How to choose the right LoRa / LoRaWAN gateway?

The market for LoRaWAN® protocol has grown rapidly in recent times, considering the variety of advantages this LoRaWAN® technology offers. With the growing implementation of LoRaWAN®, it is essential to understand how LoRaWAN® gateways works, what are types,capabilities and usages of a LoRaWAN gateway and what are their costs.. 

 

How does a LoRaWAN® gateway work? 

LoRaWAN® gateways are the system's key components as they communicate with a node and act as a relay. They enable end devices with IoT connectivity to the network server. They simply act as a bridge converting RF (Radio Frequency) packets in IP packets or the other way around. LoRa can also offer excellent penetration as such LoRa gateways can communicate with sensors beyond walls, providing connectivity to underground basements, elevators, rooftops, and indoor sensors even through outdoor gateways. 

 

Single-Channel vs Multi-channel gateways?

LoRaWAN gateways play a vital role in connecting end devices or nodes with network servers. Here LoRaWAN® protocol is used for communication and data transmission among a gateway and a set of devices. LoRaWAN Gateways play a crucial role in the network architecture based on their specifications. Choosing the right LoRa gateway can help build robust IoT system architecture. There are primarily two classifications of gateways based on the number of channels they address: 

  1. Single-channel gateways: 
    Single-channel gateways are inexpensive and suitable for limited network requirements as they can only receive radio signals from one spreading factor from a particular radio channel at a time. These gateways use radio frequency transceivers such as SX1272 or SX1276.  They are an attractive choice, fo those who want to test LoRaWAN technology without too much of a financial commitment.
  2. Multi-channel gateways: 
    As the name suggests, a multi-channel gateway can receive on 8 or 10 radio channels and six spreading factors at a time. These gateways use more expensive and versatile transceivers which make them the most suitable solution for complex and scalable projects, multi-channel gateways could be far more efficient. 

Single-channel gateways have limited funtionalities. They can only receive on a single spreading factor and one radio channel simultanously. However, some single-channel gateways can switch between different spreading factors and frequencies to simulate multi-channel gateways, but most of them only have around 2% of the capacity of a multi-channel gateway.

Single-channel gateways can sometimes present a lack of downlink support. This can lead to messages getting lost if a network attempts to schedule a downlink. Devices close to a single-channel gateway without downlink support will not switch to more efficient spreading factors, but instead “clogging” the spectrum with unnecessary transmissions.

 

Indoor LoRaWAN Gateway vs Outdoor LoRaWAN gateways?

LoRaWAN Gateways can be used indoor or outdoor depending on the project. A few areas that can affect the working of gateways. One of the major criteria is varying weather conditions.

Indoor LoRaWAN gateways have a less robust casing which is not weatherproof compared to outdoor gateways. They are typically equipped with case vents, which makes them not ideal for outdoor deployments as rainwater can enter through these vents triggering corrosion.

If a gateway is placed in an outdoor area, then it is important to choose a LoRaWAN outdoor gateway. Outdoor Gateways with the right IP ratings (IP67 certfied) can be weatherproof or humidity and resistant for extreme temperature conditions. A IP67 certified gateway mean that they are completely protected against dust and may even survive temporary immersions in the water of up to 30 minutes in depths between 15cm and 1m.

 

Which Antenna should I choose for my LoRaWAN gateway?

If the gateway has not an internal antenna then it means that an external antenna will be needed, and its orientation is also crucial as it determines transmission capabilities. It is important to understand the transmission pattern of the antenna and tilt the antenna for better capabilities. Setting the gateway and the antenna accurately can assure the success of the deployment.

The most commonly used type of antenna is the rod antenna. Its waves are transmitted in a donut shape. Thus, most of the transmission power is spread horizontally while vertical transmission remains relatively poor. The radiation characteristics of the antenna must be taken into account when positioning the gateway. Here are few tips provided by Akenza.io, on placing gateways with a rod antenna in different scenarios:


End-devices are located indoors on a single level:

If the connected sensors and actuators are located on a single level in a building, the LoRa antenna on the gateway should be mounted vertically. Ideally, your gateway should be located in the center of the intended coverage area.

End-devices on multiple levels inside a building:

If you want to cover several levels or floors with one gateway, the gateway should be placed in the center of the building and the antenna should be aligned horizontally.

End-devices are located outdoors:

If your end devices are located outdoors, make sure that the gateway is mounted at a reasonable height and is not obscured by anything objects, such as trees, buildings or fences in the immediate vicinity. The higher the gateway is positioned, the further the LoRa connection will reach. Ideally, therefore, the gateway should be mounted on a free-standing mast overlooking the terrain.

 

How many devices can I connect to a single LoRaWAN gateway?

There is not a predefined quantity of supported devices per gateway, the number of IoT devices supported by a single LoRaWAN gateway depends on a few factors. Most importantly the data volume of the payload transmitted by the sensor and the transmission interval set on these end devices. These two factors can be used to determine the total amount of air time the gateway has to process. However, environmental factors also influence this equation. Therefore as mention, it would be important to chose among an Indoor and Outdoor LoRaWAN gateway depeding on the environment where it is installed.

Because the capacity of a LoRaWAN gateway cannot be predefined, it is important to test its capabilities on the actual site of deployment, and verify the maximum number of supported devices without risking data packet loss.

However, it is also well known that a single LoRaWAN gateway can receive messages from several hundred devices.

 

Can I install a gateway without a license? 

Licensing costs may not be viable, especially when it comes to personal implementation, proof of concepts, or a beta production run. However, it's not a challenge with LoRa-based systems. 

Operating in an open-source license-free Radio Frequency band, the LoRaWAN® gateway installation does not have any licensing requirement. To be precise, it operates in many Radio Frequency regions: 433 MHz and 868 MHz in Europe, 915 MHz in Australia and North America, and 923 MHz in Asia. Installing LoRa systems is as easy as it gets with minimum infrastructure requirements. 

If you want to have a try with LoRaWAN Technology, you can access it for free during a 3-months trial period on ThingPark Community where you can connect up to 3 LoRaWAN gateways and 50 devices. 

 

How much does a LoRaWAN® gateway cost? 

The price of the gateway depends on its capabilities. Outdoor gateways may need specific installations and reinforced casing materials to resist a wide temperature range.  

As LoRaWAN® use is growing fast, many new manufacturers are developing their offers to fit all customers' budgets and offer better performances. LoRaWAN Gateways are now accessible for anyone; we can take as starting price the Gemtek Minihub which is sold € 64.00 per unit in ThingPark Market. Compared to the Kerlink IBTS compact for outdoor use which is € 1454.00. 

Additionally, to the hardware price, you will need to add a connectivity plan which price will vary depending on the devices that will be connected. 

 

Free trial: go through the process for free! 

On ThingPark Community you will not only access qualitative information you can also learn and play with LoRaWAN® for free. This platform offers 3 months of free trial to connect one LoRaWAN® gateway and up to 10 end-nodes such as sensors and actuators. Go & build your new firsthand-on prototype now! 

 

A few LoRa and LoRaWAN® use cases

There are many uses cases where LoRaWAN can be used with public or private networks. LoRaWAN® is the best fit for long-range and low-power system needs. Here is a list of frequent use cases where LoRa is used: 

  • Smart agriculture: 
    Farms, even the indoor ones, have a vast area to cover for any IoT system architecture. A shorter communication range for such an application results in more gateways, increasing the overall system architecture cost. Therefore, LoRaWAN® can be the ideal choice as outdoor gateways with a longer range and lower power consumption can serve the need precisely. Key benefits for agriculture solutions would include simpler network architecture, lesser operational cost, and simpler maintenance.
  • Car parking system management: 
    Traditional car parking systems are now a thing of the past. Especially in crowded and populated areas, those manual ticketing systems devices would result in poor time and economic productivity and offer lesser features. With smart parking sensors, one can reserve the parking slots, management can monitor parking individually and even detect any accident. 
  • Smart buildings: 
    Industry 4.0 is all about automation, analytics, monitoring, and connectivity. Especially, the next-generation infrastructure would comprise of these features using smart sensors and actuators. LoRaWAN® can ensure that these smart devices can have IoT connectivity while having sustainable power consumption. Such an IoT ecosystem can consist of numerous sensors, including temperature, humidity, light, gas, and other similar sensor devices. LoRaWAN® systems can be used for access control, employee management, security, fire detection, or something as simple as remotely controlling devices. 
  • Smart city applications: Smart city applications could include a variety of networks with long-range needs. LoRaWAN® could be used for smart city use cases, including streetlight control, water quality monitoring systems, energy monitoring networks, structural health monitoring, traffic congestion tracking, and noise mapping solutions. All these software solutions would require communication ranges more than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi networks. Here as well, LoRa would be an efficient and inexpensive choice. 
  • Smart tracking: Some other applications of LoRa networks include triangulation-based GPS location tracking, fault management systems, machine monitoring solutions, warehouse management, and asset tracking. 

Summary

Deciding on the right LoRaWAN gateway for your IoT project implementation would be a simpler exercise of comparing different parameter, starting by defining the size and complexity of your project. If you want to scale, then a multichannel gateway will be needed, otherwise for testing purposed a single-channel gateway will be the best deal! Aditionally, don't forget to take in consideration the evironment conditions as chosing the right casing is needed for outdoor projects as well as positioning your antenna in the right direction. Finally, make your on-site tests to measure the limits of your gateway and avoid guetting your messages lost!