast messages, enabling software update functionality.
LoRa Removes IoT Limitations
The growth of the Internet of Things is limited by the network’s capacity, by the devices’ ability to function without battery changes, and by the ability to encrypt confidential transmissions. The features built into LoRa provide all these capabilities, and will enable the widespread growth of IoT.