LoRaWAN VS NB-IoT: How Do They Compare and Differ

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LoRaWAN VS NB IoT: How Do They Compare and Differ

The IoT is blowing up and LoRaWAN vs NB-IoT are two titan low-power wide-area networks (LPWANs) leading the charge. These long range, low bandwidth wireless languages might sound confusing now, but they’re the keys to unlocking awesome IoT capabilities.

Whether you’re trying to track assets across a sprawling warehouse, monitor environmental conditions on a farm, or build a massive smart city network, LoRaWAN and NB-IoT have you covered. Sure, other wireless options exist like Zigbee and Bluetooth, but they just can’t match the range and battery life of these LPWANs. We’re talking years of operation on a single charge!

So whichever team you pick – LoRaWAN’s open standards or NB-IoT’s cellular slickness – prepare to have your mind blown by their awesome performance.

An overview of LoRaWAN and NB-IoT

LoRaWAN and NB-IoT are both LPWAN technologies, but they operate quite differently. LoRaWAN uses unlicensed spectrum and proprietary spread spectrum modulation, while NB-IoT leverages licensed LTE bands and narrowband 4G cellular. To truly understand how these two options compare, we need to define how LoRaWAN and NB-IoT work.

What is LoRaWAN

LoRaWAN is a low power, wide area networking protocol designed by the LoRa Alliance for low-power, battery-operated IoT devices. It utilizes the LoRa physical layer, which is a proprietary spread spectrum modulation technique derived from Chirp Spread Spectrum (CSS) technology patented by Semtech.

The LoRaWAN specification defines a secure, bi-directional communication protocol with features like end-to-end encryption, data authentication and mobility support. LoRaWAN networks require gateways to connect end devices to the internet, with each device incurring small fees for the LoRa chipsets.

LoRaWAN aims to provide an easy way to connect IoT “things” to regional, national or global networks while meeting key IoT requirements like low power, long range, localization services and secure communications.

LoRaWAN diagram

What is NB-IoT

NB-IoT (Narrowband IoT) is a cellular standard developed by 3GPP to enable low-power, wide area network connectivity for IoT devices. It is optimized for providing wide coverage and enhanced indoor penetration to stationary IoT sensors and meters.

Unlike the unlicensed LoRaWAN protocol, NB-IoT operates in licensed cellular spectrum owned by mobile operators. This licensed approach aims to provide a more reliable and interoperable user experience, despite at higher long-term costs compared to unlicensed LPWAN technologies.

NB-IoT completed standardization in 3GPP Release 13 and can be deployed in in-band, guard-band or standalone modes without requiring gateways like LoRaWAN. NB-IoT devices connect directly to cellular base stations.

There is a growing trend towards Embedded SIM (eSIM) adoption for NB-IoT, with 83% of organizations viewing it as crucial for IoT per GSMA Intelligence. eSIMs allow provisioning of “blank” SIM-enabled IoT devices for streamlined global connectivity.

NB-IoT diagram

LoRaWAN VS NB-IoT: feature-by-feature comparison

LoRa and NB-IoT stand out as the leading LPWA protocols, boasting several common attributes such as extensive battery life, wide coverage, and cost-effectiveness. Despite their striking similarities, significant distinctions exist between the NB-IoT and LoRa standards:

Range and coverage

LoRaWAN leverages gateways to provide long-range coverage of 5-15 km radius per gateway, making it suitable for rural/remote areas and tracking mobile assets. Its geolocation is non-GPS based.

NB-IoT operates within a cellular network architecture with 2-3 km radius per cell station. It requires dense cell deployments for wide-area coverage but performs better in indoor/urban areas with existing 4G infrastructure. NB-IoT uses GPS for geolocation services.

Bandwidth and data rate

NB-IoT has a clear edge, offering 180 kHz bandwidth on LTE (higher on 4G) and up to 200 kbps data rates thanks to its advanced design. In comparison, LoRaWAN is limited to 125, 250, and 500 kHz bandwidth and maximum 50 kbps rates. NB-IoT’s licensed spectrum and robust MAC layer also provide better protection against noise and interference.

Latency

LoRaWAN prioritizes extended battery life for IoT devices, but this comes at the cost of high latency. In contrast, NB-IoT, being a cellular technology, offers lower latency by frequently “checking in” with the network. This makes NB-IoT a better choice for IoT use cases that require more responsive communication.

Network Topology

LoRaWAN uses a star-of-stars topology where end devices communicate directly with gateways, which then relay data to a central network server. In contrast, NB-IoT follows a cellular network topology with devices connecting directly to base stations, leveraging the existing cellular infrastructure’s mesh network architecture. While the basic network architectures are similar, the key difference lies in LoRaWAN’s use of gateways as intermediaries, compared to NB-IoT’s direct device-to-base-station connectivity model.

Cost and Quality of Service (QoS)

LoRaWAN, operating in unlicensed ISM spectrum, offers lower deployment and device costs. NB-IoT, in licensed cellular bands, demands hefty license fees from operators for spectrum efficiency. This privileged access ensures superior quality and security, yet at the steep cost of expanding LTE infrastructure for IoT support. LoRaWAN caters to localized, low-power deployments with frugal pricing, while NB-IoT delivers seamless reliability and coverage – a premium service facilitated by cellular operators’ exclusive domain.

Deployment Status

As of 2024, LoRaWAN boasts a global footprint with over 170 operators across 181 countries. According to GSMA, NB-IoT has seen more regional traction, with 124 operator deployments in 64 countries, mainly Asia and Europe. LoRaWAN led 2022 chipset shipments at 65.9 million, while NB-IoT accounted for 22.4 million, with all shipments projected to grow by 20% per annum by 2027.

LoRaWAN vs NB-IoT: feature by feature comparison

A comparison chart of LoRaWAN and NB-IoT

This comparison chart below highlights the key differences between LoRaWAN and NB-IoT in terms of different parameters.

LoRaWAN NB-IoT
Licensed spectrum No Yes
Ecosystem LoRa Alliance 3GPP
Coverage and range 5-15 km 1-10 km
Data rate Lower Higher
Latency High Low
Power Consumption Very Low Low
Support device mobility Yes Limited
Allow private networks Yes No
Roaming Restricted Yes
Cost Lower for localized deployments Higher, leveraging existing cellular networks

Pros and cons of LoRaWAN and NB-IoT

While LoRaWAN and NB-IoT share some similarities in being low-power wide-area network technologies, they differ significantly in several key aspects. Let’s explore the prominent pros and cons of LoRaWAN and Narrowband IoT:

Pros of LoRaWAN:

– Unmatched long-range capabilities (up to 15 km)

– Extremely low power consumption, 10+ years of battery life

– Private and localized network deployment

– Lower costs

– Open standard and interoperability

Cons of LoRaWAN:

– Lower data rates, unsuitable for high-bandwidth applications

– Limited quality of service and priority management

– Potential interference in dense deployments

– Requires dedicated gateway infrastructure

Pros of NB-IoT:

– Higher data rates compared to LoRaWAN

– Leverages existing cellular infrastructure for broad coverage

– Enhanced quality of service and priority management

– Cellular-grade security and reliability

Cons of NB-IoT:

– Higher deployment and operational costs

– Reliance on cellular operators and infrastructure

– Shorter range and limited indoor penetration

– Higher power consumption compared to LoRaWAN

Different use cases of NB-IoT and LoRaWAN

LoRaWAN is well-suited for applications that require long-range communication, deep indoor penetration, and ultra-low power consumption. Some common use cases include:

  • Smart agriculture and precision farming (soil, livestock tracking, micro-climates)
  • Smart utilities (water, heating, gas, electricity)
  • Smart building (indoor air quality, occupancy, metering, leak detection)
  • Smart cities (parking, street lighting, waste management, noise levels, traffic lights, fleet management)
  • Smart industry (industry equipment health monitoring, energy conservation

NB-IoT, on the other hand, is more suitable for applications that require higher data rates, enhanced quality of service, and broader coverage. Some potential use cases include:

  • Smart utility monitoring with real-time data transmission (electricity, gas, water)
  • Smart healthcare (patient monitoring, telehealth services)
  • Smart manufacturing and industrial IoT (predictive maintenance, asset tracking, process optimization)
  • Smart cities (traffic management, public transportation, environmental monitoring)
  • Smart retail (inventory management, asset tracking, supply chain visibility)
  • Smart agriculture (precision farming, livestock, irrigation)
  • Smart logistics (shipment tracking, cold chain monitoring, fleet management)

LoRaWAN vs NB-IoT: which is better for IoT connectivity?

Labeling LoRaWAN vs NB-IoT as pure complements or competitors would be simplistic. Their use cases can overlap in certain domains, but each is better suited for different scenarios based on their respective strengths.

LoRaWAN shines in rural, remote areas without cellular coverage. Its long range, unlicensed spectrum, low power needs, and cost-effective private deployments are key advantages. But you can count it out in cities either – it can handle smart utilities, buildings, industrial IoT, you name it. Its non-GPS geolocation is also clutch for battery-constrained mobile use cases like supply chain and transport tracking.

On the other hand, NB-IoT provides reliable, higher bandwidth connectivity ideal for real-time, mission-critical IoT applications by leveraging existing 4G/LTE infrastructure. This makes it well-positioned for smart cities, connected vehicles and industrial use cases, especially in urban domains. However, its higher deployment costs and reliance on power-hungry GPS can be limitations in rural areas without cellular coverage.

The choice depends on needs like coverage, bandwidth, power constraints, mobility, and costs. Rather than either/or, strategic deployment of both based on strengths enables robust IoT ecosystems across use cases.

What about Sigfox

Sigfox is another major LPWAN player battling LoRaWAN and NB-IoT for IoT connectivity dominance. It uses an ultra-narrowband tech in unlicensed spectrum. The prominent point? A simple, low-power, low-cost option ideal for applications needing to send small data bursts occasionally. Adoption may trail LoRa and NB-IoT for now, but Sigfox has spread to over 70 countries. It’s a hit for logistics and supply chain tracking that need reliable global coverage. What makes Sigfox stand out is its hassle-free setup, extreme power efficiency for years of battery life, and affordability. It can transmit tiny data packets across virtually any location – a capability its higher data rate LPWAN rivals lack.

FAQs about LoRaWAN and NB-IoT

Q1: Can LoRaWAN and NB-IoT devices communicate with each other?

No, LoRaWAN and NB-IoT are separate technologies and cannot directly communicate with each other. However, it is possible to integrate them through a common platform or gateway that can translate between the two protocols.

Q2: Which technology is more secure, LoRaWAN or NB-IoT?

Both technologies employ robust security mechanisms, but NB-IoT, being part of the cellular ecosystem, generally offers enhanced security features and cellular-grade encryption.

CONTINUE READING ABOUT LORAWAN AND NB-IOT

Written by ——
Nick He
Nick He
Nick, a seasoned project manager in our R&D department, brings a wealth of experience to MOKOSMART, having previously served as a project engineer at BYD. His expertise in R&D brings a well-rounded skill to his IoT project management. With a solid background spanning 6 years in project management and get certifications like PMP and CSPM-2, Nick excels in coordinating efforts across sales, engineering, testing, and marketing teams. The IoT device projects he has participated in include Beacons, LoRa devices, gateways, and smart plugs.
Nick He
Nick He
Nick, a seasoned project manager in our R&D department, brings a wealth of experience to MOKOSMART, having previously served as a project engineer at BYD. His expertise in R&D brings a well-rounded skill to his IoT project management. With a solid background spanning 6 years in project management and get certifications like PMP and CSPM-2, Nick excels in coordinating efforts across sales, engineering, testing, and marketing teams. The IoT device projects he has participated in include Beacons, LoRa devices, gateways, and smart plugs.
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