Nowadays, we are in the era of the Internet of Things (IoT), and thanks to the development of IoT technology, wireless communication technology has also received high attention. Among various wireless communication technologies, we not only need the higher speed and stability of 5G technology, but also low power consumption, long distance, and large-scale connectivity of LPWAN (Low-Power Wide-Area Network) wireless communication technology. The diverse development of wireless technologies enables us to choose the appropriate communication technology according to different circumstances.
LORAWAN technology has been widely recognized by IoT users due to its unique flexibility. Speaking of LORAWAN technology, it is necessary to mention LORA technology, which is a subset of LORAWAN and belongs to one of its physical layer modulation technologies. It uses linear modulation spread spectrum techniques, significantly improving its reception sensitivity and achieving communication distances farther than other modulation technologies.
LORA Technology Development and Introduction
The name LoRa stands for Long Range Radio, and it was originally introduced by a French startup company called Cycleo, as a linear frequency modulation spread spectrum modulation technology. In 2012, Semtech acquired this company and encapsulated the modulation technology into chips. Based on LoRa wireless technology, a complete set of LoRa communication chip solutions has been developed, including different LoRa chip modules for gateways and terminals, marking the beginning of LoRa chip productization.
However, a single LoRa-based transceiver chip is not enough to penetrate the vast IoT market. In the subsequent development process, the LoRa wireless module alliance formed by multiple manufacturers, as well as the continuous iteration of the LoRaWAN gateway protocol specifications, have given rise to a global wide-area networking standard supported by hundreds of companies, forming a wide-ranging industry ecosystem.
Driving this ecosystem involves various technological standards, product designs, and application cases, all of which are essential elements that multiple manufacturers participate in, and they do not belong to Semtech alone. For example, the LoRaWAN specification is an open standard in which multiple manufacturers worldwide participate, allowing any organization or individual to develop products and deploy networks based on this standard.
Compared to most networks with mesh topologies that are easy to expand, but have the drawback of using various unrelated nodes to relay messages, resulting in routing detours and increased system complexity and total power consumption, LoRa uses a star topology (TMD networking method), where the gateway connects to terminal nodes in a star shape. The terminal nodes are not bound to a single gateway; instead, the uplink data from terminal nodes can be sent to multiple gateways. In theory, users can achieve flexible networking through mesh, point-to-point, or star network protocols and architectures.
LoRa wireless modules mainly operate in global free frequency bands (unlicensed frequency bands), including 433MHz, 868MHz, 915MHz, and other working frequency bands. The LoRa module network architecture consists of terminal nodes, gateways, network servers, and application servers, enabling bidirectional transmission of application data.
LoRa wireless communication creates long-range communication connections, and compared to traditional FSK technology and short-range RF technology with insufficient stability and security, LoRa modules based on Chirp Spread Spectrum (CSS) modulation technology have greatly increased communication range while maintaining low power consumption. CSS technology has been widely used in military and space communication for decades, characterized by long transmission distances and strong anti-interference capabilities.
Furthermore, LoRa wireless technology does not require the construction of base stations, as a single gateway can control multiple devices, and the network deployment is flexible, thereby significantly reducing construction costs.
LoRa modules are widely deployed in smart communities, smart homes and buildings, and smart meters due to their low power consumption, long transmission distance, and flexible networking. It has broad prospects in multiple vertical industries such as planning, smart agriculture, and smart logistics.
Transmission distance: 2-5 km in urban areas, up to 15 km in suburban areas.
Operating frequency: ISM frequency bands including 433 MHz, 868 MHz, 915 MHz, etc.
Communication standard: IEEE 802.15.4g.
Modulation method: Based on spread spectrum technology, linear modulation spread spectrum (CSS) is a variant with forward error correction (FEC) capability, a proprietary patented technology of Semtech.
Capacity: A LoRa gateway can connect thousands to tens of thousands of LoRa nodes.
Battery life: Up to 10 years.
Security: AES128 encryption.
Transmission rate: From several hundred to several tens of Kbps, where lower rates result in longer transmission distances, similar to carrying more and walking less far.
Around 2014, the first batch of domestic enterprises in China began to develop LoRa wireless technology-related products. After five years, the LoRa module has evolved from a small-scale wireless technology to becoming a universally recognized standard in the IoT field.
Last year, the Radio Management Bureau of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology released a draft for comments on the "Technical Requirements for Low-Power Short-Distance Radio Transmission Equipment," which mentioned that the 470-510MHz frequency band can be used for wireless intercom devices, clarifying that it is for transmitting sound, not data; at the same time, it emphasized "limited to single frequency point use, not for networking applications." This draft on LoRa networking applications received widespread attention from the industry, leading to uncertainties in the development of LoRa networks in China.
Ultimately, with the efforts of industry partners, the regulations from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology did not explicitly prohibit networking, but instead stated that it can be used for local area networks, and the specific application restrictions were also lifted, resolving the uncertainties in the development of LoRa in China. On the other hand, with major Internet giants such as Tencent, Google, and Alibaba joining the LoRa Alliance, this has brought strong support for the LoRa technology ecosystem, addressing the challenges faced during the development of LoRa technology.
The entry of tech giants into the LoRa ecosystem and their participation in the LoRa technology alliance indicates that each company hopes to establish its position in the IoT and industrial Internet fields through LoRa. Alibaba and Tencent have made LoRa an important entry point for their IoT layouts, which is evident in the LinkWAN and TTN platforms they are promoting, demonstrating a significant driving force for the industry's upstream and downstream. Additionally, groups such as China Tower, China Unicom, and China Broadcasting have also begun to deploy LoRa in various industries, further promoting its application in different sectors.
From the current market structure, there are already over a thousand companies in China participating in the LoRa ecosystem, reflecting a pattern of large, medium, and small enterprises, as well as traditional and Internet companies participating together. The overall industry environment for LoRa development in China is continuously improving, and the LoRa Alliance itself is growing stronger.
According to available information, in 2018, the shipment volume of LoRa chips in China reached tens of millions of units, with module and meter manufacturers accounting for the majority of the purchasing share, followed by base station manufacturers. In addition, there are a large number of dispersed module and terminal manufacturers in China directly purchasing LoRa chips in small quantities, which, when combined, still form a considerable scale.
For most module, terminal, system, and application manufacturers, they are neutral towards various technologies, and their choice of technology route is mostly a market-driven behavior. LoRa chips are an important underlying component that supports the entire industry, but the formation of the entire industry structure relies on the joint efforts of multiple forces, which have already taken shape in China. The flexibility of LoRa-related products is widely recognized in the industry, not only because it can autonomously deploy networks in various environments, but also because various developers can choose from multiple platforms and quickly receive development support.
In the past year, LoRa technology has seen a large number of IoT applications landing in vertical fields such as smart cities, smart parks, intelligent buildings, and smart security. Vivek Mohan, Director of IoT Business at Semtech, has stated that there are already over 300 application scenarios in various vertical industries worldwide.
From a demand perspective: The demand for LoRa chips in China is dispersed. On one hand, due to the involvement of multiple industries in the LoRa ecosystem, it is difficult to form a monopolistic demand; on the other hand, the entry threshold for corresponding modules and terminals is not high, and many small and medium-sized teams and terminal manufacturers can quickly launch LoRa hardware products, creating a fully competitive market.
From a technical ecosystem perspective: LoRa wireless technology is a physical layer modulation technology that can be used in different protocols, such as the LoRaWAN protocol, CLAA network protocol, LoRa private network protocol, and LoRa data transmission. With the use of different protocols, the final products and business forms will also differ. The LoRaWAN protocol, promoted by the LoRa Alliance, is a low-power wide-area network protocol, and the LoRa Alliance has standardized LoRaWAN to ensure interoperability of LoRa networks in different countries. As of now, the LoRaWAN standard has established a complete ecosystem chain of "LoRa chips - modules - sensors - base stations or gateways - network services - application services."
From a data perspective: Data provided by Semtech shows that in terms of network deployment, LoRa networks have been deployed by over 70 countries and 100 network operators, and the market volume of LoRa has continued to grow rapidly in recent years. At the same time, the number of deployed LoRa base stations has increased from 70,000 to over 200,000, supporting approximately 1.2 billion nodes, with over 90 million nodes currently deployed.
In terms of scale: Semtech, as the main promoter of LoRa technology applications worldwide, has encouraged other companies to participate in the LoRa ecosystem. In February 2015, it jointly founded the LoRa Alliance with Actility, Cisco, IBM, and other manufacturers. After four years of development, the LoRa Alliance now has over 500 members worldwide.
The Chinese market is a very important part of the global LoRa ecosystem. In 2018, major Internet giants such as Alibaba, Tencent, and JD.com joined the LoRa Alliance as top-tier members. At the same time, Kell Technology, local radio and television companies, Zhejiang Unicom, and Unicom IoT companies have also actively deployed LoRa networks. From a policy perspective: Although the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology released the "Technical Requirements for Low-Power Short-Distance Radio Transmission Equipment (Draft for Comments)," which temporarily made the commercial prospects of LoRa less clear, it did not silence LoRa. With strong support from industry partners, it has instead become even more resilient, and the industry ecosystem is continuously expanding.
LoRa technology is a patent of Semtech, and initially, its LoRa chip products were exclusively supplied. However, a single LoRa product would inevitably bring about limitations in terms of product prices and features.
In 2018, Semtech began to change its traditional product marketing model, authorizing IP to some companies to develop LoRa products, creating a market supply situation with multiple suppliers. LoRa chip manufacturers are taking a differentiated route, integrating chips with different functionalities to meet the needs of a wider range of applications, such as LoRa+GPS for location information, LoRa+BLE for local short-range device communication, and LoRa+security chips to enhance device security, collectively expanding the market.
In the future, there may be more LoRa chip suppliers, and a larger market would also be in Semtech’s interest.
In summary, it can be seen that, whether from a technical, supply chain, industry structure, or ecosystem development perspective, LoRa is still a technology option primarily driven by market behavior, and the impact of geopolitical and economic games between major countries on LoRa supply and demand is minimal. The use of LoRa communication in IoT projects involves a wide range of technologies and elements, many of which have value far beyond communication itself. In the future, the industry should focus more on creating application value and commercial models, in order to gain an advantage in the IoT era.
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