Internet-of-Things (IoT) technology has undoubtedly been effective for LPWAN (low-power wide-area networking) communication and operation.
This success is largely as a result of the underlying applications of LoRa and LoRaWAN technology.
It is easy to confuse both LoRa and LoRaWAN or even assume they are the same.
To put simply, LoRa is only a radio-frequency signal/modulation technique while LoRaWAN is the network protocol that links the signal to the application.
However, we will do a more detailed study to explain the differences between LoRa and LoRaWAN technology.
What is LoRa?
LoRa Technology is the DNA of IoT, connecting sensors to the Cloud and enabling real-time communication of data and analytics that you can use to enhance efficiency and productivity.
Owned and developed by Semtech company, LoRa is a radio-frequency signal carrier signal in the PHY layer of telecommunications devices.
Since these devices are built in layers for network connectivity operations, LoRa sends data via these signals.
Modulation frequencies are then determined by region frequency requirements for varying locations all over the world.
LoRa technology has been continuously modified by Semtech over the years to meet key IoT functionalities.
In trying to understand telecommunications architecture better, we know that there are about seven layers in data operation.
LoRa exists in the physical layer (PHY) and primarily encodes data transfer specifications just before sending to the data link layer.
After data transfer layer executes its operations, transition can then be made through the other five layers.
What are the main features of LoRa?
These are the main features of LoRa at a glance.
- Exists in the PHY layer of a telecommunications architecture
- Works for long-range data communication and transfer between smart devices and cloud
- Uses the Chirp spread spectrum (CSS) to encode data signals and to define radio-frequency modulation technique
- Communication range of about 10 km under fully optimized conditions
- Used in applications such as smart devices (wearables, sensor and detectors), engineering, business and agriculture
What is LoRaWAN Technology?
LoRaWAN technology (Long-range wide area network) is the technology that provides the protocol or link for LoRa application.
Developed by LoRa Alliance, LoRaWAN is the media access control (MAC) layer linked to the LoRa (PHY) layer.
A LoRa device essentially is unable to operate IoT services without the protocol and architecture network defined by LoRaWAN.
Existing in the data transfer layer of the device-cloud architecture, LoRaWAN uses its minimal battery power usage to provide wireless communication for IoT devices connected to a cloud network.
What are the main features of LoRaWAN?
Exists in the data link layer (MAC sub-layer) of the IoT network
Wide range of data communication and connectivity
Low battery power consumption
Bidirectional telecommunications solutions
Provides an unlicensed spectrum for IoT device communication
Differences Between LoRa and LoRaWAN technology – A Comparison Approach
Having understood LoRa and LoRaWAN from a general perspective, these are the differences based on the comparison of some features/applications.
1. IoT Device Architecture
LoRa is found in the physical (PHY) layer whereas LoRaWAN exists in the media access control sub-layer (MAC) of the data transfer layer.
2. Management/Company Details
LoRa technology was developed and is managed by Semtech company while LoRaWAN was designed and is maintained by the LoRa Alliance.
3. Network Protocol
LoRaWAN provides the network protocol for data traffic management which is impossible under LoRa. That is, LoRa only being the PHY layer cannot perform network protocol operation without LoRaWAN.
4. Underlying Technique
In the case of LoRa, the modulation technique is known as the Chirp Spread Spectrum (CSS).
This spectrum ensures data communication over a low-power network. However, CSS cannot be used in the case of LoRaWAN because of frequent network collisions from multiple devices.
LoRaWAN, therefore, uses the MAC protocol to handle its IoT network communication.
5. Allowable Deployment Frequency
Unlike LoRaWAN technology, LoRa has varying frequency modulation for specific deployment from one region to another.
For instance, allowable band in North America is 915 MHz while in Europe it is 868 MHz.
6. LoRa-based Device Classifications
IoT devices are only classified based on MAC layer (LoRaWAN) operations and not on the PHY (LoRa) layer. These classes of devices therefore operate through a bi-directional data communication to the cloud via gateways. They include Class A, Class B and Class C.
Class A Devices
These LoRaWAN based devices involve a bi-directional (downlink) operation of data from the network server back to IoT devices after an initial uplink communication.
They consume lowest battery usage and are mostly used for emergency IoT services like fire and early earthquake detection.
Class B Devices
These are also bi-directional devices with programmed receive slots. These end-devices usually have an additional time-scheduled downlink compared to Class A devices.
The end-device indicates its receipt of the time-synchronized beacon via the downlink sent from the gateway. Smart metering devices are one of the most common applications of Class B devices.
Class C Devices
Class C end-devices are known to consume higher amounts of energy. Their IoT operation also involves maximal downlink receive slots, unlike A and B.
These devices are known to show near zero degree of latency for IoT network communication.
That is, they have real-time server transmission and continuous end-device data signalling.
Class C devices are used for operation management such as in fleet and real-time traffic management.
7. Deployment Cases
LoRaWAN is mostly suitable for IoT deployments that see to the continuous monitoring of data communication networks using bi-directional gateway alerts.
Therefore, LoRaWAN IoT technology generally afford long-lasting battery life up to about ten years or even more.
On the other hand, LoRa deployments mostly involve smart metering, sensors and detectors, and monitoring agriculture.
Smart IoT technologies are clearly crucial for effective LPWAN communication. This will be impossible without a combination of both LoRa and LoRaWAN technologies.
However, it’s good to know where the borders exist for both the radio-frequency signal in the PHY layer (LoRa) and the MAC layer/data link layer (LoRaWAN) that provides the network protocol.
This article explains all the underlying differences between LoRa and LoRaWAN technology.