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Low-Power Wide-Area Networks 101

Low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN) will play a crucial role in the impending advance of the Internet of Things (IoT). These wireless networks will become the primary backbone of IoT and a cost-effective way to connect a huge number of remote devices spread over vast areas, all while using power so efficiently that batteries in remote devices will be capable of lasting years—even decades.


LPWANs’ data rate, payload size, and latency have been intentionally restricted in favor of long operating range and ultra-low power consumption, both of which far exceed what can be achieved with more traditional wireless technologies.


This is possible thanks to radically new physical layer designs, aimed at achieving very high receiver sensitivity. For example, while the nominal sensitivity of ZigBee and Bluetooth receivers is about -125 dBm and -90 dBm, respectively, some LPWAN receivers achieve sensitivities as low as -142dBm.


In this paper, we will discuss some of the key characteristics that should be considered to help select the appropriate LPWAN technology for a given IoT application, including the energy efficiency, capacity, coverage, costs, and security.


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