Enabling Long-Range, Low-Power IoT Applications with LoRa and BLE
April 06, 2021
As the Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly expanding, so are the digital sensors and networking technologies that are increasingly utilized to connect devices and systems for more applications.
The key technologies that enable IoT in consumer use cases and smart homes are wireless technologies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and 5G. Among all the available wireless protocols, the most popular and prevalent technologies are Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and LoRa (Long Range).
The combination of BLE, which is intended for short-range networks, and LoRa, which is ideal for low-power wide-area networks, provides an easy and secure solution for deploying today's IoT applications.
How IoT Deployments Have Evolved
Traditionally, IoT deployments happen close to a telecommunication infrastructure, usually located in a city or town. IoT devices can connect to existing cellular networks using LTE-M or NB-IoT protocols. These protocols are low-bandwidth, low-power, low-cost, and ideal for connecting IoT devices to cellular networks.
Typical IoT-enabled products are powered by a portable battery or by plugging into an AC wall outlet. However, IoT devices and sensors deployed in remote locations pose logistical challenges for battery life and maintenance.
Remote IoT deployments are often inaccessible for field technicians. There could be hundreds of deployed sensors in a factory, making it impractical to check each one manually.
To meet these demands, industry leaders leverage the latest wireless trends and technologies such as BLE and LoRa. By blending these wireless communication technologies, organizations can deploy IoT applications in remote locations more efficiently at a cheaper cost, thereby opening new opportunities.
The Future of IoT
The future of IoT lies out on the edge where sensor device-to-cloud wireless connectivity does not have to rely on the communication infrastructures of cities. Increasingly, wireless networking technologies such as BLE are already a fundamental component of many IoT applications.
Thanks to BLE's small footprint and energy-efficient architecture, it enables small wireless sensors and controls to operate on a battery charge for years on IoT networks. Unlike traditional wired devices, users can place BLE-enabled devices in nearly any location without worrying about physical accessibility, technical difficulty, or financial practicality.
However, most BLE-based IoT applications rely on a mobile phone's cellular connection as a gateway back to the cloud. If the cellular network is not reachable, LoRa technology is needed.
LoRa enables long-range communications up to 10 miles in line-of-sight conditions and has deep penetration capability through concrete and foliage. The ultra-low power requirements enable battery-powered devices to last more than five years. Compared to other modulation schemes, LoRa is extremely energy efficient and resilient to interference. The combination of small receive bandwidth and a unique coding scheme allows LoRa radios to achieve a receiver sensitivity of as low as -140dBm. These qualities make LoRa-based solutions ideal for applications that require long-range communication among many devices that have low power requirements and that collect small amounts of data1.
LoRa wireless RF technology comes in handy for IoT applications across a low-power wide-area network (LPWAN). The LoRa modulation technology makes up the physical layer of LoRaWAN, a software protocol based on LoRa.
Together, LoRa and LoRaWAN enable long-range connectivity for IoT devices across industrial applications.
Why Use LoRa and BLE Together?
BLE and LoRa complement each other's strengths, making them ideal for a variety of applications.
Until recently, BLE usage was limited to low throughput endpoints like beacons and wearables. However, the latest Bluetooth 5.0 can send large data files or stream audio without quickly draining your device battery. On the other hand, LoRa fulfills the need for low-cost and widely deployed sensors that need to send tiny data packets over a long distance.
BLE and LoRa are crucial requirements that make up a complete wireless solution for low-power IoT applications. BLE addresses low-power short-range connectivity, while LoRa addresses low-power long-range connectivity.
The other requirement is an ultra-low-power microcontroller unit (MCU). MCUs such as the Ambiq Apollo3 Blue can handle the low-power edge compute needed to support real-time applications. Together, these technologies enable reliable, secure, and energy efficient IoT deployments worldwide.
A Better IoT Solution
With the combination of an ultra-low-power MCU and a module such as from Northern Mechatronics, enterprises can find a secure and cost-effective solution to deploy IoT remotely and reliably without relying on existing telecom infrastructure.
Companies should consider the following when deciding the best solution:
Depending on the effectiveness of the existing IoT deployments, setting up additional endpoint devices within the network may be needed. However, connecting new endpoints can become extremely complex as the amount of data generated and transmitted increase.
The rise of edge computing means that your endpoint devices can compute more processes locally. However, to enable edge computing and intelligent endpoints, the IoT module needs to have a powerful microcontroller unit that can process data in real-time.
As real-time applications that need processing at the edge increase, so too will the number of intelligent endpoints that are deployed in the field. With the right edge-computing hardware, IoT devices can make cost-saving decisions on its own, such as shutting off water valves when a burst pipe is detected.
First-rate security is a must for cloud computing modules transmitting and receiving data on a regular basis. However, keeping the IoT solution secure is massively challenging due to the numerous use cases, types of network architectures, and different deployment options.
In certain applications, a breach in the IoT environment could leak information that is critical to how the business works or how a proprietary device is manufactured. To safeguard data against cyberattacks and potential breaches, the IoT partner should offer comprehensive tools, such as authentication methods, login access control, and end-to-end encryption.
Industrial IoT (IIoT) solutions must operate properly and switch seamlessly between multiple power sources such as the AC wall outlet and a backup battery. This ensures that the normal system operation is reliable no matter what power source is available.
However, remote IoT deployments must rely entirely on battery power, which needs to last for years to maximize operating time. For low-power IoT applications, the IoT solution needs to perform at the highest standards for energy efficiency. But with the right IoT module, businesses can benefit from direct energy savings across many use cases.
To meet the environmental and performance demands of today’s IoT deployments, the IoT module must have an ultra-small form factor and high-performance components. Despite a small form factor, the module needs to be compatible with standard wireless technologies, such as Wi-Fi, BLE and LoRa.
For IoT deployments in extreme temperatures, such as cold supply chain management, the IoT module must be rugged enough to endure the extreme cold and protect from humidity and moisture. Industrial temperature tolerance is a necessity for many IoT applications today.
Depending on your specific deployment needs, you may need hundreds or even thousands of sensors, each equipped with a LoRaWAN gateway. Therefore, IoT sensor devices need to be cost effective to enable widespread deployment.
Setting up an IoT system can be a complex process, and the cost of deployment and maintenance can add up quickly, even if you do not have to pay for traditional infrastructure costs. As such, the IoT solution you choose needs to provide enough value to cover the cost of implementing and managing it.
This powerful combination of LoRa and BLE is ideal for low power wide-area networks and is enabling mission-critical applications, such as industrial machine health monitoring, delivery lockbox, and livestock health monitoring.