Emerging Economical LPWAN IoT Platforms For Real-Time Asset Tracking

Long range, low power wireless platforms are an increasingly popular concept for real-time asset tracking and IoT (Internet of Things) applications because of their ability to offer more affordable connectivity between objects spread over large geographical areas. While there is never-ending debate about the number of devices and the potential size of the IoT opportunity, most agree the appeal will be broad and the market significant. This is also the reason low power wide area networks (LPWAN) attracted so much interest after platforms such as LTE Cat M1, NB-IoT, Sigfox, LoRa and others came to the fore.

Continuous, Real-Time Data Feeds Will Become A Must-Have

We talk about tracking assets every day here at Relegen, but the Holy Grail is for our ‘things’ to sense, talk and react in real-time. Even though RFID and other forms of wireless communication have been around for some time, in many cases the projected benefits cannot justify the cost of implementation. LPWAN platforms could make this a thing of the past and ensure real-time asset tracking is a realistic option for mainstream IoT adoption.

What’s Unique About LPWAN Technology?

LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Networks) is not a single platform, but an emerging class of low-power, wide area wireless communication technologies. LPWAN are unique in that they offer wide-area connectivity for low-powered devices – a capability not well served by traditional approaches.

Whilst communication over wide areas is provided by cellular technology, it requires a significant amount of power. The cost and complexity of cellular implementations are also high due to the need to deal with complex waveforms, optimised for the transmission of voice, high speed data, and text. Non-cellular wireless technology such as RFID is not ideal for connecting low power devices across large geographical areas due to its reduced read-range which can be limited to a few hundred meters at best.

LPWAN can connect assets, objects and devices over much longer ranges, including indoors and rugged environments. The key features of LPWAN’s tends to be:

1. Long Range – The end-nodes can be up to 10 kilometres from the gateway, depending on the technology deployed.
2. Low Power Consumption – This makes very long battery life, often between 5 and 10 years, possible which is why it is so promising for the internet of long-range, low-power, low-cost things.
3. Low Cost – LPWAN systems are typically simpler and lower in cost to deploy, operate and maintain, and can even plug into existing infrastructure.

There is, however, a trade-off – LPWAN achieves this long-range, low-power operation at the expense of low data rate and higher latency. In this sense they will be most suitable for applications that need only send small packets of data at a time.

Business Applications

The unique features of LPWAN combined with its economic advantages will drive growth in new business applications across a variety of industry sectors where cellular or short-range RFID connectivity has not been commercially viable. Today LPWANs are more commonly used in applications including smart metering, smart lighting, asset monitoring and tracking, access control, IT asset management, smart cities, precision agriculture, livestock monitoring, energy management, manufacturing, personnel tracking in rugged environments, and many more industrial IoT deployments. It will also be very attractive for original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s) who want to track assets across supply chains and through the hands of multiple stakeholders, as they can do so more easily without the need to install costly communications infrastructure at third-party sites.

The business benefits realised from asset tracking via LPWAN are similar to other forms of wireless asset tracking: increased visibility, loss prevention, brand protection, streamlined inventory management, increased asset utilisation and more. However, instead of having to conduct a physical check to determine where your assets are (and are not) or waiting for a tag to pass by a reader, asset owners and operators would be able to use use this platform to automate regular data feeds about location and operation.

Testbeds Accelerating Mainstream Adoption

Although the IoT landscape is evolving rapidly, there are still unknowns in terms of where the different technologies are headed, where the biggest payoffs will be, and how it will work in the real-world. The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), an organisation formed to accelerate the development and mainstream adoption of the IoT, is attempting to answer some of these questions through their testbed program. The IIC’s testbeds provide a practical platform for organisations to test new applications for usefulness and viability before taking them to market. The outcomes from testbeds are then used as a feedback loop from concept to reality and back again to guide further innovation. Currently there are 28 IIC testbeds which cover applications such as: Asset efficiency, track and trace, condition monitoring, connected healthcare, connected vehicles, workforce safety, digital solar plants, smart factory automation, intelligent water supply, energy management, crop management, airline baggage, energy and more. You can learn more about the IIC’s IoT’s testbed program here.

Key Takeaways

The IoT promises to revolutionise the way we utilise, maintain and manage our assets. It may even help us tackle some of the most pressing global challenges associated with population growth, energy consumption, resource depletion, environmental pollution and make our cities smart. To realise this vision, devices need to sense their environment, share data with each other, and with humans, to enable smarter decisions and faster courses of action. However, in order for this to be achievable en mass, and sustainable over the long term, the technologies that underpin the IoT will need to offer data security, safety, reliability, long battery life, low device and deployment costs, and scale to a massive number of devices spread over wide geographical areas. In this sense, LPWAN technologies like SigFox and LoRa may address some of these requirements and give organisations new actionable insights by connecting previously isolated assets, in an extremely economical manner – which is why it is emerging as one of the main contenders in the low-cost, high-performance IoT space.

In the end, it is likely there will never be a single, one-size-fits-all technology solution that underpins the Internet of Things. For this reason, Relegen’s enterprise asset intelligence solution – assetDNA – is tag / sensor / infrastructure agnostic. Its open architecture will work with a wide-range of technologies, including multiple technologies at once, to provide a secure, future-proofed item serialisation platform that can be used to transform business through the power of data and connected assets. We have a proven track record in selecting and delivering the right tagging / sensor / wireless communication requirements for your business application. If you’d like to learn more, please reach out to us on +61 (0)2 9998 9000 or sales@relegen.com. In our next blog we’ll feature a use case story about a home-grown smart-city LPWAN pilot project.