Lora1 Introduction

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Introduction: What is LoRa?

The purpose of this document is to give an introductory technical overview to LoRa® and LoRaWAN™. Low–Power, Wide-Area Networks (LPWAN) are projected to support a major portion of the billions of devices forecasted for the Internet of Things (IoT). LoRaWAN™ is designed from the bottom up to optimize LPWANs for battery lifetime, capacity, range, and cost. A summary of the LoRaWAN™ specification for the different regions will be given as well as high level comparison of the different technologies competing in the LPWAN space.

2 What is LoRa?

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What Is LoRa?

What is LoRa?

LoRa® is the physical layer or the wireless modulation utilized to create the long range communication link. Many legacy wireless systems use frequency shifting keying (FSK) modulation as the physical layer because it is a very efficient modulation for achieving low power. LoRa® is based on chirp spread spectrum modulation, which maintains the same low power characteristics as FSK modulation but significantly increases the communication range. Chirp spread spectrum has been used in military and space communication for decades due to the long communication distances that can be achieved and robustness to interference, but LoRa® is the first low cost implementation for commercial usage.

Long Range (LoRa®)

The advantage of LoRa® is in the technology’s long range capability. A single gateway or base station can cover entire cities or hundreds of square kilometers. Range highly depends on the environment or obstructions in a given location, but LoRa® and LoRaWAN™ have a link budget greater than any other standardized communication technology. The link budget, typically given in decibels (dB), is the primary factor in determining the range in a given environment. To the right are the coverage maps from the Proximus network deployed in Belgium. With a minimal amount of infrastructure, entire countries can easily be covered.

Proximus Network deployed in Belgium

Map of Belgium with LorA communication tower signals

4 What is LoRaWAN?

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What is LoRaWAN?

LoRaWAN™ defines the communication protocol and system architecture for the network while the LoRa® physical layer enables the long-range communication link. The protocol and network architecture have the most influence in determining the battery lifetime of a node, the network capacity, the quality of service, the security, and the variety of applications served by the network.

The different layers of the LoRa network

4 What is LoRaWAN 3

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What is LoRaWAN?

In a LoRaWAN™ network nodes are not associated with a specific gateway. Instead, data transmitted by a node is typically received by multiple gateways. Each gateway will forward the received packet from the end-node to the cloud-based network server via some backhaul (either cellular, Ethernet, satellite, or Wi-Fi). The intelligence and complexity is pushed to the network server, which manages the network and will filter redundant received packets, perform security checks, schedule acknowledgments through the optimal gateway, and perform adaptive data rate, etc. If a node is mobile or moving there is no handover needed from gateway to gateway, which is a critical feature to enable asset tracking applications–a major target application vertical for IoT.

Battery Lifetime

The nodes in a LoRaWAN™ network are asynchronous and communicate when they have data ready to send whether event-driven or scheduled. This type of protocol is typically referred to as the Aloha method. In a mesh network or with a synchronous network, such as cellular, the nodes frequently have to ‘wake up’ to synchronize with the network and check for messages. This synchronization consumes significant energy and is the number one driver of battery lifetime reduction. In a recent study and comparison done by GSMA of the various technologies addressing the LPWAN space, LoRaWAN™ showed a 3 to 5 times advantage compared to all other technology options.

Network Capacity

In order to make a long range star network viable, the gateway must have a very high capacity or capability to receive messages from a very high volume of nodes. High network capacity in a LoRaWAN™ network is achieved by utilizing adaptive data rate and by using a multichannel multi-modem transceiver in the gateway so that simultaneous messages on multiple channels can be received. The critical factors effecting capacity are the number of concurrent channels, data rate (time on air), the payload length, and how often nodes transmit. Since LoRa® is a spread spectrum based modulation, the signals are practically orthogonal to each other when different spreading factors are utilized. As the spreading factor changes, the effective data rate also changes. The gateway takes advantage of this property by being able to receive multiple different data rates on the same channel at the same time. If a node has a good link and is close to a gateway, there is no reason for it to always use the lowest data rate and fill up the available spectrum longer than it needs to. By shifting the data rate higher, the time on air is shortened opening up more potential space for other nodes to transmit. Adaptive data rate also optimizes the battery lifetime of a node. In order to make adaptive data rate work, symmetrical up link and down link is required with sufficient downlink capacity. These features enable a LoRaWAN™ network to have a very high capacity and make the network scalable. A network can be deployed with a minimal amount of infrastructure, and as capacity is needed, more gateways can be added, shifting up the data rates, reducing the amount of overhearing to other gateways, and scaling the capacity by 6-8x. Other LPWAN alternatives do not have the scalability of LoRaWAN™ due to technology trade-offs, which limit downlink capacity or make the downlink range asymmetrical to the uplink range.

4 What is LoRaWAN 4

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What is LoRaWAN?

Device Classes

End-devices serve different applications and have different requirements. In order to optimize a variety of end application profiles, LoRaWAN™ utilizes different device classes. The device classes trade off network downlink communication latency versus battery lifetime. In a control or actuator-type application, the downlink communication latency is an important factor.

 –   Bi-directional end-devices (Class A): End-devices of Class A allow for bi-directional communications whereby each end-device’s uplink transmission is followed by two short downlink receive windows. The transmission slot scheduled by the end-device is based on its own communication needs with a small variation based on a random time basis (ALOHA-type of protocol). This Class A operation is the lowest power end-device system for applications that only require downlink communication from the server shortly after the end-device has sent an uplink transmission. Downlink communications from the server at any other time will have to wait until the next scheduled uplink.

   Bi-directional end-devices with scheduled receive slots (Class B): In addition to the Class A random receive windows, Class B devices open extra receive windows at scheduled times. In order for the end-device to open its receive window at the scheduled time, it receives a time-synchronized beacon from the gateway. This allows the server to know when the end-device is listening.

   Bi-directional end-devices with maximal receive slots (Class C): End-devices of Class C have almost continuously open receive windows, only closed when transmitting.


It is extremely important for any LPWAN to incorporate security. LoRaWAN™ utilizes two layers of security: one for the network and one for the application. The network security ensures authenticity of the node in the network while the application layer of security ensures the network operator does not have access to the end user’s application data. AES encryption is used with the key exchange utilizing an IEEE EUI64 identifier. There are trade-offs in every technology choice but the LoRaWAN™ features in network architecture, device classes, security, scalability for capacity, and optimization for mobility address the widest variety of potential IoT applications.

4 What is loraWAN 2

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LoRaWAN Architecture

Network Architecture Many existing deployed networks utilize a mesh network architecture. In a mesh network, the individual end-nodes forward the information of other nodes to increase the communication range and cell size of the network. While this increases the range, it also adds complexity, reduces network capacity, and reduces battery lifetime as nodes receive and forward information from other nodes that is likely irrelevant for them. Long range star architecture makes the most sense for preserving battery lifetime when long-range connectivity can be achieved.

LoRa Connectivity graphic, end nodes, gateways, network servers, and applications

5 Summary of Features

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Summary of Features

Long Range

  • Greater than Cellular
  • Deep Indoor Coverage
  • Star Topology

Max Lifetime

  • Low Power Optimized
  • 10-20 Year Lifetime
  • >10x vs cellular M2M


  • High Capacity
  • Multi-Tenant
  • Public Network

Low Cost

  • Minimal Infrastructure
  • Low Cost End Node
  • Open SW