Just about every aspect of the IoT is still under development, from the application of core technologies, to the construction of the products, to the composition of the underlying hardware and software infrastructures. There are many serious aspects to consider as we create the future as we go along, from wireless bandwidth issues to battery life and power management concerns. Then we have the issues of systems integration and the need for protocol-agnostic solutions and compatible software systems, to empower communication capabilities between IoT devices.
Addressing the issue of device interoperability, it is important to have a multi-protocol-agnostic solution. None of the existing wireless infrastructures available are able to meet all product use cases and application spaces. For example, WiFi connectivity covers short- and medium-range use cases at high data rates, while LoRaWAN handles long-range use cases at low data rates. When deployed to leverage the advantages of one another, WiFi and LoRaWAN networks can optimize most IoT applications.
A Cooperative Effort
Endorsing and expanding on this concept, the groups behind LoRaWAN and WiFi have released a paper on WiFi and LoRaWAN deployment synergies, showing how cellular technologies can positively collaborate with non-cellular technologies. We reached out to Bruno Thomas from the Wireless Broadband Alliance, and Remi Lorraine of Semtech from the LoRaWAN Alliance, for their comments on the paper release.
ECD: How will this impact how system designers see the unlicensed LoRa band?
Remi: Well, the fact that the two technologies can work with each other is the main message of the paper. WiFi already shows us that cellular technology can positively collaborate with non-cellular technology, and LoRaWAN will of course do the same. We are not, again, cellular, we are completely complementary to cellular and a 5G ecosystem like WiFi is doing.
Bruno: I can build on what Remi said. For us as a wireless alliance, we play with members across the spectrum in terms of the technologies they support. But this project specifically was surprising in that quite a number of companies were interested that were not traditionally expected. In India, for example, I think the approach we are taking is that instead of looking into the individual problems, we put together a multi-radio-access technology vision towards IoT.
So, in an example like industrial IoT, let's say WiFi has the bandwidth for backhaul, and then offloads the last mile to LoRa or some other technology. So really what we are trying to do with the members and some trials, is what are the use cases that they want to enable. We’ve seen examples of use cases from real-time management monitoring to augmented reality for troubleshooting.
So, it becomes a question about the conversion portion, what type of equipment deployment scenarios we can have. LoRaWAN was built from the ground up and plans to continue to evolve. And at the same time, we have WiFi 6 coming, with a whole new set of features that solve another set of problems.
ECD: One of the aspects of sharing the burden properly is nailing the collaborative part.
Remi: Yes, it's exactly the case. Take the example of a video camera. Here you have a use case where you can have a LoRa sensor detecting if there is a light switch on, and/or if someone is present, and then the other side takes over to do the video job using WiFi. This has an impact on both power and bandwidth use and is a way to optimize the use of the cameras in a building.
Bruno: What I see a lot is concern about IoT products that are built around, for instance, the 2.4 gigs band. And that's a big problem for WiFi. So, if you were in the home space, you have more devices competing for the time. So, the protocol spectrum sharing, I think, is one of the beauties of this, and that's what Remi pointed out, we are solving an air-time issue where you can have WiFi and LoRaWAN deployed within the same building, the same venue, and having total flexibility and availability to just exchange data.
Let's imagine you have a smartphone or a device where it makes sense to make the right decisions on when to connect to each network. So that's kind of our angle for interoperability. Just as Remi pointed out, you can be in a factory and in that factory LoRaWAN is doing the sensors and WiFi is taking care of the facility energy management. You stop having competing technologies that might use the 2.4 gig for that type of IoT traffic, and everything becomes more efficient.
Remi: You talked about the decision-making and when deploying both a WiFi network and LoRaWAN network, how do you put your Cloud around two solutions? There is a more innovative architecture, where you put your Cloud onsite, and the decision-making between the data from the WiFI network and the LoRaWAN network can be handled onsite, and then you can have a very responsive system. It's one of the points I think the paper raised.
ECD: How does the deployment of 5G systems impact this?
Bruno: Based on our heritage and with 5G coming, at least from the wireless broadband side, we have been working for a number of years to make sure WiFi is interoperable with 3G and 4G, and we expect it will be a seamless experience for customers. I think with 5G, it’s not about the radio access network part of it, but really the systems and intelligence behind it.
The more aligned we are with LoRa, our identity and policy mechanism, the more likely an operator will choose WiFi and LoRa to cover their IoT use cases. Because if we have this seamless and secure experience and WiFi clients can automatically attach to a 5G network, we can deliver IoT services through LoRa and through WiFi. So that's the vision that we are trying to put out. Multi-radio access technology strategy, helping the operators with 5G services choose the most cost-effective performance technologies available, and not have to wait, let's say, three, four or five years down the road.