Unlicensed and licensed low-power wide area networks : Exploring the candidates for massive IoT

University essay from KTH/Radio Systems Laboratory (RS Lab)

Abstract: In the Internet of things (IoT), many applications will require low-power and low-cost to achieve long lifetime and scale (respectively). These types of applications are referred to as massive IoT, as opposed to critical IoT, which emphasizes ultra-high reliability and availability and low latency. One type of network catering to massive IoT applications are Low-Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs), and presently, many LPWAN standards are trying to assert their role in the IoT ecosystem. This thesis explores LPWANs from both technical and non-technical perspectives to ascertain their use-case versatility and influence on the future telecommunications’ landscape. With respect to spectrum, the studied LPWANs may be categorized as unlicensed LPWAN or licensed LPWAN. The prior category typically refers to proprietary solutions and in this thesis are represented by SigFox and LoRaWAN. The latter group includes EC-GSM-IoT, eMTC, and NB-IoT and can be considered synonymous with cellular LPWAN because they are designed to be integrated into existing cellular infrastructures. The results indicate that all of the different types of explored LPWANs support applications without strict downlink, payload size, and latency requirements. For use cases without these specific demands (typically sensors, meters, tracking, etc.), it is not a question of whether or not a network fulfills the requirements, but rather how flexible the requirements are. As a result the choice of network will be determined by non-technical aspects and a cost versus functionality trade-off where unlicensed LPWAN is typically cheaper. Hence, both categories of LPWANs offer a unique value proposition; therefore, they can be considered complementary. This notion is reinforced when looking at non-technical aspects such as ecosystem, regulation, network ownership and control, and network coordination, which differ quite significantly. Furthermore, unlicensed LPWANs are likely to be the vanguard of a new type of competitor offering the core service of connectivity.

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