How various LPWA technologies serve the requirements and industries of respective enterprises.

19 Oct 2018

The Internet of Things (IoT) has gained tremendous traction over a relatively short span of time, quickly finding its way into households, offices, factories and smart cities. Buoyed by surging demand predicted to exceed 20 billion IoT devices in 2020, a new generation of connected devices characterised by low-cost, low-power connectivity is on the rise.


Understanding LPWA

Designed with the ability to operate for extended periods of time while powered by batteries, Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technologies are the proposed solution for powering IoT devices destined for remote locations or low-maintenance deployments. And it is gaining momentum rapidly, with market research firm IDTechEx Research predicting as many as 2.7 billion low power wide area networking (LPWAN) IoT connections by 2029.

The low-power characteristic of LPWA is achieved partly by limiting throughput with more infrequent uploads or smaller message payloads. There are other benefits of LPWA though, such as the comparatively lower costs of devices. For now, they tend to be developed and deployed within specific industry verticals, such as in manufacturing environments or hospitals.

Many LPWAN IoT devices currently deployed today rely on unlicensed spectrum for wireless connectivity. Considering that some connected devices have been around for decades, it should be no surprise that spectrum usage varies widely. There are those that use the ISM bands reserved for use by industrial, scientific and medical purposes, unlicensed 2.4GHz or 5GHz, or even any old frequency band.

On the licensed end of the spectrum are emerging technologies based on 3GPP standards created by collaboration between telecommunications standards associations. Based on cellular standards and designed to be cost-competitive with unlicensed LPWA IoT options, connections of these devices are expected to surpass those from the former by 2021, according to IDTechEx.


Picking a winner

With the growing importance of IoT deployments, how can enterprises decide on which LPWA technology is best suited for their IoT deployment? Inherent to this question is the desire to choose the standard that will be the most widely deployed in the years ahead, and the desire by organisations not to invest in a platform that proves unpopular.

Picking a winner in LPWA can be inordinately challenging, given the many strong contenders out there. Key technologies range from LoRaWAN, Sigfox and Weightless on the unlicensed radio spectrum end, and cellular NB-IoT and LTE-M on the licensed end – also known as mobile IoT.

Despite its relatively late start, development on mobile IoT is progressing rapidly with new lower-cost devices that promises up to 10 years of battery life. Its advantage in coverage also means that NB-IoT is currently making rapid inroads with many large-scale or high-profile trials around the globe.

Moreover, while a recent report from ABI Research points to Sigfox capturing the largest share of public LPWA connections globally courtesy of its first mover advantage in places such as in Europe, the same report predicts that the market share dominance of non-cellular LPWAN will be ceded to cellular LPWA by 2023.


The right tool for the job

So which LPWA technology should enterprises evaluate more closely? Despite their shared objective of connecting remote devices, there are important differences between the various solutions, either in terms of coverage, bandwidth, susceptibility to interference, power consumption or reliability.

For instance, NB-IoT excels at handling high volume, static sensor deployments, while LTE-M is better suited for usage scenarios that require real-time monitoring. There may also be restrictions and limitations depending on the geographical location and the exact nature of an IoT deployment. On its part, the French-developed Sigfox can communicate with buried underground equipment but may cause strong interference to nearby wideband systems.

What this means is that no one LPWA solution can realistically serve all IoT use cases. For sure, the jury is still out on NB-IoT and the acceptance of its subscription model. Proprietary standards are also not resting on their laurels but can be expected to keep innovating. With constant new development, it remains to be seen how the various LPWA technologies will pan out.

To succeed, enterprises must avoid seeing the forest for the trees, but instead adopt a strategic approach to pick and mix the correct combination of technologies to serve their unique requirements and industry niches, regardless of whether it uses unlicensed radio spectrum or mobile IoT.

Find out more on what you can achieve with StarHub’s dual band nationwide NB-IoT network in the new age of LPWAN at

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Mobile phone network and wireless communication concept - Internet of Things ( IOT ), Information Communication Technology ( ICT )
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