Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are popular, yes, but these protocols are not designed to support the growing number of IoT applications. Where security and reliable connection to a local wireless network is required. Long-range wireless communications technologies provide the answer provided you can solve the power requirements needed to sustain the connection.
Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) network technologies, such as 3GPP standards like LTE-M and NB-IoT, offer long-range communications with broad coverage, the ability to handle a large number of devices and low power consumption to IoT devices to operate for 10 years or more.
Relay allows for battery-operated, easy-to-deploy network coverage extensions at a fraction of the cost of adding additional gateways.
Challenges however remain. Participants in a VDC Research-sponsored study, identified several challenges related to IoT system development using LPWA including 1) minimizing power consumption; 2) securing IoT data; 3) lowering project development time, and 4) reducing the total cost of ownership.
Working on the problem, the global association of companies backing the open LoRaWAN standard for the internet of things (IoT) low-power wide-area networks (LPWANs), the LoRa Alliance has expanded the LoRaWAN link-layer standard with the addition of a relay specification.
This allows LoRaWAN to achieve excellent coverage in use cases requiring deep indoor or underground coverage, or relay data on satellite-connected LoRaWAN devices within proximity.
“LoRa Alliance members identified that end users in specific markets needed a solution to achieve full network coverage due to environmental challenges surrounding their deployments,” said Donna Moore, CEO and chairwoman of the LoRa Alliance.
“With relay, we’re providing a standardized solution that allows for full end-to-end communications in the extremely challenging underground, metal and concrete environments where sensor signals could use a boost or redirect to reach either the gateway or end-device.”Donna Moore
She added that the new relay feature is a direct response to market needs and provides an essential building block to enable massive IoT.
Relay use cases
One of the first markets to adopt relay is metering in the utility sector. Utilities represent a massive opportunity for IoT, with VDC Research estimating that worldwide LPWAN communication services revenue will reach $2.47 billion by 2025.
Adding relay to the LoRaWAN standard to achieve coverage for even the most difficult cases (e.g., meters inside metal closets) significantly strengthens LoRaWAN’s market position in metering and utilities, and more broadly across key verticals including smart cities and buildings, and industrial IoT.
Using a relay is ideal for any application monitoring static assets in challenging environments.
LoRaWAN relay feature
The LoRaWAN standard is proven for long-range communications, however, there can be physical limits to where LPWAN communications can reach, such as around turns, underground, where a signal needs to be reflected/relayed into a specific location, etc. LoRaWAN relays allow signals to go where they physically couldn’t go before.
The LoRaWAN TS011-1.0.0 LoRaWAN Relay Specification document describes the relaying mechanism used to transport LoRaWAN frames bi-directionally between an end-device and gateway/network server via a battery-operated node. By enabling relay, the device can transfer LoRaWAN frames between an end device and network when there is insufficient coverage from the gateway.
This specification enables Network coverage extension through the battery-operated relay and maintains compatibility with the LoRaWAN Link-Layer standard in terms of protocol and security. The new relay nodes are battery-powered and can be installed anywhere and do not require electricity or internet connectivity. This makes them a very easy-to-deploy, low cost and low-power way to extend network coverage, without needing to add additional gateways. Relay endpoints allow LoRaWAN to provide coverage of all devices with only a nominal cost of installation.