Observations on LoRa/ LoRaWAN Hardware Development

(The original Chinese version of this article was written by Hsiang-yang Lu and published on MakerPRO)

With the booming IoT development, LPWAN (Low-Power Wide-Area Network) has been the popular trend that new technologies are being developed widely, such as LpRaWAN, Sigfox, NB-IoT, Weightless-x (x=P, N, W), RPMA, etc.

Within these new technologies, LoRaWAN has been the important role and its ecosystem is increasingly complete as well. The exclusive chip provider of LoRa/LoRaWAN, Semtech, announced that there are more than 100 countries and 100 operators using LoRa technologies in the worldwide market (based on the data in Mar, 2019).

LoRaWAN Worldwide Coverage (data resource: LoRa Alliance)

Besides the business operation, makers may also like to know how LoRa/LoRaWAN hardware is being developed. That’s why we would like to share the observations based on the statistics uncovered by Semtech official website.

Product Categories

Based on the data released on Semtech official website in March 2019, there are 383 hardware products supporting LoRa/LoRaWAN. The majority is wireless sensor node (WSN or End Node) contatining 234 products. The second majority is gateway, 49 products; and then modules, 43, starter kit, 17. However, there are 40 uncategorized products.

The 40 uncategorized LoRa hardware products include evaluation kits, reference designs, sensors, and gateways. Some of the uncategorized products belong to some categories actually, but somehow Semtech seems to allow the product providers to decide the categories. So these uncategorized products will not be discussed in the following paragraphs.

(Graph source: Hsiang-yang Lu)

1. Sensors

Within the 4 categories, sensor is the product type that most providers take efforts on. The total is 73 providers. There are 28 providers for gateway, 24 for modules, 9 for starter kit, 22 for uncategorized. It is quite obvious that the number of providers is highly relevant to the number of products.

Based on the overall estimation, there are 106 providers releasing LoRa/LoRaWAN hardware products. Some develop sensors only, such as Decentlab GmbH from Switzerland (22 sensors), Netvox form Taiwan (19 sensors), etc, while some develop full product lines, like GlobalSat from Taiwan.

In LoRa Solutions, sensors are the most in-demand. (photo credit: Microchip)

2. Gateway

In addition to sensors, gateway, being used to collect sensing data, is another highlight. The key players include Kerlink from France, Gemtek from Taiwan, TEKTEKIC communications from Canada, Multitech from US, Dragino Tech from Hong Kong. Providers from Taiwan also include Advantech, AAeon, Sanav, Liyatech. Moreover, some well-known providers, like Cisco, and HAS (Nordic Automation Systems) from Norway release gateway products as well.

What should be noted that gateway specifications vary. Except the memory size, processor clock rate, you can tell the spec from the product name. The highest is Mega, second is Macro, and then Micro, Pico, Femto; it’s quite similar to the levels of cell sites.

These gateways can be categorized into indoor and outdoor types (some providers even provide semi-outdoor type). The outdoor gateway is usually designed with robust case and pass IP67 water resistant test. Moreover, the core processor of the gateway sometimes utilizes the other communication chips in the gateway, for example: Qualcomm/Atheros Wi-Fi chips AR9331 (MIPS 24Kc core), Intel ethernet chip I210. The embedded system in the gateway usually adopts embedded Linux, like OpenWRT or Yocto Linux.

3. Modules

After the gateways, then let’s discuss modules. The definition of module is broader. Modules can be subcard on PCle interface and SiP (multiple dies in the same package). Some modules even can support to replace its gateway function.

Modules are semi-finished products. With the modules, developers can make less efforts on developing and shorten the testing and verification process to accelerate the development of sensors or gateways. Some leading module providers are from Taiwan, such as GlobalSat and Gemtek (have 4 modules respectively). Other providers, like Dragino Tech from Hong Kong and IMST for Germany, also provide modules as well.

4. Starter Kit

There are 17 starter kits, only 1 provider from Taiwan, GlobalSat. The other providers are IMST from Germany, RedWoodComm from South Korea, OccamSmart from US, Dragino from Hong Kong, Miromico from Switzerland, Nemeus from Frnace, Multitech form US.

Other Observations

Last but not least, not all of the hardware products uncovered on Semtech website are certified. Out of the 383 products, there are 146 certified products, but 150 are not. 47 products are being tested. However, there is no clear status to show if the 40 uncategorized products pass the verification.

(Graph Source: Hsiang-yang Lu)

Similarly, not all of the 383 products are for mass production. Except the 40 uncategorized products, there are 308 products which are in production. But 23 products are ready for mass production, 11 products are prototype only, and 1 is and EOL product, i.e. Energy Monitor for Max4 Tech company.

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