Hardy Schmidbauer, Semtech Corporation
Most people in the Internet of Things (IoT) market have identified Smart Building applications as an attractive, high-volume vertical market segment with significant value or savings when using Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technology. There are many use cases within the smart building realm which are already demonstrating a strong return on investment (ROI) for many solution providers and volume enterprise clients including space optimization (square footage reduction), indoor/outdoor security, energy consumption, water consumption, water leak detection, and improvements for operation processes, such as cleaning and regulatory compliance (food, pest, safety). The new LoRa® Smart Building Kit from Semtech allows companies and solution providers to easily test, validate and determine the ROI of using LoRaWAN® technology for Smart Building applications. The kit includes more than 20 sensors, two gateways and a web-based smart-building-focused user interface, all for less than $1,000.
Why LoRaWAN for Smart Building IoT?
LoRaWAN provides many unique features, both technical and business-related, which make the technology ideal for Smart Building applications. These features include coverage, non-professional installation, device cost, device battery lifetime, deployment model flexibility, and business model optimization. The Smart Building kit provides a platform that is easy to use for trial and validation of all the LoRaWAN features discussed in this tech journal.
LoRa devices and the LoRaWAN protocol are ideal for smart buildings because of the range and coverage achieved with the technology. A low cost gateway placed indoors can easily cover an entire building, even in the most challenging of locations—from underground parking garages to deep inside industrial freezers, which can act as quasi-faraday cages. The infrastructure cost to achieve network coverage for a large building is minimal, ranging from as little as $30 to a few hundred dollars, depending on the size of the building and gateway backhaul choice. The Smart Building kit includes two low cost wall-plug gateways with a Wi-Fi backhaul that can be used to test LoRaWAN coverage in any specific building environment.
Ease of Deployment
Because achieving network coverage in buildings with LoRaWAN is easy, installing a Smart Building kit does not need a professional installer. With other technologies, which offer shorter-range capabilities than LoRaWAN, achieving network coverage can be very challenging and usually requires the skills of an RF and radio planning engineering expert to effectively position repeaters to ensure building coverage. With LoRaWAN, IT teams or other staff can install the hardware rather than external experts. This translates into significant cost savings and makes scaling from hundreds of sites to thousands of sites easily achievable.
Device cost is a key factor in being able to generate an increased ROI within the smart building vertical. The bill of materials (BOM) of a LoRa-based sensor is competitive with other low-cost radio technologies such as BLE, Zigbee, Z-Wave, or proprietary home security sensors. To buy a sensor from a sensor provider, including their margin and profit for doing the design and dealing with the working capital associated with manufacturing hardware, costs range about $20-25 per device for a moderate volume of basic sensor types. To build your own device and have it produced by a contract manufacturer in volume, these costs can easily be reduced to $5-10 per device.
Long Battery Life, Really!
The battery life of LoRa-based devices is a critical differentiator. In a Cellular network, systems are designed to optimize the spectral usage and throughput of the network due to the expense of the licensed bands. The optimization for spectral utilization compromises battery life and increases the cost of Cellular-based end devices. With LoRaWAN, the exact opposite is true; everything is optimized for a long battery life and inexpensive end devices at the cost of spectral utilization. Because the battery in a sensor BOM is typically the most expensive component, it is important to pay special attention to keeping the capacity of the battery reasonable as a means of keeping the cost of the end device down. You can always claim a ten-year battery life by using a battery with a massive capacity, but this will typically translate into a device that is much too expensive to achieve a reasonable ROI. If you take the battery characteristics of a low-cost end-device and break this down into what the device can afford on an hourly basis to achieve a five-year battery life, it really is not much. The end device needs to be asleep most of time and needs to be part of an asynchronous network. This is a bad match for a Cellular radio access network (RAN) because every Cellular network is synchronous, which costs the end device battery capacity dearly. What is really needed is a device-specific RAN. The good news is that LoRaWAN is already here and was completely designed from the perspective of the device; the objective is to be the device-centric RAN for IoT. To minimize the operational costs associated with battery replacement in Smart Building solutions, a three to five-year battery life is required.
There are different ways to deploy a LoRaWAN network. This translates into optimal solutions with a maximized ROI. With a Cellular network approach, the deployment model is from a tower or elevated point with a connectivity business model. While this deployment strategy is the best for achieving broad network coverage generally, it is not needed for a specific building. Additionally, the connectivity costs of Cellular technologies can be cost-prohibitive to achieving an acceptable ROI. Furthermore, you can deploy LoRaWAN with the same elevated-point strategy. Many of the European operators deploy nationwide networks with this strategy because they own the infrastructure, which is not the case for every operator worldwide. If you own the infrastructure, you can add a LoRaWAN gateway on a normal maintenance cycle for a minimal cost. With LoRaWAN, coverage can achieved from the inside-out rather than from the outside-in. This deployment model is low cost and puts the power of generating and controlling network coverage in the hands of the solution provider instead of the network operator, which is preferred by many solution providers in the Smart Building segment.
Most people in this market are familiar with the LoRaWAN long-range star architecture and the network server, or the core network sitting in the Cloud. However, LoRaWAN can also be deployed with the network server on-site. Often, there is a requirement in smart buildings for the solution to be able to make decisions and take action if no Cloud or backhaul is available. Leak detection and water shut-off are good examples of this. If a leak is detected in a building the solution needs to be shutting-off the water, regardless of whether there is a Cloud connection available or not. A distributed network server architecture is possible with LoRaWAN and has been deployed by some in the LoRaWAN ecosystem. With this architecture, each store is its own network and is an on premise network server. A centralized join server can then be used to easily provision and manage deployments across all facilities. When a Cloud connection is available, the applications from each of the individual facilities will then synchronize their data so analytics and data analysis can be calculated for all locations. The Smart Building kit uses a Cloud-based network server to eliminate any set-up requirements.
In summary, LoRaWAN is an ideal technology for Smart Buildings and the Smart Building Kit allows developers and solution providers to seamlessly test the different aspects and features of LoRaWAN for the Smart Building market without having to start from scratch or to perform trials or proofs of concept (POCs).