LoRa, or Long Range, is a proprietary, low-power, long-range wireless technology that uses the unlicensed wireless spectrum—just like Wi-Fi uses the unlicensed 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies.
The exact frequency LoRa uses depends on the physical location of the deployment. For example, LoRa uses the 915 MHz bands in North America and the 868 MHz band in Europe. Therefore, it is imperative to understand the frequencies that can be legally used in each LoRa deployment location. From a range perspective, LoRa can communicate up to 10 kilometers under optimal line-of-sight conditions.
LoRa technology belongs to semiconductor supplier Semtech. While LoRa has been around for a while, LoRa chipsets have only evolved to consume less power in the last few years. These advancements make LoRa ideal for widely distributed, battery-powered IoT devices that only send small amounts of data at speeds up to 27 Kbps. Common LoRa deployment examples include asset tracking, smart meters, inspection equipment, smart parking, and agricultural field monitoring.
From a networking perspective, LoRa only creates physical layer methods for wireless transmissions, such as transceiver chips. This means it lacks proper network protocols to manage traffic for data collection and endpoint device management. This is where long-range WAN (or LoRaWAN) comes in.
LoRa and LoRaWAN support various IoT use cases such as smart meters and smart agriculture.
LoRaWAN is an open, cloud-based protocol – designed and maintained by the LoRa Alliance – that enables devices to exchange information with LoRa. Essentially, LoRaWAN takes LoRa wireless technology and adds networking components to it, while also incorporating node authentication and data encryption for security.
From an enterprise IT deployment perspective, LoRaWAN networks are ideal for IoT devices that continuously monitor the state of something. These devices trigger alerts to gateways when the monitored data exceeds specified thresholds. These types of IoT devices require very small bandwidth and can run on battery power for months or even years.