Connecting the world26/10/17Science & Technology
Semtech’s Vivek Mohan speaks to PEN about LoRaWAN connectivity and the IoT
LoRa technology has become a critical element for utilities, as they extend their network infrastructures and reconsider their connectivity choices. Low-cost LoRaWAN infrastructure can cover entire cities, while enabling battery lifetimes of 10-20 years for all types of smart utility meters including electricity, gas, heat and water; governments and utilities are driving demand with requirements for security, better control and lower costs in the supply and distribution of energy and natural resources; and some IoT applications include two-way meter communications, leakage detection to reduce water loss, and smart grids with asset management and predictive maintenance of transformers, switchgears and other equipment.
Here Vivek Mohan, director of Semtech’s Wireless and Sensing Products Group, shares his views on how LoRaWAN connectivity is being used to rapidly create wireless advanced metering infrastructures (AMI) for measuring, collecting, analysing and managing energy usage in Europe and around the world.
How could the IoT be characterised and where do its biggest challenges lie?
The IoT is experiencing tremendous growth across many sectors and enabling new socially and economically beneficial applications; but it is highly fragmented. There are numerous platforms and technologies designed for the IoT, and this creates technical challenges when it comes to interoperability. The LoRa Alliance™ and LoRaWAN™ protocol seek to conquer this challenge. Another challenge for the IoT is ensuring security for the data that the billions of sensors communicate every day. Semtech Corporation’s LoRa® devices and wireless radio frequency (RF) technology (LoRa Technology) provide end-to-end encryption of all traffic to combat this very issue. One more challenge, which affects the previous two, is the ability to produce carrier grade quality devices at consumer-friendly price points. The success of the IoT depends on that ability.
What is there to be said on behalf of the IoT at the European policy level?
The European Union has been welcoming to the IoT, evidenced by the amount of funding made available and the number of partnerships formed over the last decade. The European Commission has played a significant part in the proliferation of the IoT and LPWAN networks, allowing companies, such as Wifx, Kerlink, Bouyges, Proximus, OrbiWise, LORIOT and Orange, to develop their LoRa-enabled devices and LoRaWAN networks throughout Europe and beyond. We hope the EU continues with its IoT initiatives and that the IoT enriches the lives of Europeans.
When it comes to decentralised networks in the future of IoT, and as the server/client paradigm for the authentication, authorisation and connection of different nodes in a network becomes increasingly unfit for purpose, what connectivity issues exist and how can they be solved?
Low power wide area networks (LPWANs) will eventually connect billions of sensor nodes to various networks providing a multitude of services. Decentralised networks have a role to play as the computing power and intelligence may shift from the cloud to the edge or even the sensor node in some cases. The underlying physical layer of connectivity (LoRa) and network topology will likely remain, but aspects such as security and latency will be addressed by emerging technologies such as blockchain which is proving itself in the crypto currency space today. These emerging technologies will help decentralise networks while being economically viable to support billions of sensor nodes.
Security is a significant and high profile challenge in the IoT. How should it be tackled, and could more be done by industry to ensure adequate security features are available before marketing new connected products?
Security is certainly a significant challenge in the IoT and it is being addressed with many different approaches in the industry, depending on the application and network architecture. LPWANs using LoRa Technology and LoRaWAN support end-to-end encryption at multiple levels of the communication chain ensuring data security for consumers.
LoRaWAN networks use unique keys per device and are protected from replay attacks. We identified security as a challenge early on, and made it one of the pillars of the technology. I predict more developers will follow this trend and focus on the security aspect of IoT devices and networks as this can be a key differentiator in the network.
How is LoRa Technology playing a role in the IoT in Europe? What are the key benefits?
Right now companies, including TTN, KPN and Miromico, are taking great strides in Europe in the development of LoRaWAN networks and producing LoRa-enabled devices. LoRa Technology’s key benefits include low costs, low power usage, and long range capability. The low costs refer to the costs of production, deployment and data, but in Europe this has an added benefit in terms of infrastructure.
LoRaWAN networks can be integrated into existing infrastructure, and this is important in a place like Europe where buildings are hundreds of years old and IP lines are not easily accessible or able to install additional lines. Apart from the infrastructure benefits, LoRa Technology signalling can penetrate dense buildings, especially the dense concrete buildings found throughout Europe, to provide reliable service and communication for users.
As connectivity grows and technology develops, how could it help to meet the demand of governments, industry and the public?
The end goal for us at Semtech and all the members of the LoRa Alliance is to connect the world. Many nations and regions in the world struggle to provide internet access to its people because of the economics of network expansions; and often there is a physical barrier such as a mountain range that makes internet access impossible. IoT and LoRa are working to overcome these obstacles and bring connectivity to everyone who needs it. The low cost of deployment for LoRa Technology makes it ideal for governments to develop networks, and the long range wireless capability of the technology makes it ideal to conquer physical barriers such as mountains. As the technology behind the IoT such as LoRa continues to develop, the internet will become a basic human right.
LoRa is a registered trademark or service mark, and LoRaWAN is a trademark or service mark, of Semtech Corporation or its affiliates.
Semtech Corporation is a leading supplier of high performance analogue and mixed-signal semiconductors and advanced algorithms for high-end consumer, enterprise computing, communications, and industrial equipment. Products are designed to benefit the engineering community as well as the global community. The company is dedicated to reducing the impact it and its products have on the environment. Internal green programmes seek to reduce waste through material and manufacturing control, use of green technology and designing for resource reduction. For more information, visit www.semtech.com
Director, Wireless and Sensing Products Group
This article will appear in Pan European Networks: Science & Technology issue 25, which will be published in December, 2017