Updated: Feb 4, 2021
Have you ever thought about rolling out a private wireless Industrial IoT network? If so, chances are you have thought about LP-WAN technologies such as LoRaWAN, but have you considered your options? We wrote this article to help compare 2 of the most common wireless protocols for IoT in industry and where they excel as well as some commonly misunderstood limitations.
With the IoT (Internet of Things) growing at a breakneck pace, there is a lot of interest and also a lot of confusion about the low powered wireless protocols in IoT devices available today…
The global internet of things (IoT) market was valued at US$ 190.0 Bn in 2018 and is projected to reach US$ 1,102.6 Bn by 2026, exhibit... https://www.fortunebusinessinsights.com/industry-reports/100307
In this article, I compare 2 of the most common private wireless Industrial IoT networks available, both having distinct advantages and disadvantages.
What is an LP-WAN?
An LP-WAN is a Low Power Wide Area Network, which is characterised by both low power consumption, low bandwidth (data rates) and long-range radio communications. This makes LP-WANs a great technology for battery powered remote sensing and Industrial IoT use cases in industries such as Water/Power Utilities, Agriculture, Smart Cities, Mining and Resources.
Private vs Public IoT Networks?
There are private IoT Wireless Protocols, owned by the user, such as Zigbee, Dash7, Bluetooth, WiFi and then there are public Wireless Protocols such as NB-IoT, Sigfox and LTE-M, where the infrastructure is owned by a corporation and provided as a service to the user. LoRaWAN can be both private or public, depending upon the network setup.
How do LoRAWAN and Zigbee IEEE 802.15.4 Compare?
LoRaWAN has a star topology, which means each node needs to communicate directly with a gateway and is used for low cost sensing applications. LoRaWAN is well suited for simple sensing applications, where sensors are battery powered and have slow poll rates (data update rate) in the range of a few times per day up to 2-5 minute intervals.
Zigbee has a more flexible, reliable and expandable mesh network topology, built for reliability with ‘self-healing’ capabilities and nodes that can communicate with any other node on the mesh network, multi-hopping for very long distances and used for monitoring, control and automation applications. Zigbee is also low power and with the correct device design, is ideal for battery operated sensing applications, including applications requiring high speed polling and high reliability, such as control/automation in addition to real-time sensing requirements such as equipment condition monitoring or process instrumentation.
LoRaWAN might have received a lot more media attention in recent years, as compared with Zigbee, however they are both low power IoT networks and Zigbee also has long range options that can rival the distances of LoRaWAN or even exceed the range with multi-hopping in the mesh networks. Zigbee is also a more reliable protocol, with a longer standing history in industry, used for both monitoring and control, whereas LoRaWAN is limited to the use of low cost, low power sensing.
This extract is from TTN (The Things Network). https://www.thethingsnetwork.org/docs/lorawan/limitations.html
Limitations of LoRaWAN.
LoRaWAN is not suitable for every use-case, so it is important that you understand the limitations. Here’s a quick overview:
Not Suitable for LoRaWAN:
Realtime data - you can only send small packets every couple of minutes
Phone calls - you can do that with GPRS/3G/LTE
Controlling lights in your house - check out ZigBee or BlueTooth
Sending photos, watching Netflix - check out WiFi
Comparison of Advantages and Disadvantages of LoRaWAN vs Zigbee IEEE 802.15.4:
Where is LoRaWAN better suited than Zigbee? The big advantages of LoRaWAN is low cost for long range, which provides ‘bang for buck’ in battery powered sensing applications. There is also a large open-source community behind the technology and free gateways for nodes to connect to with community driven networks (such as The Things Network), which is good for developers and communities. The star topology is simple to work with and easy to achieve long battery life with slow poll-rates. So if you are looking for a cheap and cheerful battery powered sensing project, where no real-time, control or automation requirements are anticipated and slower poll-rates are suitable, then LoRaWAN is a good contender and is a good choice for many entry-level sensing applications. If control, automation or faster poll rates will be needed, then you'll need to step up to a more serious industrial wireless protocol. Summary of LoRaWAN VS Zigbee... In summary, both LoRaWAN and Zigbee have their place in the ever evolving and growing field of IoT. LoRaWAN is great for low cost, open source community driven applications in low poll rate sensing only. Zigbee is a clear winner for industrial applications that require reliability, real-time monitoring, control or automation and this protocol is highly under-rated for low power sensing. I hope this article has been useful for those out there considering taking the plunge into the wide world of Industrial IoT. Please feel free to comment or contact us.
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