For LoRa technology, people in the industry will not be unfamiliar. It is also often compared to NB-IoT technology. As an emerging technology for low-power wide area networks (LPWANs), both technologies are receiving attention.
At present, the development of NB-IoT technology is in full swing due to the favor of national policies, telecom operators and industry players. In contrast, LoRa technology, which had been quiet for a long time due to band licensing issues, has been low-key. Recently, however, Alibaba has cooperated with the China Tower. And Tencent's announcement to join the LoRa Alliance has injected a "cardiotonic agent" into the industry. With the support of Internet giants such as Alibaba and Tencent, LoRa technology will usher in another spring in China.
Alibaba Cloud claims to connect 10 billion devices in the next five years. In April of this year, Alibaba Cloud announced that the IoT platform based on LoRa devices and radio frequency technology has begun commercial trials.
Tencent is focusing on investments in LoRaWAN technology and applications. In July 2018, Tencent also announced plans to establish a LoRaWAN network with its partners in Shenzhen to provide smart solutions for urban, financial, medical, retail and industrial applications.
LoRa technology market has broad prospects
LoRa technology was first developed by the French company Cycleo (founded in 2009) as a patented spread spectrum wireless modulation technology. In 2012, Cycleo was acquired by Semtech of the United States for approximately $5 million. After the acquisition, Semtech promoted the participation of other companies in the LoRa ecosystem. In February 2015, Semtech joined forces with Actility, Cisco and IBM to launch the LoRa Alliance.
After more than three years of development, the LoRa Alliance currently has more than 500 members worldwide and has deployed LoRa networks in more than 100 countries around the world. These networks are spread across the United States, Canada, Brazil, China, Russia, India, Malaysia, Singapore and other countries and regions. Among them, Alibaba is an active promoter of LoRa technology in China. Now with the addition of Tencent, the development of LoRa technology in China will be more noticeable.
Driven by the efforts of many LoRa Alliance members, the market prospects of LoRa technology are also expected. According to data released by IHS Markit, the number of LoRa-based gateways deployed worldwide has exceeded 70,000 in early 2018, and the number of gateways is expected to reach 200,000 by the beginning of 2019. The number of terminal nodes will reach 80 million, and more than 40% are expected to be LoRa-based devices. In 2025, the number of machine-to-machine connections worldwide will grow to 27 billion.
It is not difficult to see that LoRa technology has a broad market prospect. At the same time, this is also curious. What are the “glamours” of LoRa technology in the emerging technologies of the Internet of Things?
Outstanding technical advantages
First of all, from a technical point of view, users can complete LoRa network deployment without relying on operators, compared to the NB-IoT solution with higher cost and energy consumption. Not only is the layout faster, but the cost is lower. LoRa technology has obvious advantages in closed areas such as residential areas, farms, and industrial parks, especially in indoor and underground environments where the NB-IoT signal is weak.
Due to this "lightweight" construction advantage, the layout of the LoRa solution is actually more extensive. At present, 350 cities in 41 countries including the United States, France, and South Korea have begun to use LoRa to conduct network deployment pilots, and a total of 67 network operators are providing services.
In addition, low cost is also an advantage for LoRa compared to NB-IoT technology. Although the development of NB-IoT technology is very strong in recent years, it still has great limitations in terms of cost. Although the price of NB-IoT modules is expected to fall to less than $5 in the future, the current price of chips supporting Bluetooth, Thread and ZigBee is around $2. A chip that only supports one of the standards will cost about $1. The huge price gap will undoubtedly cause enterprises to worry about deploying NB-IoT, which also makes the NB-IoT market not develop rapidly.
Of course, LoRa technology also has a fatal flaw that cannot be moved, which also makes it impossible to achieve deep coverage. From the current stage, the NB-IoT technology that emphasizes unified standards and ultra-high reliability is complementary to the LoRa technology that pursues personalized layout and meets the needs of the scene. Some insiders believe that these two technologies are not absolutely good or bad, each has its own advantages and disadvantages, but it has different needs at different stages.
If deployment is simple and low-cost is one of the advantages of LoRa technology, then the diversified application scenario is another advantage that cannot be ignored. Currently, LoRa technology enables fast and flexible deployment in smart cities, smart water meters, smart parking lots, industry and enterprise-specific applications.
LoRa technology has always been favored by users in the government and enterprise industries. Many government and enterprise users tend to have independent and controllable private networks because of their business characteristics. LoRa technology and LoRaWAN specifications have become the preferred choice for a large number of non-operator users in China due to their flexible and low-cost deployment advantages. For example, LoRa sensors can be used to monitor anomalies in groundwater pipe network testing and in integrated pipeline construction. LoRa technology has a very competitive advantage.
In addition, in smart city applications, if there are smart street lights on both sides of the road, you can use the LoRa network to transmit the use of the light bulbs, and promptly notify the relevant units to maintain, repair and replace the light bulbs;
In terms of smart parking, LoRa technology can save a lot of construction costs due to its flexible deployment features. At the same time, a LoRa gateway can manage LoRa sensors in hundreds of parking spaces to monitor the parking space usage in real time;
In terms of intelligent tracking, the battery life of the terminal is very important for tracking or positioning. Since the cost of the tracking system and battery life must be taken into consideration, it is quite suitable for tracking with LoRa technology;
In terms of smart water meters, the corresponding LoRa modules are installed on the water and electricity meters. This not only saves labor costs, but also remotely and in real-time grasps water and electricity usage and avoids waste;
Of course, in addition to the above-mentioned numerous application scenarios, LoRa technology can also be flexibly deployed in applications such as smart agriculture and intelligent fire protection, and more unexpected application scenarios will be developed in the future.
Large industrial ecological group
From a technical perspective, LoRa is a physical layer modulation technology that can be used in different protocols, such as LoRaWAN protocol, CLAA network protocol, LoRa private network protocol, and LoRa data transparent transmission. The final product and business form will vary depending on the usage agreement.
Among them, LoRaWAN protocol is a low-power WAN protocol promoted by LoRa Alliance. At the same time, LoRa Alliance standardized LoRaWAN to ensure that LoRa networks in different countries are interoperable. Up to now, the LoRaWAN standard has established a complete ecological chain of "LoRa chip-module-sensor-base station or gateway-network service-application service".
The LoRa chip is at the core of the entire industry chain, and its importance is self-evident. It is worth noting that Semtech is the core supplier of LoRa chips and holds the core patent of LoRa's underlying technology. There are two main types of Semtech customers, one is the semiconductor company that is authorized by Semtech LoRa chip IP; the other is the manufacturer that directly uses Semtech chip to make SIP chip, including Microchip.
According to conservative estimates by industry insiders, after three years, LoRa chips will have sales of over 100 million pieces per year. At the same time, the LoRa application market will also receive much attention three years later. So what role does the Internet giants like Alibaba and Tencent play in this?
In March of this year, Alibaba Cloud announced that it will fully enter the field of Internet of Things, from cloud to cloud, tube, edge and end. Alibaba Cloud has developed a LinkWAN IoT platform that supports the LoRa protocol, as well as a rich LoRa product such as LoRa node devices and LoRa gateways. In addition, Ali's investment in the layout of chip companies such as ASR and Zhongtianwei is also very intriguing. In order to promote the expansion of LoRa in China, Alibaba has built LoRa network in Hangzhou and Ningbo this year, and has commercial conditions.
Although it is incomparable with Ali's comprehensive layout, Tencent's joining the LoRa Alliance will undoubtedly inject a "cardiotonic agent" into the industry. To support the further development of the LoRaWAN ecosystem, Tencent has announced plans to establish a LoRaWAN network with its local partners in Shenzhen. LoRaWAN integrated solution from device to edge to cloud for a variety of IoT applications and end users (such as government public services).
At the end of last year, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued the "Technical Requirements for Micropower Short-range Radio Transmitter (Draft for Comment)", which made LoRa's commercial prospects unclear. However, after half a year in the past, LoRa has not disappeared from this, but its vitality has become more tenacious. Many big coffees such as Ali, Tencent, China Unicom, Radio and Television Group and Google have joined the LoRa camp. As the industrial ecology continues to grow, it has also made its strength more and more underestimated.
Operators prefer NB-IOT
China's current IoT technology standard is NB-IoT, and major operators have invested heavily in this standard. In particular, China Telecom has already taken the lead in the domestic application of NB-IoT. NB-IoT and eMTC are both international standards, while the other two are private standards.
The biggest difference between the two is in the spectrum, which is the most valuable asset of these IoT connectivity standards. Simply put, having a spectrum is equivalent to having a legal parking space, and at this point, LoRa and Sigfox are inherently inadequate.
In recent years, Huawei's screaming for NB-IoT has become the norm, and the internationally renowned companies such as Qualcomm and Vodafone officially proposed the concept of NB-IoT in 2015. In addition to Huawei, the three major operators also favor NB-IoT.
Since NB-IoT is a network built by operators, unlike a network such as LoRa, it belongs to an independent network. NB-IoT can be modified on the basis of the communication base station itself, and the network can be built with a small amount of work. Then the operator can master this data channel for charging and increase the number of access terminals both in terms of performance and achievements.
In this case, operators are of course actively promoting NB-IoT.
More importantly, the government also strongly supports the development of NB-IoT. The state has introduced a number of related policies to support NB-IoT. For example, on June 16, 2017, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology officially announced the "Notice on Comprehensively Advancing the Construction and Development of Mobile Internet of Things (NB-IoT)". The notice clearly promotes the development of NB-IoT with 14 measures, and builds 1.5 million NB-IoT base stations by 2020 and develops more than 600 million NB-IoT connections.
There is government support, and there are operators in the middle of the active layout. With the strong support of Huawei, NB-IoT is not difficult in China.
Advantages of NB-IoT
Currently, the NB-IoT standard has been frozen, and China is already in the stage of commercial scale. NB-IoT has four main features, namely wide coverage, low power consumption, large connection, and low cost.
In terms of power consumption, NB-IoT sacrificed the rate and switched back to lower power consumption. With a simplified protocol and a more suitable design, the standby time of the terminal is greatly improved. For some NB terminals, the standby time can be claimed to be 10 years.
In terms of signal coverage, NB-IoT has better coverage (20dB gain), even if the water meter is buried under the manhole cover, it will not affect the signal transmission and reception.
In terms of the number of connections, each cell can support 50,000 terminals.
In terms of cost, it is a highlight of NB-IoT. The cost of the communication module is very low, and each module is expected to be pressed to within $5 or even lower, which is conducive to mass purchase and use. According to Moore's Law, it can be concluded that the cost can be reduced to less than one dollar in less than 40 months.
In terms of NB-IoT, operators have more say. They build networks on their behalf, and owners don't have to worry about base station deployment. However, the quality of the network depends on the operator and the owner cannot control it. Moreover, the data must pass through the operator, and the owner needs to connect with the operator to obtain business data. There is a problem with confidentiality and operational data is not manageable. On the other hand, NB-IoT can be modified based on domestic off-the-shelf base stations, and it is very easy to build a network.
LoRa is just the opposite. The owner (enterprise) can control the quality of the network independently, and can quickly optimize and supplement the network coverage. It can also operate independently and take the operational data in its own hands. It is especially free to expand the network according to business needs. However, the construction of the LoRa base station is rather uncomfortable. There are still many troubles in selecting and powering the base station.
Powerful companies such as Tencent and Ali care more about freedom and mastership. The three major operators prefer a standard of NB-IoT. After the standard is clarified, it is also more conducive to the prosperity of the industrial ecology. The mass production of the terminal module chip brings about a reduction in price. The unification of platforms and applications brings a more focused development direction.
The article is synthesized from OFweek, Jiwei.com, China Telecom, etc., and is organized by the official account "Global Internet of Things Observation".