LPWAN Technologies: A Game Changer for Smart Cities


Smart cities represent the ultimate urban development vision, which aims at optimizing the management of a city’s assets in order to improve sustainability and the citizens’ quality of life. In most cases, smart cities are long term strategic projects, which involve the establishment of proper technology infrastructures and subsequently the development of services that alleviate urbanization pressures and resources’ depletion, while at the same time supporting the citizens’ changing lifestyles.

The development of a proper infrastructure is among the most critical parts of a city’s development plan for two main reasons. First it is the part on which most services depend and as such it should provide scalability, reliability and quality of service. Second, it requires significant capital investments, which are hardly affordable by some cities. Hence, it is important to establish infrastructures that require the lowest possible deployment costs, while being able to scale in a cost-effective way. From a technical perspective, the required technological infrastructures fall in the realm of the Internet-of-Things (IoT), as they comprise broadband and wireless networks along with internet-connected devices such as sensors and smart object. In this context, legacy technologies such as Wi-Fi and cellular networks (e.g., 3G/4G and LTE (Long Term Evolution)) carry already most of the IoT traffic in smart cities. However, during the last couple of years we have also witnessed the rise of LPWAN (Low-power WAN) technologies, which are disrupting the IoT infrastructures landscape and hold the promise to revolutionize the deployment of smart cities as well.

Some of the most popular LPWAN technologies are:

  • LoRaWAN™, which is specified by the Lora Alliance and supports the connectivity of wireless battery operated things. It operates in regional, national and global scopes, which makes it suitable for city deployments at multiple spatial scales. LoRaWAN™ supports IoT applications in smart cities in terms of secure bi-directional communications, mobility, localization and interoperability services. Most important, LoRaWAN is deployed in a flexible and cost effective way, which obviates the need for complex installations in order to interconnect IoT devices. As such it facilitates cities, business and other stakeholders to deploy enterprise scale IoT infrastructures and to roll out services on top of them. The deployment a LoRaWAN network is usually based on a star-of-stars topology, which comprises gateways that transfer relay messages between connected devices and a back-end server, based on IP connections. End devices such as sensors and smart meters connect to the gateways based on wireless connectivity using various frequency channels and adaptive data rates[1], which depend on communication range and the volume of exchanged data.
  • ​NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT), which takes advantage of cellular telecommunications bands in order to provide devices’ connectivity. NB-IoT is a narrowband radio technology, which is standardized by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). It provides excellent indoor coverage at a low cost, which ensuring long battery life for the connected devices.
  • Ultra Narrow Band (UNB) technology, which is transmitting over very narrow spectrum channel, (i.e. typically <1KHz) in order to achieve ultra-long distance linking of transmitters and receivers. UNB technology is used by SigFox for its IoT deployments that include quite sophisticated base stations.

There are also other, less widely used technologies such as Haystack, LTE Advanced for Machine Type Communications (LTE-MTC) and Random phase multiple access (RPMA).

LPWAN technologies should not be seen as a replacement of other IoT-related networking technologies. Rather, they are an excellent complement to other types of networks (e.g., 3G/4G, satellite), which facilitates the interconnection of assets and devices that are dispersed across a wide area, including devices that are not properly covered/supported by pre-existing cellular (or other) networking technologies. For example, NB-IoT and LTE are both specified by 3GPP in order to cover different networking needs in the LTE spectrum. Overall, LPWAN technologies complement existing networking infrastructures in smart cities, as a means of facilitating the rapid deployment of various IoT applications, which can be hardly supported based on existing networks.

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Mr. Fellah, is a Senior Analyst and founder of Maravedis with 20-year experience in the wireless industry. He authored various landmark reports on Wi-Fi, LTE, 4G and technology trends in various industries including retail, restaurant and hospitality. He is regularly asked to speak at leading wireless and marketing events and to contribute to various influential portals and magazines such as RCR Wireless, 4G 360, Rethink Wireless, The Mobile Network, Telecom Reseller to name a few. He is a Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) and Certified Wireless Technology Specialist (CWTS).


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