NB-IoT and LoRaWAN will dominate the LPWAN universe by 2028

LPWAN technology background
Sheila Zabeu -

April 27, 2023

There are several wireless connectivity options for Internet of Things, from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to SigFox, LTE CAT-M1 and RPMA, but two are showing signs they will dominate the market. NB-IoT and LoRaWAN will account for 87% of all LPWAN connections by 2028. These two wireless technologies operate more power-efficiently, meaning they extend battery life, and are able to work with a larger number of connected devices over a wider area.

First of all, it should be noted that LPWAN (Low Powered Wide Area Network) is not a standard and encompasses several types of protocols, both proprietary and open source, like the ones mentioned above, that share the characteristics of low power consumption and wide coverage area ideal for IoT application use. Under this LPWAN umbrella, the two technologies that are leading the way are NB-IoT and LoRaWAN, according to a recent Omdia survey.

LPWAN IoT connections to grow 23% CAGR from 2022 to 2028

NB-IoT shows itself as an alternative based on cellular networks, proposed by the 3GPP group. According to Omdia’s study, by the end of 2022, more than 90% of global NB-IoT connections were in China. In other locations, adoption of the NB-IoT protocol has been slow. “With a maturing NB-IoT ecosystem driven by government regulations, China will continue to be the key driver of the NB-IoT market soon. Due to technical challenges, popular NB-IoT use cases are limited to stationary scenarios such as smart meters and connected spaces in smart cities,” comments Shobhit Srivastava, senior analyst at Omdia.

In Europe, providers such as Telefónica and DT are investing in satellite-based NB-IoT connectivity to cover remote areas and blind spots. Government regulations, such as those of the spanish national traffic authority, are expected to drive the growth of NB-IoT in the region.

LoRaWAN technology proposed by the LoRa Alliance, on the other hand, has shown undeniable growth over several years, gaining momentum and maturity. “This success should continue in the future, with differentiated offerings and a value proposition that NB-IoT cannot easily match. The unmatched accessibility for IoT applications has made LoRaWAN a favourite choice for small developers, the maker community and Over-the-Top (OTT) IoT networks such as The Things Network,” adds Srivastava.

There are hundreds of LoRaWAN network operators around the world. This availability makes it easy to deploy IoT solutions, significantly extending the reach of the technology.

Another option

And if we imagine a large-scale IoT implementation, as seen in smart cities or precision agriculture, which LPWAN connectivity option to use? The Wi-SUN Alliance, an organisation founded in 2011, has thought about this and is seeking to promote standards for power levels, data rates, modulations, frequency bands, among other variables, with the aim of supporting the worldwide development of wireless communication networks for large IoT, utility and smart city projects.

The Wi-SUN FAN specification, announced in 2016, is aimed at robust and secure IoT applications that need to work with internationally recognised open standards, interoperable in a wireless mesh network based on the IEEE 802.15.4g standard. In this case, FAN (Field Area Network) means the geographical area that a Wi-SUN network can cover, which can reach the size of a large city. Another aspect of the term FAN comes from the fact that it covers the last mile, that is, devices in the field. SUN, on the other hand, comes from Smart Utility Network, but the technology is suitable for a wide range of applications beyond utiliities, including smaller scales such as industrial and commercial spaces. Logically, the “Wi” part of Wi-SUN FAN has to do with Wi-Fi.

Unlike LoRaWAN and NB-IoT networks that use tower- or star-based topology, Wi-SUN networks are generally mesh-based, in which IoT devices communicate with neighbours and all can serve as conduits to the base station. This model ensures multiple and redundant connection paths, unlike the star-based topology. In addition, mesh network devices tend to transmit data over short distances, which allows them to be energy efficient and thus provide longer battery life and more consistent data rates.

In late 2002, the Wi-SUN Alliance and the Eldorado Institute announced the opening of the first laboratory authorized to test and certify products designed for Wi-SUN FAN in the Americas. The new facility will be located at the institute’s facility in Campinas, in the interior of the state of São Paulo. The Wi-SUN FAN protocol has already been adopted by Brazilian utilities, including CPFL and Copel.

In time: According to a recent Wi-SUN Alliance survey, energy security tops the list of “most exciting” areas of smart services development for 79% of respondents, more than smart buildings and infrastructure (75%), weather-associated systems (73%) and disaster management (69%).