Modernizing Non-Technical Industries with Low Power Wide Area IoT Connectivity Services

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The prospect of reaching billions of Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices is not only coming from expected areas of opportunity such as asset tracking, wireless utility meters, and smart city applications, but from applications that instrument ordinary or hidden business activities with the promise of yielding revolutionary results. Many of these “ordinary” use cases are industrial in nature, and successfully deploying them at scale requires applying transformative enabling technologies and new connectivity models.

For years, industries such as agriculture, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation and utilities have relied on wireless technologies to operate efficiently and, in many cases, deliver new or enhanced services. Organizations in these markets may be leveraging short-range technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), or long-range communications technology like cellular or satellite. But many, at some point, will need to implement a long-range connectivity solution that provides low-power consumption and more advantageous customer engagement models to meet their digital transformation goals.

To this end, Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) are fundamentally changing the IoT landscape. LPWANs are designed for sensors and applications that need to send and receive small amounts of data over long distances a few times per hour or maybe only once a day. The market opportunity for LPWAN-based solutions is rapidly emerging and significant. Because of the unique characteristics of LPWAN technologies, it is expected that more than half of the 80 billion IoT devices in use by 2030 will be connected with Low Power Wide Area Networks.

The characteristics of LPWANs distinguish themselves from other wireless technologies like cellular, which carries more data and uses more power, and from local area networks which are limited by range and require device provisioning that doesn’t scale. By collecting and transmitting only the data that is needed to optimize specific applications or operations, LPWANs offer value that cannot be achieved with other network technologies, including:

  • Lower cost in both capital and operational expense
  • The ability to deploy sensor solutions with an extended lifespan of over 10 years
  • Long range wireless coverage with less infrastructure, both inside buildings and for outdoor applications
  • Accelerated time to market for end solution deployments
  • Of all LPWAN technologies, LoRaWAN (the open LPWAN specification supported by the nonprofit LoRa Alliance) has emerged as the leading technology for the broadest range of in-building and outdoor connected applications. Short for Long Range (LoRa), the LoRaWAN specification is differentiated by its open ecosystem, strong security specifications, bi-directional communication, optimization for mobility, and scalability for capacity. The LoRaWAN architecture is a high availability, fault tolerant and redundant platform. It is also designed to connect sensors over long distances in harsh environments (over 60 miles line-of-site) that were previously too challenging or cost prohibitive for cellular or LAN technologies.

    With LPWANs expanding globally, the opportunity to modernize traditionally non-technical industries and applications is rapidly growing. As an example, several propane delivery companies across the United States have implemented LoRaWAN tank monitoring solutions.

    With the large number of propane and fuel oil tanks being used for residential and commercial purposes, a reliable system to monitor fuel levels is essential. Fuel delivery companies are a critical partner in consumer supply chain operations where run-outs can have detrimental effects. Without the means to remotely measure fuel levels, trucks are often being dispatched inefficiently, driving up operational costs and complicating customer deliveries.

    By placing battery-powered LoRaWAN sensors on fuel tanks, fill level and other valuable data is sent over LoRaWAN networks to tank monitoring solutions used by supply companies. These solutions address the market’s largest controllable expenses, including delivery labor and vehicle costs, resulting in increased per-delivery margins and a reduction in costly service failures.

    With sensors and network connectivity technologies like LoRaWAN driving a more effective ROI, propane distributors are on a path to doubling their tank monitoring deployments from 30 percent of tanks connected with cellular-based systems to more than 60 percent of total tanks connected. Not only are these advancements in technology playing a key role in driving productivity in distribution and improving profitability, but they are increasing the attractiveness of propane to a broader customer base.

    Because of the propagation characteristics of LoRaWAN technologiy, it also has great potential for use in large-scale indoor industrial applications like steam trap monitoring. Steam traps are a type of automatic valve that filter out condensed steam and non-condensable gases without letting steam escape. Common uses include steam heated processes in factories and steam driven turbines in electric power plants.

    To address a yearly failure rate of 10 – 30 percent and to modernize labor-intensive test and inspection processes, LoRaWAN steam trap monitoring systems allow enterprises to interrogate their steam trap population on a frequent basis to detect failures. In heavy industrial facilities, LoRaWAN has a range of thousands of feet, can traverse multiple concrete walls and floors and even reach subterranean steam vaults. Operational data from LoRaWAN-enabled steam traps is sent securely to an online building management system, providing dashboard visibility and reports on which traps are functioning normally and which need repair.

    From tank monitoring and steam trap repair to leak detection, air quality monitoring and asset tracking, LoRaWAN is rapidly becoming a key enabling technology for autonomous industrial sensing, indoor and outdoor monitoring, and process automation across a variety of markets and applications.

    Similar to the transformation of industries through the adoption of new technology, traditional one-way service delivery engagements between communication service providers and their customers, no longer apply. Today’s businesses seek value-exchange in order to realize the full potential of their technology investments. This value, and the success of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), will be driven by co-operation between network operators, end device manufacturers, solution providers and others looking to proactively expand their role in the services economy.

    Importantly, these new engagement models also create opportunities for partnerships between critical infrastructure and service providers such as municipalities, utilities and large enterprise organizations – and the citizens they serve. Whether it is delivering propane for residential heat, optimizing industrial operations, reducing energy consumption in cities or reducing water loss through smart metering and water management solutions, an entire ecosystem of partners has the opportunity to provide limitless societal and economic benefit, delivering on the ultimate promise of the Internet of Things.

    About Senet

    Senet develops cloud-based software and services used by Network Operators, Application Developers and System Integrators for the on-demand deployment of Internet of Things (IoT) networks. With a multi-year head start over competing Low Power Wide Area Network technologies, Senet offers technology in over eighty countries and owns and operates the largest publicly available LoRaWAN network in North America. Our disruptive go-to-market models and critical technical advantages have helped us become a leading connectivity provider with recognized expertise in building and operating global IoT networks.