LoRa, the low energy network to connect all Things

The word on the block is that we’ll be surrounded by 25 billion connected things, if not more, by 2020. Behind the jaw-dropping number are hundreds of new uses that are set to improve the ways we manage our living environment. Not to mention the special requirements in terms of connectivity that will be met by LoRa, a network unlike any other. It doesn’t go in for headline-grabbing speeches, but gives a voice to innumerable interlocutors, says Jean Schwoerer, IoT Networks Research Project Leader.

What need will LoRa satisfy?

The generally accepted approach to network development is to pursue ever-higher broadband speeds to meet the needs of ever-more bandwidth-hungry usage. But LoRa does not correspond to this classic scenario, as it has a completely different function. It’s an answer to the very specific issue of connectivity for the Internet of Things (IoT). Right off, you can imagine a myriad of ultra-connected things, talking among themselves and to the world around them. But we forget that many things are currently inert. The vast majority of them quite simply have no electricity supply. Building-in a classic mobile system, which is especially energy hungry, would be inappropriate. The LoRa challenge is to build a communication function into Things with restricted use.

 

How would that sort of network operate?

The priority was to simplify radio equipment to decrease their energy consumption. That led to the creation of Low Power Wide Range (LPWA) networks, including LoRaWAN, the acronym for "Long Range Wide-Area Network", the version chosen by Orange. The LoRa network consumes very little and the objects connected to it can operate for several years on battery power. At the same time, it has a very wide range that can reach things in locations that are hard to access, such as basements, or a building’s technical ducting. In exchange, it’s a network that can do fewer things, because the best way to avoid consuming is quite simply to do nothing! Unlike a mobile phone that is always on and consumes electricity continuously, a LoRa device can’t be contacted at any time. It activates periodically and uses the wake-up call to check whether there are any data for it and possibly to transmit its own data.

 

What is the environmental dimension of LoRa?

The technology emits signals using a very low voltage and consumes very little energy, but you can’t compare it to the mobile phone network because the way it is used is completely different. This also means it is the use itself that will deliver environmental solutions. All these connected things are set to revolutionise the way we manage our consumption. In particular, they will help detect energy anomalies or wastage at an earlier stage. When a water meter is read on a daily basis, for example, rather than every six months, we will realise much earlier if there is a leak, for example. These huge networks of sensors will gather more data in a more fine-grained way and will optimise flows eg, of energy, or of city traffic. In short, we will be able to obtain more accurate information about our environment to help us manage it better day-to-day, adapt it, and correct any mistakes.

When will all this be rolled out?

LoRa will be deployed in 2016 to meet an already very strong present need for connectivity between things. With the IoT, we need real national coverage in very short order, whereas standards like 4G or 5G take longer to deploy throughout a country. Orange launched its IoT project in 2011, to study the potential connectivity of these things and radio communication systems in depth. Working with a test network in Grenoble totally convinced us to adopt LoRa technology to get ahead of the 5G curve and provide an effective, long-term solution for connectivity among Things. The offering will subsequently be enriched with the advent of standardised technology that uses existing mobile networks such as LTE-M or EC-GSM, which will precede the arrival of 5G.

Already, we are going to rapidly deploy the LoRa network in 1,200 communities in 17 French cities in the first quarter of 2016. With more exchanges and lower energy, the Internet of Things starts here!


Au coeur du réseau expérimental LoRa à Grenoble par Orange

 

Applications for LoRa and the IoT

  • Energy and fluids management, with, for example, temperature monitoring to run climate control systems inside a building, or take water and electricity meter readings.
  • Lower cost device tracking, to optimise corporate logistics.
  • Improving urban monitoring, which will help to better track urban flows by, eg, identifying free parking spaces and directing motorists towards them, thereby easing traffic congestion and minimising fuel consumption. Towns and cities would also equip with smart street lighting systems that adjust to the real needs of pedestrians.

These are just a few examples, and it’s difficult to predict tomorrow’s usage today. While most of the demand currently corresponds to professional applications, we could easily imagine, say, a connected collar to ensure you never lose your dog, or a set of keys that will alert you if you have left them at the office. We are in a brand-new field, here, that of emerging usage. The possibilities of this technology, which complements mobile technology, are virtually limitless and are simply waiting to be discovered.

 

Find out more

  1. Orange deploys a network for the Internet of Things
  2. Urban Environment Management in Nice
  3. Orange Digital Ventures invests in the IoT
  4. The research vision for the Internet of Things
  5. Discover our 4G and LoRa kits for IOT