Embracing the wireless Internet of Things

RFI Technology Solutions

Monday, 11 March, 2019


Embracing the wireless Internet of Things

Low-power wireless technologies are unleashing new possibilities for local council-led smart city initiatives.

Local councils around Australia are rapidly realising the benefits that smart city technologies can bring. To achieve this, networks of sensors need to be established to gather information so that those councils can make better-informed decisions and drive efficiencies in service delivery. But the cost of laying fibre or cable across wide areas is prohibitive, which is why low-power wireless technologies are coming into their own.

But the technologies involved can seem confusing at first sight, so to get a better idea of some of the technical aspects of these systems we spoke with Jon Goudge, M2M/IoT Business Unit Manager at RFI Technology Solutions in Sydney.

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Which are the main wireless IoT systems and how suited are they for different purposes and environments?

There are many different LPWAN technologies available in today’s market, such as LoRa, Sigfox, Zigbee and Bluetooth, and numerous others in both licensed and unlicensed spectrum. Applications include water and gas metering, smart city sensors, environmental sensors and so on. Small payload and high intervals in data collection are well suited to narrowband, low-power wireless carriage, thus the emergence of LoRa and Sigfox networks in Australia and worldwide.

LoRa is a long-range wireless communication protocol that competes against other low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) wireless solutions such as narrowband IoT (NB IoT) or LTE Cat M1. Compared to those, LoRa achieves its extremely long-range connectivity (possibly 100-plus km) by trading off data rate. Because its data rates are below 50 kbps and because it is limited by duty cycle and other restrictions, LoRa is suitable in practice for non-real-time applications for which one can tolerate minor delays.

What are the pros and cons of using unlicensed spectrum?

Unlicensed spectrum is available to anyone, anywhere as long as it is used within the guidelines as set out by the ACMA. The pro is that it is free to use; the con is that no protection can be offered against interference. This is why LoRa incorporates techniques for minimising the possibility of interference, such as spread spectrum transmission. NB-IoT is an LPWAN radio standard developed to enable a wide range of devices and services to be connected using cellular bands (licensed spectrum). It focuses on indoor coverage, low cost, long battery life and a large number of connected devices.

What about security? How can I ensure my data is safe?

Encryption is often incorporated as part of the security measure in an LPWAN network. It is common to find 128-bit AES utilised in these technologies.

Do these solutions operate only one-way, ie, from sensor to central point?

LoRa products can both send and receive data. It is not so much about the LoRa protocol but more about the way in which the radio module is incorporated into a device and what the additional interface hardware supports.

LoRaWAN is an open standard. What are the pros and cons of using it?

The LoRa Alliance promotes the LoRaWAN for LoRa-based networks. Its three open standards provide the end user with more choices. It offers functionality that is very similar to Sigfox, making it ideal for sensor devices. And as it is an open ecosystem, there are more software and hardware vendors adopting this technology. LoRa Radio can be deployed in localised networks and does not rely on a network provider for service.

It is important to understand the business needs and from there establish the most suitable solution. Our team at RFI can offer guidance and advice on this and many other technologies in smart city deployments.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/jamesteohart

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