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Why LPWAN could be the tipping point for the Internet of Things

This article is the first in a two-part series on LPWAN technologies and their applications for business. Stay tuned for our second LPWAN article on October 10th here on the Bell Blog.

Although more businesses are adopting Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, Canada is still in the early days of the IoT era, according to IDC. But things are about to heat up with the rise of low power wide area networks (LPWAN). “LPWAN opens the door to efficiently connect thousands of devices over a wide area and in hard to reach places,” said Peter Wilcox, Director of IoT and Business Solutions with Bell Canada.

What is LPWAN?

“LPWAN was designed from the ground up with IoT use cases in mind,” said Wilcox. The technology was developed to connect devices, like sensors, that use smaller amounts of data. As a result, LPWAN reduces costs and power consumption, while increasing coverage, as compared to traditional wireless networks.

The technology is ideal for asset tracking and monitoring sensors in smart cities, healthcare, transportation, manufacturing and agriculture. The Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery in southern Ontario uses LPWAN to connect environmental sensors in its 300-acre vineyard. “The more accurate, precise data we can get on what’s happening within the microclimates in our vineyard, the better decisions we can make,” said Matthew Speck, co-owner of the estate.

There are different types of LPWANs, which might use licensed or unlicensed frequencies and proprietary or open standard technologies. For example, LTE-M is a cellular network that uses licensed spectrum. Since it runs on national networks like Bell’s, extended coverage is a key advantage. LTE-M works in rural and remote areas, but also penetrates inside buildings and underground. Wilcox noted that the City of Markham uses underground LPWAN sensors to monitor water pressure.

When you have thousands of devices located in remote places, it’s not that easy to change the batteries. LPWAN networks are designed to support devices with low battery consumption, so batteries can last up to ten years depending on the use case, Wilcox said. It incorporates technology to conserve battery power such as enabling the device to power down when it isn’t transmitting data.

The business benefits: driving digital transformation forward

LPWAN makes it easier to roll out a comprehensive IoT strategy as part of an organization’s digital transformation.

It reduces the costs of IoT in two ways. The price of the hardware used with LPWAN is one-third the cost of the modules used with traditional wireless networks. For the network, organizations subscribe to low-cost monthly IoT connectivity subscriptions that match their connectivity needs. They can take advantage of Bell’s self-service IoT management platform to make adjustments anytime their needs change, said Wilcox. It makes it possible to connect everything, he said. For example, a trucking company that already tracks its vehicles could also put monitoring devices on the cargo to verify, that grocery items are properly refrigerated at all times.

LPWAN technology from Bell is reliable and secure. It operates on licensed spectrum, so there is little chance of experiencing the kind of interference that occurs with unlicensed networks. Security is built into the network and at the SIM level, as it is with any Bell managed service, said Wilcox.

It’s easier to deploy and maintain LPWAN as compared to other wireless networks. “It can be up and running in minutes after you install the device,” Wilcox said. Using a licensed network also makes it possible to do software updates on devices remotely, which allows you to scale your business confidently and plan for the future. The new sensors in the vineyard are very simple to operate, said Speck. “It doesn’t require a lot of battery power and they’re good for a long period of time without any upkeep or maintenance,” he said.

LPWAN provides an excellent opportunity for businesses to accelerate their IoT plans. It’s quick and easy to get started with the help of Bell’s IoT experts, said Wilcox. “And with the Bell IoT starter kit, you can be up and running in minutes.”

Get the Bell IoT starter kit or click here to learn more about LTE-M

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