Wi-Fi and LoRa convergence - the implications for smart buildings

Wi-Fi and LoRa convergence - the implications for smart buildings

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Smart buildings are set to be a top priority for many network professionals in the coming years. These locations, which will feature a range of connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices, will be instrumental in improving efficiency, boosting environmental performance and addressing security concerns.

To create a successful smart building, one of the key challenges will be how this array of IoT sensors and other equipment - from temperature monitors to security cameras - are connected. In many cases, wireless technologies will be widely deployed as the primary connectivity option for these solutions - but deploying the right technology is a big decision, and will be fundamental to the success of any smart building.

While Wi-Fi may be the most obvious tool, this is not the only choice available. Increasingly, LoRaWAN networks are emerging as a more viable, IoT-focused alternative. But businesses do not have to choose between the two.

The benefits of Wi-Fi and LoRa convergence

A recent paper from the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) and the LoRa Alliance makes the case that the two technologies can actually complement one another and should be used in tandem in order to see the best results.

Donna Moore, chief executive and chairwoman of the LoRa Alliance, said that there are likely to be billions of individual use cases for IoT equipment in the future, and the reality is there is no one technology that is going to fit every scenario.

She added: "It is collaborative initiatives like this one with Wi-Fi that will drive innovation to solve important issues, leverage an even broader range of applications and, ultimately, ensure the success of global mass IoT deployments in the future."

Both Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN have their own pros and cons when it comes to smart building deployments. Wi-Fi is more suited to situations that demand high data transfer rates, especially with the recent arrival of the new Wi-Fi 6 standard that greatly increases the capabilities of the technology. However, the trade off is that its range is limited to relatively short distances, while it has much higher power demands.

LoRa, by contrast, can be used over much longer distances- up to 10km - and requires much less power, but it cannot match the speed or capacity of Wi-Fi.

Therefore, while Wi-Fi is ideally suited for applications such as real-time video streaming and internet browsing, LoRa is better adapted to low-bandwidth applications such as environmental sensors. It can also be used in more challenging and hard-to-reach locations where Wi-Fi signals struggle to penetrate.

The implications for smart buildings and beyond 

Given the differing capabilities of the two solutions, a converged network will offer a range of benefits to smart buildings, where low-bandwidth and high-bandwidth applications will both be required.

Indeed, the WBA and LoRa Alliance's report noted there are many examples where separate Wi-Fi and LoRa networks have already been deployed. A typical smart building may, for example, use Wi-Fi for applications like security cameras and high-speed internet, with LoRaWAN deployed for smoke detection, asset and vehicle tracking, room usage and more.

However, the organisations also identified several key use cases where these technologies can complement each other, including accurate asset tracking and location services for indoor or nearby buildings, as well as on-demand streaming for devices with battery limitations.

The convergence of these two technologies will not only be limited to smart buildings. The report highlighted residential connectivity as another scenario where LoRaWAN will be increasingly used alongside Wi-Fi in the near future. 

While Wi-Fi will continue to be the primary option for connecting personal devices, LoRa will find a place in home security and access control, leak detection, fuel tank monitoring, and many other applications. 

The report therefore recommends the use of LoRaWAN picocells that can leverage Wi-Fi backhaul to the user set top box. This can create “neighbourhood IoT networks” that expand coverage of home services to the surrounding area and support new geolocation services, while also serving as a communication backbone for demand-response services. 

Tiago Rodrigues, general manager at the WBA, said: "Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN are two important  technologies utilising the unlicensed spectrum, and they already address a large proportion of IoT use cases." He added that identifying where the technologies can complement one another will further expand the use of IoT.

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