The kings of smart city connectivity: Sigfox vs. LoRa
If anything, the idea of a smart city in the conventional sense – where everyday infrastructure is connected up and joined together to bring new intelligence and innovation to city operations – has been made real by low-power wide area (LPWA) technologies.
It is these newer wireless protocols, affording low costs and high coverage, which have helped to animate cities’ assets and services at scale, and make them ‘smart’ – and to articulate the broader ‘internet of things’ (IoT) movement as well.
Recently, the telecoms standards group, the 3GPP, has ratified its own LPWA standards, in the shape of NB-IoT and LTE-M. These use licensed spectrum, and make a virtue of tighter security and performance controls. But they follow in the steps of well-established unlicensed LPWA technologies, which have already lit the IoT touch paper and have unique advantages of their own.
Of these, two stand out as trail-blazing technologies for smart cities, amid a veritable riot of new IoT standards. They are Sigfox and LoRaWAN, and are at once united as commanding unlicensed alternatives to carrier-sponsored NB-IoT and LTE-M, and distinguishable in important ways. Here, Enterprise IoT Insights takes a brief look at their main similarities, and their chief differences.
Sigfox and LoRaWAN have similar profiles. In broad terms, they set out to deliver the same functionality, allowing cities and enterprises to quickly and cheaply deploy IoT networks, which support low-power consumption (with battery life of 10-20 years) and wide-area coverage (of up to 40km).
Their cost effectiveness, versus licensed technologies, comes down to the fact they operate in free-to-use sub-GHz ISM spectrum. As per their design, LPWA devices make negligible demands in terms of power consumption and data transmission as well. Low bit-rates, and scant latency requirements, mean network building is cheaper as well, with base stations able to serve many thousands of devices.
The main differences are in their business models. LoRaWAN is not a company, but a standard, developed by chip manufacturer Semtech and maintained by around 500 firms under the non-profit LoRa Alliance. LoRaWAN networks are acquired, constructed and maintained by private companies. LoRa-based devices run chips exclusively from Semtech.
LoRaWAN affiliates promote its cost effectiveness in the first instance. “LoRa/LoRaWAN has a large advantage on existing technologies in terms of cost structure,” explains Domenico, chief executive at Switzerland-based LoRa solutions provider Orbiwise.
“Via the LoRa Alliance, it is supported by an open ecosystem of industry players that provide multiple alternatives for each part of the value chain. The LoRaWAN standard is continuously evolving and introducing new features, which is important for the competitiveness of the technology in the long term.”
By contrast, Sigfox is a service provider, rather than a technology. Based in France, it builds and maintains LPWA networks for public use based on its own proprietary Sigfox technology. Capital expenditure associated with infrastructure building is footed by Sigfox itself, which leases usage of the network to cities and enterprises.
For many smart city projects, Sigfox works a ‘barter and exchange’ deal with city administrations, where access to city assets for network building are offered in return for access to the network itself. The company’s partner ecosystem has just delivered the world’s first ‘ultra low-cost’ IoT modules, for $2 each. It also claims it is the most cost effective LPWA solution.
“We are trying to democratize the IoT stack – to be the lowest cost and simplest to integrate,” says Sean Horan, director of sales and partners at Sigfox North America.