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1 in 4 wireless IIoT connections will use LPWA by 2025

25 October, 2017

Low-power, wide-area (LPWA) communications technologies will account for about a quarter of wireless IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) connections by 2025, according to a new forecast from the IoT analyst, ON Power. It predicts that the number of LPWA devices being used for industrial wireless sensing, tracking and control applications will climb from around 35 million in 2016, to close to half a billion by 2025.

LPWA technologies provide long-range communications at low bit rates – typically connecting battery-operated devices such as sensors. They are more efficient than mobile networks and can support more connected devices over larger areas. They can accommodate packet sizes from 10–1,000 bytes at uplink speeds up to 200kbit/s, and have operating ranges from 2–1,000 km, depending on the technology.

The low power, low bit-rate and their intended use distinguish these networks from conventional wireless WANs, which carry more data and use more power.

For IIoT developers who have spent years with wireless mesh sensor network technologies, such as WirelessHart and ISA100, the new LPWA technologies are disruptive, ON World suggests. They also represent a new opportunity to extend wireless sensor networks with hybrid wireless sensing systems.

“In addition to enabling new markets and services, LPWA technologies are disrupting industrial IoT by giving sensors multi-year battery lifetimes and multiple mile ranges,” says ON World research director, Mareca Hatler. “LPWA hybrid devices that combine two radios – licensed and unlicensed – are a growing opportunity for IoT developers to extend industrial wireless sensing and asset-tracking solutions.”

According to ON World, LPWA technologies such as LoRa, Sigfox, LTE-M and NB-IoT will make up most of the expected growth.

LPWA communications are supported by various technologies with differing characteristics
Source: Cisco

Much of Europe and many parts of the Asia-Pacific region are already covered by the Sigfox and LoRa networks, with LPWA services being offered by telecom operators such as Arqiva, Bouygues, Orange, KPN, Proximus and Swisscom, as well as dedicated IoT operators such as Thinxtra in Australia. ON World predicts that in the US, LoRa will have the largest private unlicensed industrial LPWA network growth, while LTE-M1 will do the same for licensed public networks.

LTE-M1 chip suppliers and network developers have created several energy-saving techniques that allow these technologies to achieve device battery lives of more than five years. With 100ms latency levels and 1Mbps data rates, ON World predicts that LTE-M1 will capture a large slice of the LPWA industrial IoT market. Networks based on these chips will soon cover the US as well as much of Asia and Australia.

NB-IoT will also be an important industrial LPWA technology, but incompatible protocols and the focus on LTE-M1 development by 4G network providers will delay large-scale deployment by several years.

Multi-radio modules are creating new opportunities for industrial IoT developers, ON World adds. The first variations are multi-radio LPWA modules with integrated short-range radios, such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and 802.15.4. Another trend is hybrid LPWA chipsets/modules that have two LPWA radios – a low-bitrate radio for long device lifetimes, and a high-bitrate, low-latency radio for advanced functions and over-the-air updates. GCT Semiconductor, for example, is offering a chip that combines Sigfox and LTE-M1/NB1.

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