Christo Keyser, IOT engineer, Comsol.
The adoption of the long-range-low-power (LORA) protocol has exploded around the world over the past year as organizations across industries seek secure, low-power solutions for IOT. That’s according to Christo Keyser, IOT engineer at Comsol, who notes that adoption is expected to increase in South Africa soon.
“South Africa has only one LORA network operated publicly through Comsol, although there are approximately 1.2 million LORA gateways deployed worldwide,” he says.
“During the lockdown in 2020, the use and deployment of LORA has skyrocketed. It is becoming a rapidly growing standard due to its low power consumption delivered over long distances, and the market realizes that LORA technology is more advanced than other low power networks for data delivery.
Unpacking the IOT
Keyser defines IOT as the connection of physical devices embedded with sensors and software to monitor and control anything on the Internet – and is not about people. “It is a question of recovering the values of the sensors in the field, such as the detection of the ground temperature or of remote movements in real time. People also want computers to make decisions instead of passing data to a human for evaluation. They want this process to be automated, sending the data to a larger back-end decision-making application so they can decide on the appropriate next step, ”he says.
However, for this to work, the data must be scanned. Keyser explains, “This means taking the analog values received from sensors and devices in the field and digitizing the data so that computers can make decisions based on it. “
Digitizing and analyzing data allows you to identify trends. “If the temperature drops below a predetermined number in a greenhouse, the system generates an alarm and the computer can automatically take appropriate action to raise the temperature.”
Connecting data streams
Organizations typically want to connect multiple IOT data streams, for example, combining weather forecasts with actual data relative to soil conditions to identify trends that could impact farming operations, he says.
Keyser cites the example of a smart city initiative, where sensors were placed in 10 parking spaces, including two for disabled users. It was quickly detected that these two bays were specifically occupied briefly but frequently in the early morning and late afternoon. It was then determined that people were using these bays for drop-offs, prompting the customer to allocate bays specifically for drop-off purposes, freeing up disabled parking spaces.
The importance of low power
The sensors should send small packets of data (such as from a motion detector, tracker, or thermometer) over great distances without requiring frequent battery changes. “This brings us to the role of LPWAN (low power wide area network) and LORA (long-range-low-power),” he says. “LORA is a relatively new secure protocol used to send data from devices in the field typically using battery-powered devices for areas with low electricity or when it is simply not practical to have power. ‘electricity.
LORA is perfect for that. A LORA sensor will wake up, send the message, and then go back to sleep, effectively exploiting an event-based triggering philosophy. The encrypted data passes through a fleet of gateways to transmit the message to the LNS (LORA Network Server).
Most battery-powered devices last between one and five years before the battery needs to be replaced and have the advantage of requiring very little power while still being able to transmit data over a long distance.
LORA vs GSM
A LORAWAN network has multiple advantages over a GSM network, Keyser explains: “While LORA gateways typically use a broadband Internet connection to transmit their data, when such a connection does not exist, the GSM network is occasionally used to carry data from the gateway to the main network controller.
The big advantage is visible when the end device is a cell phone or a tracker that uses GSM as they require much more power. According to Keyser: “Yes, you can transmit a lot more data over GSM, but the power consumption makes it difficult to use a battery-powered device that can last. Also, consider the distance between a terminal and a cell phone tower, which affects the distance and speed at which data can be transmitted. A sensor should be located closer to a GSM tower than a LORA tower.
LORA also offers advantages over GSM in terms of cost, he notes. “LORA devices are less expensive than GSM devices, which makes expanding solutions and applications much more affordable. Traditionally, GSM devices have required a SIM card, which adds to the complexity of managing multiple SIM cards on many devices. LORA does not require a SIM card to provision and manage the terminals, ”he says.
Long range in the field
While in urban areas and shopping malls less long distance coverage is required, LORA solutions are invaluable for agricultural applications and utilize game reserves or smart city applications.
LORA devices can be deployed in remote areas that don’t have cell phone signals, he says.
As an open standard, anyone can create a LORA network and use the public network. Keyser likens it to a public WiFi network. “A service provider maintains the WiFi access points and the network, the user subscribes to it and uses it.”
There are a myriad of apps, Keyser says: Tracking livestock, assets, monitoring crops and weather, retrieving water meter readings and, yes, even tracking your dog are just that. just a few examples, covering agriculture, mining, logistics, smart cities and facilities management, to name a few.
Stand out in the LORA arena
Because LORA offers multiple benefits including low power consumption, long battery life, long distance to transmit, and low cost devices, this is now one of the value propositions. the most profitable in the IOT ecosystem.
What sets a LORA network operator apart from the competition? Keyser clarifies, “Because anyone can set up a LORA network, the operator must establish a differentiator which will typically be the LORA network server that optimizes the solution and the battery life of the devices. In addition, helping users by setting up the network and managing sites with radio gateways is an important added value. The majority of users are only interested in the end result, that is, the data. So, helping them get hold of sensors, design a network for them, and help them with a dashboard that shows their data can be invaluable.
“Your typical IOT project has three components: there’s the sensor in the field, on an asset, or inside a building that records real-world values and transmits them as a radio message. The transport of this message via the Internet network. Then, third, there is the back-end or dashboard of the app, where data is logged, analyzes performed, and actions taken. Offering it as a managed solution can help customers take advantage of opportunities in emerging technologies such as cloud, AI, big data, and smart devices without having to invest in infrastructure or prerequisite skills, which allows the client to focus on their core business and not on the enabling technology. “