IoT Technologies and 5G Integration

IoT Technologies and 5G Integration

This white paper focuses on the various IoT network types, with more focus on one of the LPWAN (Low Power Long Range network) technologies LoRaWAN (Long Range WAN), why it’s one of the major contributors in IoT space, high level architecture, few use cases and its integration in 5G ecosystem.

1. Introduction

The Internet of Things is no longer a buzzword now. IoT has already arrived, if not in terms of connected cars, remote surgeries, online gaming or cases similar to these which need low latency, ultra high response etc., but IoT is available for many other use cases, such as illegal car parking, vehicle tracking, industrial IoT, and much more. The current challenge being faced is to know what are the technologies available, which one will suit the specific use case and which one is more economical with minimal risk on user data and so on. Bringing answers for a few of the questions together and elaborating on a lucrative IoT technology and how 5G can leverage this technology is being discussed in detail ahead, so keep reading !!

2. IoT Technologies

Various IoT technologies have evolved over the past few years. Some of them evolved and some were invented. Depending on the use case, ease of deployment, scalability and of course CAPEX and OPEX, these technologies are being adopted. We will discuss major ones briefly.

2.1. LPWAN

As the name “Low Power Wide Area Network” depicts this is an IoT technology which connects end devices that can run for years as they are battery powered. It provides a long range network comprising of a few Gateways and end nodes. This unique feature of LPWAN enables the Service Providers or even private networks to offer IoT, right from a building, to a sprawling factory campus, to big agricultural farms, the list goes on. Best suited for the applications required low bandwidth such as smart utilities, smart agriculture, logistics tracking and hundreds of other use cases.

2.2. Cellular (3G/4G/5G)

Cellular technology is well established in the Globe. It offers reliable communication for Voice, Video, Data and messaging. However on the other side they are expensive in terms of operational cost as well as power consumption. Even though unviable for many IoT use cases still this fit well for certain use cases like connected cars, fleet management, high speed video streaming as well as applications requiring ultra low latencies such as remote surgeries and several time-sensitive industrial automation applications.

2.3. Zigbee

Short range, low power, higher data rates compared to LPWAN, less power efficiency, good for use cases connecting few meters. It is also seen as complementary to Wi-Fi.

2.4. Bluetooth and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy)

Short range, low power consumption, used in conjunction with electronic devices such as smartphones, fitness and medical wearables as well as smart home devices.

2.5. Wi-Fi

Wide acceptance as backhaul network for IoT, less adoption for connecting IoT devices, less secure.

2.6. RFID

Uses radio waves to transfer small data to RF readers, short distance, major contributor in retail and logistics.

To summarize, each IoT technology has a unique set of capabilities and accordingly the use case they can support.

Figure 1 : Positioning of different IOT wireless technologies

3. LoRaWAN for IoT

Figure 2 : Technology wise comparison for IoT adoption

As described above there are a number of technologies for IoT and even under each of the broader technologies there are different branches which can be used for IoT, their use being case to case basis. We cannot say any specific technology can be used for the entire IoT ecosystem. We will further discuss one of the LPWAN technologies in detail.

3.1. Why LoRaWAN?

LoRaWAN is the fastest growing non-licensed IoT network globally. Unlike other technologies which promise future potential, LoRaWAN is available today all around the globe. Over 600 use cases and more than 105 million devices are deployed already even in inhabited continents. LoRaWAN is already creating a smart planet. As per IHS Markit (Global Industry Analyst) 43% of all LPWAN connections will be based on LoRa  by 2023.

Figure 3 : Worldwide coverage of LoRaWAN networks

LoRa is filling the technology gap between WiFi and Cellular networks which need either high bandwidth or high power, or have a limited range or are not capable to penetrate deep inside the buildings. LoRa is effective not only for rural but even indoor use cases in smart cities, smart buildings, homes, agriculture or even logistics.

3.2. LoRaWAN Spectrum

It is a non-cellular and non-license spectrum communication protocol. As the law of Physics states that to transmit higher bandwidth over large distances, either “Transmit power” should be high OR “Bandwidth” should be low. So LoRa with its low power consumption offers low bandwidth while being able to cover large distances. LoRa is based on Chirp Spread Spectrum (CSS) modulation which maintains the low power characteristics but significantly increases the communication range. CSS modulation method has been used in Military and Space communications for decades due to its capability for long range and robustness to interference. LoRa is the commercial usage of CSS, which is deployable on license free radio frequency bands like 169MHz, 433MHz, 868Mhz and 915MHz.

3.3. Network Topologies

It is typically deployed in Star of Star topology. Unlike other technologies which use Mesh topology which generally extends the coverage by carrying data from one to another node before reaching to the Aggregator (Gateway), LoRa is deployed in Star topology where each end device is not associated with a specific gateway. Infact an end device sends data to multiple Gateways available to its wireless range. Then each gateway forwards the received packets from end node to Network server using some backhaul (5G/Ethernet/Satellite/WiFi). Further network servers have the intelligence to filter out the redundant packets and send out to respective application servers for further analytics/decision making.

3.3.1. Mesh Topology

Figure 4 : LoRaWAN in Mesh Topology 

3.3.2. Star Topology

Figure 5 : LoRaWAN in Star Topology

3.4. Network Architecture

Below Diagram depicts the Network Architecture for the typical LoRaWAN network.

Figure 6 : LoRaWAN overall Architecture

3.4.1 End Device

The End nodes comprise of sensor, transponder and/or micro controller. It may be an integrated box containing all three. Alternatively, the three are available separately as well. The purpose of the sensor is to detect the change in parameter being measured. The transponder, transmit and receive wireless signals to and from the Gateway. The microcontroller programs the device based on the use case. This capability of microcontroller empowers developers to use the data collected by the device and build applications based on the use case. There are 3 classes of end nodes viz. Class A, Class B and Class C. Class A and B can be battery powered whereas Class C is usually powered by extra source. There is another differentiator in these classes which is based on their Message format. An end device is not confined to a single Gateway and it can communicate with multiple Gateways within its range. Below section covers the classes of End devices. Classes of End Devices

Class A end device: Are the least power consuming devices. For this type of device there is one uplink slot followed by two downlink slots in each frame. Uplink slot is randomly scheduled by the end device itself. This class has the least data rate.

Class B end device: In this type of device, there is another slot called Extra Slot being inserted by the Gateway to indicate to the device that it has to listen. This scheduling is done by the gateway.

Class C end device: This class of end devices can listen all the time except in transmit mode. It utilizes more power compared to Class A and Class B devices.

3.4.2. Gateways

The Gateways acts as an aggregator. This is again a wireless device which receives and transmits the radio packets from and to the end nodes. On other end it uses any one of the backhauls and sends the aggregated data over IP to the next node which is Network server. The Gateway is always connected to a power source. LoRaWAN gateways typically have coverage of about 1 to 10 KM. Data from one End node can be received by multiple gateways.

3.4.3. Network Server

The data received from Gateways is handled further by Network Server. This is a core of the LoRaWAN Network. It takes care of the management of end devices, Gateways, network encryption and decryption, routing of data to respective application servers, de-duplicating the packets received from multiple Gateways and multiple end devices.

3.4.4. Application Server

Application Servers manage users, organizations, applications and devices. It also allows you to see the received sensor data. Application server is generally provided as a service by the service provider to collect the IoT data and perform analytics on it, thereby enabling the user to take necessary decisions based on the use case. These servers are generally hosted on cloud environment.

4. IoT Use Cases with LoRaWAN

There are numerous use cases which are already in place and many use cases are still evolving. Since LoRaWAN supports long distance communication, high battery life of end devices but low bit rates, its specific use is to meet these criteria. We will discuss a few of them in brief.

4.1. Beehive Monitoring

Beekeeping is one form of farming (apiculture). Their colonies are highly sensitive to any form of changes be it temperature, humidity or any such environmental conditions. Generally it is time consuming to keep manually checking the number of colonies for any changes in their living. Also it is very risky to open the beehive and check for the conditions manually because bees are very sensitive to any kind of movements. Any small physical error may result in bees behaving abnormally and may also abandon the hive. With LoRaWAN technology available, we can install a few environmental sensors (temperature, humidity, bees leaving and entering to hive, even weight check of the hive for honey) with LoRa end device and integrate them to Gateway and Application server. This will monitor their environmental conditions at regular intervals and the farmer can take appropriate steps based on the inputs from the analytics. This not only helps to keep the bees in livable condition, but also it will improve farming revenue and reduce losses. LoRaWAN being the best solution for this rather than the Cellular approach. The below diagram shows a Beehive empowered with sensors to monitor the Temperature, humidity as well as the weight of the beehive. The sensors are connected to LoRa End node which is solar powered and connects to the nearest LoRa Gateway.

Figure 7 : Beehive monitoring use case

4.2. Smart Water Metering

Water wastage poses a big challenge for most of the water supply boards across the world. It is hard to control wastage of water by millions of users. Leveraging the LoRa technology, a smart end node integrated with water line can give a lot of insights such as meter reading, alerts for leakage, water flow etc. This can be huge savings for water supply boards as well as for the environment. The end node embedded with a sensor to detect the water leakage, capture the meter reading, flow monitor to calculate the water usage over a period of time, is installed on the input of the water line. This end node can be of any Class (viz A,B,C). The same is connected to the nearest LoRa gateway and the data collected thus sent to the Application server over the IP. Utility companies monitor the data using customized applications designed for this purpose. Based on the data analysis necessary alerts / controls can be implemented to avoid water wastage.

Figure 8 : Smart water metering use case

4.3. Illegal Parking Identification

The cities which have congested market areas often have challenges of traffic jams due to illegal parking of vehicles in the busiest places. Smart parking sensors Integrated with LoRa can provide illegal parkings over the map, can send alerts to traffic police and appropriate actions can be taken by the authorities to curb this menace. It has a huge potential of saving a lot of costs as well as ease the traffic congestions.

Figure 9 : Illegal parking use case

5. LoRaWAN integration with 5G

This is another opportunity for Cellular operators to offer B2B solutions to IoT services. Operators can either own LoRaWAN network and provide end to end IoT solutions as well as they can even offer subscription basis connections to 3rd parties offering IoT solutions. This way it’s a win win for the user as well as for the operator by leveraging the low cost LoRaWAN and high bandwidth Cellular technology as backhaul. The LoRaWAN gateways can be integrated with 5G network primarily in 3 ways which are:

  1. via 3GPP access network, LoRaWAN uses N1 interface between the gateway and the gNodeB.
  2. via non-3GPP untrusted access network It uses an IPSEC tunnel to connect to Non-3GPP untrusted network.
  3. as part of gNB. The Gateway and gNB are co-existing.

These solutions can be used for either indoor or outdoor use cases of LoRaWAN. Below diagram depicts these various options:

Figure 10 : LoRaWAN Integration Options with 5G

5.1. LoRaWAN and 5G - Complementaries and not Competitors

One of the key features of 5G is massive Machine communication, wherein billions of devices will be communicating and generating huge data. As we stated in previous sections, the LoRaWAN is constituting about 45% of the overall IoT ecosystem. This is one of the major driving forces to integrate LoRaWAN with 5G. We will discuss briefly about the reasons of the co-existence of LoRaWAN and 5G:

  1. LoRaWAN is a strong emergent in IoT space much ahead of 5G ecosystem and has one of the widest variety of sensors and end to end solutions deployed in more than 140 countries. The study shows that combined power of 5G and LoRaWAN, will capture 80% of the entire IoT ecosystem.
  2. LoRaWAN is one of the cost efficient, power efficient ecosystems available today, hence it can be widely accepted with 5G.
  3. It is unlicensed spectrum making it more cost efficient for the telecom operators as well as Multi-Service Operators (cable companies, TV broadcasters, Fixed service providers and ISPs). TSPs can especially leverage its utility while they roll out 5G networks.
  4. The standard is very much suitable not only for large areas but even for indoor deployments making it more compelling technology along with incorporating 5G as the backhaul.
  5. It is Backed by LoRa Alliance and all the developments are driven by industry leading companies that are members of this alliance.

6. Conclusion

LoRaWAN is a wide spread Long Range, low power technology that is absorbing a larger pie of IoT ecosystem. LoRaWAN and 5G are not here to compete, but they can complement each other with their own set of use cases and flavors.

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