Lora WAN and interesting IoT use casesAdvice
The Device Chronicle interviewed Alex Raimondi, CEO, Miramico about the applicability of Lora WAN in IoT projects
Lora WAN as a connection technology is a popular option for enterprises with IoT projects as it provides a robust and cost-effective mechanism for collecting data from sensors for edge and cloud analysis. Alex Raimondi is an expert in the technology and provides an assessment of how large enterprises are, and should be thinking about this wireless connectivity technology. Alex begins by saying that Lora WAN is now in a “settling phase” as a technology. It is mature in its development and there is now tremendous focus on Lora WAN works with the 2.4 GHz frequency as it has the advantages of lower network server costs and be used worldwide.
Gold in the data and Lora WAN
But Alex qualifies the usefulness of Lora WAN by saying that in the ideal world, the enterprise should consider the whole solution they require rather than the individual components as a first step. He says “In the end, they should be interested in the data and what they can do with the data acquired from the field.” The second consideration is the cost to get access to this data.” With this in mind Alex and his colleagues at Miramico formed a joint venture company with its partner V8 named Tessenzo in February 2021. The idea behind the new company is to serve enterprises that are asking for full use cases. “They don’t want to go shopping and see which embedded devices and connection technologies they can use to solve their problems. They are looking for a system integrator and IoT consulting. “So if it’s Narrowband IoT or Lora WAN that is connecting to the data, the enterprise shouldn’t care, because they want to have the data and the provider has to make it accessible through technology that provides the best cost and resilience proposition. Lora WAN is suitable as you can put a private network so you don’t have to deal with a mobile network operator as you would have to do with narrowband IoT. An enterprise can build up their own infrastructure in a cost effective manner. The Lora WAN gateways have competitive costs in the range of €200 to €300. The Lora WAN compatible devices are in most cases below €50 per unit. You can easily create a very cost effective solution and start with local entity infrastructure for Proof of Concept testing with one or two gateways on a campus and once it’s going to scale up, you can easily add additional gateways.”
The hardware in Lora WAN is 10 to 20% cheaper but you must also consider the costs of Sigfox My IoT as they just take their share on the lower transceivers. With mobile networks, you have to deal with national telecom providers. These operators also take their share and the lower the event connectivity is, there is more competition on the market, and if you make the good deals, you can get better prices. And in the end, it’s not even the connectivity cost, it is more about managing the total cost of ownership effectively.
Commodity buying over solution seeking
Alex has seen several cases where enterprises take a commodity purchasing mindset rather than thinking about the overall strategic total cost of ownership. “They ask for standard devices and you provide them with a quote. They then typically compare your quote with Chinese-made devices that can be half the price. But then there are downsides with these devices in terms of reduced battery life and less powerful software features. If enterprises go down this cheaper route then they end up with devices where the batteries have to be changed every other year. Whereas with premium devices, the battery lasts for the 10 year course of an IoT project. The upfront cost of the hardware might be lower but in the end, staff will have to be hired to change the batteries in the devices within 5 years. A major challenge for Alex is the trap of short term thinking and managerial incentives: The manager often has to justify the cost today and in five years, nobody knows where he will be. If they can get it for cheap at the moment, they will get a better bonus for buying a less expensive system, and consulting. The key figure is the total cost of ownership over time because you don’t do it just for the here and now but also for the next 10 years.” Alex also sees many companies taking time to evaluate Lora WAN and can be time consuming if not left to a solutions provider. “The process requires that the procuring company talk to at least two providers to get competing offers. This is double the time you have to just select a solution and then the same for the sensors. For each sensor, they are required to have two or three offers. This is counter-intuitive to the core business of these companies which they know is that the kind of data they need, the quality and resolution of the data.
LoraWAN use cases
Alex and his team at Miramico have completed a very interesting project with Swisspost. The Post Home button enables Swisspost to use digital services to meet its official obligation to provide postal service to every citizen in Switzerland. If a residential customer lives too far away from the next post office in the range of 20 minutes by public transport then Swisspost is obliged to provide services to the home. Before, the postman had to walk by every house every day and whenever a sign was out, they would have to ring the doorbell and ask what kind of service the resident needed. This has now been supplanted by the miro ScanNget. This device enables orders to be placed simply by pressing a button, whereby an OID code is scanned. With the built-in Lora WAN radio module it is possible to achieve a battery life of up to 10 years. This is now rolled out in roughly 50 to 65,000 households in Switzerland as there is almost nationwide Lora WAN coverage here in Switzerland.
Tracking birds on Lora WAN
Another interesting use case concerns tracker devices developed with a company with a university in England. Birds get a tracker on their back and as they fly to Africa, GPS pinpoints their location a, whenever we come back to within the Lora WAN network range, researchers can download the data and analyse it. So even though the LoraWAN network is not deployed along the way where the birds travel, the data can still be collected when they return. The trackers are also solar-powered. The next step, we are now working on satellite connection for Lora WAN SO the bird tracking device will be able deliver the data directly to a satellite. There will be no need for ground bridge infrastructure after this. It will Lora WAN from space and Miramico is working with a company called Laguna Space to enable this.
We wish Alex and his colleagues well on their journey to make optimal solutions based on Lora WAN and other IoT technologies.