The LoRa network and what it means for NZ

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In the past year “Internet of Things” has made it’s way to the top of the World Economic Forums list of emerging technologies, and while the technology already has various uses across the globe, the infrastructure needed to let it flourish has been somewhat shaky. With the emergence of the LoRa network, that may no longer be the case. But what does IoT really encapsulate, and how will this new LoRa network change the shape of IoT in New Zealand?

The LoRa Network

The LoRa network can be thought of as “narrowband” compared to the “broadband” we all know and love - instead of serving all our web surfing and video watching needs, it’s designed to cater specifically to the emerging needs of IoT devices sending lots of small amounts of data.

The network operates similarly to Wi-Fi, but instead of requiring close proximity to a router (or gateway) for a decent connection, this technology works across vast ranges. LoRa gateways typically cover a range of about 1.5-3km in dense urban areas, and around 15km-20km in rural areas, meaning they require far fewer towers than cellular 3G/4G networks. It is estimated that LoRa networks already span half of NZ, with the remainder to be covered in the not-to-distant future as network operators continue to roll-out gateways.

Long Range nationwide coverage is just one of the network’s attractions. The other part, is cost. Connecting to the network will in all likelihood cost less than $1 a month per device, and after installation, the devices tend to have a battery life of 5 to 10 years. With that sort of lifespan devices can be implemented into hard-to-access positions such as rural mountains and basically be left to do their work. Essentially a technology designed to thrive in rural economies and diverse landscapes like New Zealand.

Backed by an international body known as the LoRa alliance there is a strong drive to standardise the network across the world, and enable the application of IoT for smart cities and industries globally. Simultaneously the alliance is backed by a variety of tech giants such as IBM and Cisco, legitimising the alliance, and the network, as more than a flash in the pan.

That’s nice, but where will these devices make a difference?

It is estimated that the IoT market will be valued between $3.9 and $11.1 trillion by 2025, 11% of the world’s economy. Applications of IoT range across just about every sector imaginable from agriculture to energy, from optimizing agricultural farming in Australia, to monitoring Oil Pipelines in Nigeria, far more extensive than simple smart switches in your home. These devices allow us to monitor sensors at scale, anything from temperature, to humidity, to wind speed, to soil moisture, to solar radiation. Basically if it has a physical parameter, it can be measured, collected, and analysed to make smarter decisions.

If we take a look at some of the world's most popular IoT devices we notice one thing across the board. The devices themselves use a variety of sensors that communicate very simple bits of data, whether it be an on/off command, a measurement, or a temperature reading. These devices work by sending small pieces of information (Think along the lines of “at 10am it was 22 degrees”), at regular intervals, which we can use to drive analytics, machine learning, and tracking among other options. The reality is that  IoT devices don’t need more speed, they need bigger ranges and longer lifespans. Enter the LoRa network.

How is this technology being used right now?

EcoNodes TrapMinder system on Great Barrier Island notifies conservation authorities whenever a pest species such as rat or possum has been trapped, so that the trap can be cleared and reset, essentially reducing the costs associated with maintaining and inspecting traps. They are planning to roll this out to Zealandia in Wellington, and then across the country.

In Melbourne, the city council is currently piloting a variety of IoT programs such as sensor-equipped rubbish bins report garbage levels to truck operators, reducing unnecessary pick ups. Furthermore the city is looking at a smart parking system that provides real-time reporting and monitoring to the public.

We see huge potential for LoRa based IoT, and we’ve got a variety of projects in progress that cement our team as experts in building applications that draw meaningful data and insights from IoT devices. As IoT and the LoRa network continues to expand and continually lower the cost of entry, nations like New Zealand are the perfect candidates for leveraging and benefitting from this emerging technology.