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LoRa Alliance and Wireless Broadband Alliance Discuss Interoperation Between LoRaWAN and Wi-Fi

Dec. 29, 2020
Representatives from the Wireless Broadband Alliance and LoRa Alliance Network discuss their collaboration that involves hybrid Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN.

Reprinted with permission from Evaluation Engineering

A whitepaper was recently released by the LoRa Alliance and the Wireless Broadband Alliance, titled “Wi-Fi & LoRaWAN Trials - An Overview of Use Cases Across Regions Combining Two Technologies." The paper provides details on practical trials and proof-of-concept deployments representing a variety of use cases implemented across different geographies and verticals. It builds on the two organizations’ earlier whitepaper, “Wi-Fi & LoRaWAN Deployment Synergies: Expanding Addressable Use Cases for the Internet of Things,” which compared the two technologies theoretically and sought to demonstrate how they could be utilized to effectively support a vast array of use cases.

The POCs explored in this new whitepaper conclude that hybrid Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN connectivity increases market opportunity, provides a strong ROI, and offers enhanced network solutions. Adding LoRaWAN to Wi-Fi using network mutualization is a cost-effective approach to deployment using the existing base of Wi-Fi access points. This offers a significant opportunity for Wi-Fi providers to expand their addressable businesses on complementary use cases that cover both broadband applications and massive IoT leveraging the license-exempt spectrum.

This work is the result of a collaboration between members of the WBA and the LoRa Alliance, and these featured use-cases are expected to provide ideas on leveraging RF networks to support innovative applications. We spoke to Bruno Tomas, Wireless Broadband Alliance Director of Programs and Project Management, and Remi Lorrain, LoRa Alliance Network Operator Forum Vice Chair, and Europe, Middle East and Africa Vice Chair from member company Semtech, where he is the Global LoRaWAN Networks Director.

EE: So gentlemen, the moment we heard about the initial announcement of WiFi 6 and LoRa compatibility, we recognized how this addresses the whole multispectral cloud that we're migrating toward. 

Bruno TomasBruno Tomas: When we first discussed collaboration between the technologies, it was not certain that the market would choose a multiradio access network strategy. With the paper we released in November, we moved to more concrete stories focused on trials. There are eight trials led by a world leading companies, showing that you can have insightful and meaningful use cases combining the two technologies in order to solve all type of use cases, leveraging the complementarity between high-throughput WiFi andlow-power LoRaWAN on the same infrastructure. The idea is to mutualize unified networks, and any interconnection or combination can happen at the cheap level, at the edge computing level, the gateway, or into the Cloud. That was the core of what we said one year ago. Okay.

Remi Lorrain: The thing is, the paper underscores the importance of the ability to be able to use the most effective RF solution available, because there are so many available now, and frankly, I think this is just the first step. Future IoT devices, by definition, are going to have to be multimodal.

Bruno Tomas: Yes, indeed. It's what we see on some use-cases where you have the same device running WiFi capabilities, as well as a local one, but can be also other technologies on that kind of device. That's a big trend of the market today. Because again, if you talk about coverage, none of the technologies are able to cover the world today, so you have to play smartly on all technologies.

When it's a question of trade-off between cost battery consumption and range, where you choose to have multiple chip and data collection into the cloud, or one unified chip running all the technologies, or you can also materially mutualize the network side into the gateways, but at the end of the day, it's about choosing, choosing, real time, the best technology to solve your use case.

EE: Exactly. Now this can be addressed with software-defined radio as well. Correct?

Bruno Tomas: Exactly. It can be a hardware solution, or can be software-defined. Yes, can be an SoC, or modules where you have a kind of a black box, or it can be an external MCU you do yourself, it's always the compromise between the cost, battery consumption, and effectiveness. 

EE: What are your thoughts on the balance between a hardware versus a software-defined solution? Because we are seeing more software-defined radio solutions, interestingly enough, even in the test and measurement space, and we're curious what your thoughts were on hardware versus software solutions on the RF side.

Bruno Tomas: Today we see a marriage of the two. We named that the chip-to-cloud solution. Look at the last LoRa solution, developed by Semtech last month. It's a new chip, able to run WiFi scan, GNSS scan, and LoRa WAN technology connected to the cloud. So part of the compute is made on the cloud, not all on the chip. You can imagine to save your battery and computation power consumption. So for many application combining the cloud and the chip, you need connectivity, of course, if you want to make that. You need full connectivity.

EE: Exactly. Now why don't we talk about some of the direct benefits of this? Why don't you walk it through from the point of view of the designer? Why should I worry about integrating my WiFi and my LoRa? Because we've been talking about it because we know about the why's it's given to us, explain it simply for those who are wondering, well, it's just wireless, right?

Bruno Tomas: Because the technology strengths are completely somehow complementary and yet opposites. WiFi is able to run gigabyte throughput, and LoRaWAN is very low throughput. So if you need a use case, with very low-throughput devices you will use LoRaWAN. If you need broadband services, no way you would use WiFi. Then it's a compromise on the battery consumption. If you need very low battery consumption, where in 10 years, you don't want to go to the ground to change your battery, you will use a LoRaWAN solution. If you have a key to replace your battery or to update, you can use WiFi easier. It just that's, depending on your use case, the capabilities of each technology are different, and you can learn the best strategy when having the two on the same infrastructure.

Remi-LorrainRemi Lorrain: I can comment on that from the Wireless Broadband Alliance standpoint, to one of the main motivations of this collaboration. It's really to make two of the most successfully unlicensed wireless technologies in the market, WiFi and LoRa WAN working together. We see more and more of this concept of multi RF coming to life.

By merging these two, what we hear from our members is that top of mind is if they do the deployment, how they can get the ROI. So, most of the times in the past, they were doing separate deployments. So there are efficiencies and synergies they achieved from the get go. But at the same time, to your point, in terms of leveraging some cloud services, we see more and more software as a service IoT type-two deployment, where two concepts that are quite important, such as identity management mechanisms, policy interworking is not possible to be enabled. We introduced a couple of use cases here in the paper, and we see that as an enabler for mode interoperability. From the standpoint of someone investing in the networks, you want to increase its usage, so you also open the door for potential partners that you didn't have before.

EE: Now what about from the design and development aspect? What do I need to understand to properly integrate this into my solution?

Remi Lorrain: Yeah, so yes, it's a multilayer question. You have to understand your use case, the requirements, the technical requirements, and the business requirements. Back to needs, functional needs, throughput needs. Then, you have to understand each technology and its limitation. And last, you need to have some design skills to best integrate your technologies on the network side, on the chip side, and on the cloud side, it seems to be complex in the first approach, but what the market has been doing for the last five years, it's simply simplifying, at the maximum, this integration. A lot of integrated API, a lot of software to the cheap solution, a lot of black boxes where you just have to think of your application and not too much on the detailed implementation.

EE: Got it. Got it. Now, are there any aspects that we haven't brought up that you think we should be talking about for the audience?

Remi Lorrain: I think one topic you mentioned regarding to RF usage and spectrum, I think that our spectrum trends coming into play, and when we compare the IoT technologies available and licensed versus unlicensed, we don't put one against the other. But the reality is that, for instance, on the WiFi space, with introduction of the sixth generation, there are features physically related to IoT, and one that we believe is quite useful, it's the flexible channel sizes and resource units.

This means that a developer, depending on the antenna that they are using, they can select whether, for instance, 20 megahertz channels and further break them down into smaller two-megahertz resource units. So just by doing this without additional costs, you get more efficient IoT supports when for instance, lower data rights are required and you allow devices to use less power and support the different type of coverage trenches, especially if they may become quite intensive, like for AR/VR type applications.

EE: Now, as far as implementation, because you point out there are already companies with finished solutions, and LoRa is an open-source environment. There are a lot of solutions available, currently, not as many integrated solutions, but there are solutions available out there. Are there any suggestions, guidance that you could give our audience on? Who are some of the organizations that are involved?

Bruno Tomas: So we would recommend to participate and potentially join the two alliances, the WBA or the LoRa Alliance, because it provides a lot of insight information trainings deals on this technology. That's key to increase your awareness and your skills on these technologies, and a very good network provider system in terms of the ways the market can assist the customer, for sure, that can be a way to develop a customer of keys on that. Then there's the developer community. There are hundreds of thousands of developer communities across the world, working on WiFi and LoRa alone. It's also a clever way to come to the technology, and also develop implementation skills.

I think on the paper itself. So Remi mentioned the eight use cases that we have there, but I was especially happy to see compared to when we did the exercise last year, for companies to come forward and present cases on how this is working. So we have a few examples there, like Boingo Wireless doing multifamily dwelling units in the West. We have a smart city with smart light poles from Charter Communications, and they really present how you can have, for instance, your switching infrastructure, how you attach an existing wireless line controller with their existing dock.

Suddenly, if you bring your model WAN network server and application servers, you can have the end points graciously introduced into your live deployment. So this is really something that if you are partnering with a company that have this capability, it will make the device designer's life probably much easier and fast-track that time-to-market.

Remi Lorrain: So the message that we have today is that like Bruno said, just run through the whiteaper, you will have a lot of examples, contact information, video, web links that will provide you to know more about that. Be aware that we are working on a next version of this white paper for 2021, where we will show more use cases and more contributors. And again, reach out to the where you can have any of your questions.

Click here to go to the whitepaper download page.

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