Supply chain
LPWAN reduces maintenance and operation costs of IoT devices with long life cycles
Vincent Mao, Taipei; Willis Ke, DIGITIMES

The value of emerging smart IoT (Internet of Things) applications can be shown based on low power wide area networks (LPWAN) that boast high safety, low cost and easy management, and among LPWAN solutions, the LoRa technology has been kicking off.

Global demand for LPWAN solutions has been on the rise, and they can be separated into two groups: solutions operating in an unlicensed spectrum, such as SigFox and LoRa; and those operating in a licensed spectrum, including LTE CAT-M and NB-IoT promoted by 3GPP.

LPWAN solutions have attracted much attention mainly because its lower power consumption is a feature very crucial to the IoT applications that have long life cycles. In many application scenarios, sensors are widely scattered, such as those for monitoring offshore oil rigs or tracking wild cattle on pasturelands. Once initial deployments are completed, follow-up inspections and maintenances will involve high costs. If the power capacity of the data transmission modules can cover the whole equipment life cycle, the maintenance cost and efficiency of the equipment will lower significantly.

Lin Yu-hsiung, senior product manager at Taiwan industrial PC maker Advantech, pointed out manufacturing plants have to often collect data about water, electricity and gas consumptions. In the past, the machine-to-machine (M2M) transmission of such data, though small in volume, still relied heavily on 2G and GPRS networks with high power consumption. The large batteries installed at the transmission devices entail higher follow-up maintenance cost, limiting the areas of their application.

LPWANs, however, are quite suitable for long-range and small-data-volume management application scenarios, as they can handle long-distance transmission of small data volume with low power consumption. Through wireless transmission, the data can be sent to the cloud. At the moment, LPWANs are often used for street light management, parking space management and data collection by farming, fishing and livestock industries.

LPWAN boasts wide applications

Citing parking space management as an example, Lin said that if a parking lot can conduct remote collection of data concerning the usage situation of parking spaces, the parking lot can guide drivers to quickly park their cars at vacant spaces. In this regard, Advantech has developed smart parking sensors based on the LoRaWAN standard, which can transmit small data packet at regular intervals to update the state of parking space usage.

As LoRa technology can lower battery maintenance cost and can collect data from hundreds of sensor nodes within the transmission range, Advantech has assisted many operators in boosting the utilization efficiency of parking spaces on roadsides.

Lin pointed out there are many aquaculture farms in Taiwan, such as those for sturgeon farms that involve highly complicated farming technologies. Farmers have to regularly monitor the water's quality, oxygen level, pH value and temperatures in order to prevent undesirable environmental factors from affecting the growth of the fish.

But most of Taiwan's aquaculture farms are spread across the southern coast and some are even located in areas on high mountains. The transmission nodes in these scenarios are widely scattered, and their managers usually fail to regularly inspect transmission equipment. In this aspect, LPWAN systems can be well applied to conduct outdoor IoT data collection.

LoRaWAN helps users quickly build private transmission networks

Although some local telecom firms have started to offer LPWAN data transmission services, their signals, however, are relatively weak when reaching coastal aquaculture farms. This can be addressed with Advantech's LoRa IoT Gateway, which can help users quickly build their own private communication networks without going through cloud servers, and can allow them to collect data from 500 sensor nodes at one time, according to Lin.

In terms of benefits for users, the single LoRaWAN IoT Gateway boasts a transmission and reception range of 10 kilometers in open-air environments, allowing users to reduce their monthly cost of renting telecom base stations as they can directly transmit data through their private LoRA networks instead of the base stations. Moreover, data transmission safety can be further secured as the data will not have to be stored in the cloud through telecom networks.

Advantech integrates software and hardware to accelerate LPWAN development

While LPWAN is suitable for outdoor data collection, Advantech's LoRa IoT Gateway is mainly for indoor use, but it can also be well applied outdoors, according to Lin. Advantech has assisted customers in utilizing LoRaWAN for parking lot management by installing the gateway inside an on-site large-sized ticket processing system, which can be operated under industrial environments with wide temperature ranges.

Currently, there are many LPWAN solutions available in the market. Compared with other suppliers, Advantech boasts strong advantages in technology coverage and system integration. While most suppliers concentrate on transmission modules, Advantech's software and hardware integration kits can help customers accelerate their LPWAN applications. For instance, the firm's LoRa IoT Gateway can be bundled with WISE-Paas platform to help customers conduct remote equipment management and provide a data flow logical editor that can immediately present the data in various forms of diagrams for reference in developing self-use applications.

Lin concluded that LPWAN is ideal for application at cost-conscious application scenarios to handle long-range transmission of small-volume data with low power consumption, although it is unable to replace all wireless transmission applications, such as high-speed, real-time transmission of images and machine visions that require the support of other transmission technologies.

Lin Yu-hsiung, senior product manager at Advantech

Lin Yu-hsiung, senior product manager at Advantech
Photo: Company

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