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Computers and Technology

IoT standard: LoRa VS. NB-IoT, which is Better?

The recent surge in the global low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) market can be attributed to multiple factors. The rapid development of machine learning and M2M communication standards has played an important role, coupled with the growing global demand for Internet of Things services, low-cost LPWAN tools, and increased energy-saving opportunities. Although Semtech’s LoRa technology was an early leader in this field, NB-IoT (Narrowband Internet of Things) is quickly gaining wide acceptance as a powerful LPWAN standard.

It is estimated that in 2022, the value of the global LPWAN market will rise to over US$46 billion (the value in 2015 was just over US$500 million).

LoRa and NB-IoT

This article analyzes and compares LoRa and NB-IoT point by point. I try to find out which LPWAN protocol has more advantages:

1 Essence

Although “LoRa” and “LoRaWAN” are usually used as synonyms, they are not the same. LoRaWAN is the LPWAN protocol standard running in the LoRa technology environment. And LoRa itself is a modulation method used for IoT communication.

On the other hand, NB-IoT was defined by the 3GPP (Third Generation Partnership Project) standard in mid-2016. It has little advantage for devices with low data rates.

NB-IoT can be implemented independently or through the “in-band spectrum”. It has two main variants-one is released by Nokia, Ericsson, and Intel; the other is released by Vodafone and Huawei. In short, NB-IoT is a cellular standard, while LoRa is not.

2 Broadband support

NB-IoT usually works at a slightly higher bandwidth than LoRaWAN. The signal bandwidth requirement of 3GPP technology is 180 KHz-a bit higher than the 125 KHz required by Semtech’s LoRa technology. Interestingly, the signal bandwidth of NB-IoT and LoRa is significantly higher than that of Sigfox (another mainstream LPWAN standard), which operates at 0.1 KHz.

3 Required gateway

LoRa requires a dedicated gateway to work, while NB-IoT does not. According to a senior Huawei official, the NB-IoT infrastructure is set up by directly connecting base stations and IoT sensors (the LoRa architecture needs to be completed through a gateway).

Although the LoRa gateways currently available are very powerful and usually priced at competitive prices, there are still some additional hardware to manage, so it may be a potential trouble. And NB-IoT does not need these at all.

4 required spectrum

LoRa IoT technology works on unlicensed spectrum (Sigfox does the same). Therefore, the cost of applications supported by LoRaWAN is low-and battery performance is improved (more and more in the future). Unlike LoRa’s asynchronous protocol, NB-IoT services are synchronized and use licensed frequency bands. LoRa and NB-IoT both use frequency bands below 1 GHz.

The cost of frequency band licensing is not low right now-the cost per MHz is greater than $500. Telecom operators can choose to deploy NB-IoT in protected frequency bands, 4G LTE spectrum, or independent networks.

5 Ecosystem

The LoRa ecosystem is stronger than that of NB-IoT or other cellular IoT communication standards. LoRa has been adopted as an IoT network standard in many countries and regions, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, and the Netherlands (LoRa is also very popular in India).

NB-IoT is a “new player” by comparison. It made its commercial debut in Spain in early 2017 (Ireland will also use the NB-IoT network). The low cost, wide range, and versatility of LoRa technology have advantages in a stable ecosystem and community support-but in the next few years, NB-IoT will have many opportunities to catch up.

6 Suitability with different types of applications

Although the dispute between LoRa and NB-IoT has caused a lot of false news, it is worth noting that these two technologies are optimized for different types of terminal applications.

For example, LoRaWAN is suitable for applications or devices that require lower cost, higher battery life, and do not require frequent communication (for example, several times a day).

In contrast, NB-IoT is most suitable for applications that require shorter downlink delays and more frequent communications. The two IoT protocols have their unique value manifestations-they cannot replace each other.

7 Customer Information

The main customers of IoT/M2M communication standards, including LoRa, NB-IoT, and Sigfox, are telecom operator leaders from all over the world (SK Telecom deployed LoRaWAN in South Korea last year to build an IoT network).

LoRa technology can also be used by non-telecom operators-this is something that NB-IoT can’t do. Crowdsourced networks can easily access and implement LoRa-based IoT solutions (The Things Network has already done so). The availability of NB-IoT is still limited.

8 Network coverage

Long-range coverage is the common “unique selling point” of NB-IoT and LoRa. NB-IoT is obviously more powerful in this regard. Its coverage can be extended to 18-21 kilometers, which is higher than the 12-15 kilometers coverage provided by LoRa.

However, a closer look reveals an interesting fact: NB-IO works well in cities, but it performs well in suburban or rural areas (anywhere without strong 4G coverage). Since LoRaWAN does not rely on cellular data or WiFi, its coverage area remains relatively stable in all regions.

Note: The construction cost of the LoRa base station is a small part of the cost of the 4G-LTE base station required to deploy NB-IoT. The low investment required for LoRa largely puts it in a good position.

9 Battery performance

This is also the better performance of LoRaWAN. Since NB-IoT works on the cellular authorized spectrum, the device must synchronize the network regularly (relatively frequently), which will consume power accordingly. However, such network synchronization is not required in the ALOHA-based LoRa architecture.

In the asynchronous frequency band of LoRa, the terminal application accurately determines the “sleep” time of the device, so the battery power can be easily saved. NB-IoT’s linear transmitter requires several orders of magnitude more “peak current” than LoRa with nonlinear modulation, putting additional pressure on the battery.

10 Data rate

In this regard, NB-IoT can more or less get LoRa out of the game. The average data rate in the narrowband setting is 200 Kbps. That is approximately 20 times the data rate at which the LoRa tool runs.

The higher data rate of NB-IoT makes it an ideal choice for applications that require faster data throughput. Although LoRa technology is doing well, NB-IoT is still easily a more efficient IoT protocol for “faster” applications.

Note: The data rate of another LPWAN technology Sigfox is 100bps, which is much lower than NB-IoT and LoRa.

11 Availability of private networks

The LoRaWAN technology market has just matured and is widely accepted in public networks. LoRaWAN has been deployed around the world to create “smart cities”. Although NB-IoT is also popular in the public domain, it cannot be used in the private network of private enterprises like LoRa.

Large enterprises can easily use LoRa to create hybrid IoT models, build “smart facilities” and use public networks to process information and activities outside of the equipment at the same time. And NB-IoT can only be used in public network mode.

12 Cost factors

No matter how powerful the LPWAN protocol is, its low cost needs to be considered. Otherwise, they cannot be a viable IoT solution. LoRa has advantages in this regard. The overall cost of the LoRaWAN module is around US$8-10. That is about half of the price of cellular LTE modules such as NB-IoT.

The higher the complexity of the NB-IoT network, the higher the cost of intellectual property (in terms of authorized frequency bands), which increases the total cost of NB-IoT. Upgrading it to advanced 4G / LTE base stations is more expensive than LoRa deployment through industrial gateways or tower-top gateways. As the market becomes more mature, the cost of LoRa technology is expected to drop further.

13 Summary

According to the above analysis, it can be seen that it is difficult to choose a clear winner in LoRa and NB-IoT. Both have their unique advantages and disadvantages due to technical differences and different functions. The two can completely coexist-serving different parts of the global Internet of Things market.

Scalability remains a challenge for these two technologies. It remains to be seen whether one of the two can become the undisputed long-term leader in the LPWAN market.

Read more about the IoT industry: 5 Industries Where IoT & Mobile Apps Will Make A Difference

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