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LoRaWhat? LoRaWAN and its application to Intelligent Transport Systems

We recently held a one-day hackathon to better understand LoRaWAN technology and how it can be applied to what we do here at Clearview Intelligence. But before delving into what we learnt, let’s be clear on what LoRaWAN is and why it’s relevant to Intelligent Transport Systems.

What is LoRaWAN technology?

LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) is an LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) specification for a communication network, defined by the LoRa Alliance (a group of organisations working on networks and technology for IoT). LoRaWAN has been designed specifically for communication between remote networks of IoT devices and data gathering systems.

A few key elements combine to make it suitable for building IoT networks:

  • The low power requirements of the network enable devices to be battery operated and so wireless. This means they can be deployed easily without the need for a connection to mains power.
  • The specification set out by the LoRa Alliance provides clear guidance to which developers of both software and hardware should adhere. This saves time and makes it easier to get devices up and running on a LoRaWAN network. This has made it much easier over recent years to buy something off the shelf that works on a LoRaWAN network.
  • LoRaWAN uses licence-exempt radio spectrum (part of the Industrial, Scientific and Medical bands). Using this unlicensed spectrum allows companies to innovate and experiment with different devices on different networks in a way they would not be able to if they had to pay to use licensed spectrum (GPRS, 3G and 4G or pay for their own bands).

These factors combined make LoRaWAN attractive to those working on IoT networks for connecting and monitoring a range of things from street lighting to waste management, flooding to smart parking.

LoRaWAN networks are becoming increasingly widespread. The Dutch telecoms provider KPN deployed the first nationwide IoT network using this technology last year, closely followed by SK Telecom’s network covering South Korea. Other providers are rolling this out on a city by city basis; Glasgow now has a LoRa network covering 12km2 and London has a network of 50 LoRaWAN base stations across the city.

As with all new technologies LoRaWAN doesn’t come without risks.

Having only been created less than 2 years ago, LoRaWAN is still one of several LPWAN protocols and may not ultimately be the most prevalent technology. There is also uncertainty around how the theoretical capabilities play out in the field, for example, if you want to place a device underground you are likely to have a much smaller communication range than expected, while large numbers of devices may cause radio congestion.

Also, the system is centralised by design. This means all data from a device is encrypted and sent to a central application before it can be relayed to another device. This makes the communication more secure, but adds a layer of control, which if it fails will disrupt the entire system.

So why are we at Clearview interested in LoRaWAN?

This protocol is designed for sending very small messages about the status of a device. This makes sensors smaller, cheaper and easier to deploy. You can therefore deploy sensors for new applications or increase network coverage of existing applications with more sensors covering a wider area. This is interesting for any organisation involved in monitoring the physical world and makes a valuable tool for IoT development. Over time, if viable solutions can be deployed, this means lower total cost of ownership and increased value for our customers.

Clearview are experts in monitoring traffic flow and car park occupancy, we’ve been doing this since the 1970s when we developed the first automated traffic counting and classification technology. We are also well aware of the benefits of wireless technology through our M100 Wireless Vehicle Detection System and M300 Bay Occupancy System. When dealing with technology in the road, using wireless technology without the need for trenches and ducting offers substantial savings in installation cost and time, as well as reducing risk to workers by reducing the time they spend in the road.

We’ve been at the forefront of monitoring the road network for over 40 years and are continuously innovating how we do this. Furthering our understanding of LoRaWAN is why we held our recent hackathon.

In just one day we were able to develop a system that received data from a detector, transmitted this encrypted communication over LoRaWAN through a gateway to The Things Network (TTN) and then to an application we wrote that same day. The next steps on this journey are to push this technology to its limits and see just how well it can cope with the demands of real-time environments and real world use cases.

It is through such experimentation and innovation that we remain experts in our field and will achieve our vision of a world where journeys are easy, efficient and safe.

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