LoRaWAN Will Co-exist with the 5G Ecosystem as a De Facto Unlicensed LPWAN Standard

LoRaWAN and cellular IoT to address massive IoT use cases

Donna Moore, CEO and Chairwoman, LoRa Alliance®

5G continues to dominate the discussion around the future of networking technologies, as Mobile Network Operators and some enterprise customers start to test the first 5G use cases. With focus on addressing high bandwidth, ultra-reliable, low latency communications, as well as massive IoT use cases, there is little doubt that 5G will play a major role in the future.

However, there is emerging a distinction between the defined 5G new radio (5GNR) and the more broadly defined 5G ecosystem. One of the challenges of 5GNR is to leverage the millimeter wave’s spectrum (> 6 Ghz) to develop very high throughput services (up to 20 Gpbs). As an ecosystem, however, 5G relies on a 3GPP specification opening the standard to a panel of 3GPP and non 3GPP communication technologies, like Wi-Fi, satellite, fixed lines and potentially other technologies in the future.

The sheer complexity and breadth of 5G use cases is massive – no single technology is able to cover all of them. This opens the door for a much broader 5G ecosystem of “best fit” technologies to support these applications and it is easy to observe this is already happening in the market today: Wi-Fi carrying 67% of mobile traffic in the US and 83% in Japan1.

LoRaWAN will remain a De facto LPWAN unlicensed standard in the 5G Era

LoRaWAN emerged half a decade ahead of 5G ecosystem and has the greatest variety and quantity of sensors and end to end solutions available today, with deployments in more than 140 countries worldwide. Moreover, analyst forecasts are positioning LoRaWAN and cellular IoT as taking more than 80 percent of the LPWAN market in the next 5 years.2

Beyond availability, however, LoRaWAN has been massively adopted as a ‘LPWAN standard by design’ – battery consumption efficient, cost efficient roll out enabling diverse business models like hybrid private-public networks. The fact is that the 5G new radio (5G NR) priorities to date has focused on broadband services and critical communications and broadband services.3 It turns out that the current 4G LTE IoT technologies Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) and LTE-M are also the LPWAN IoT technologies of the 5G ecosystem for some years to come, and will continue to be complementary to LoRaWAN as they are today.

Several Operators using unlicensed spectrum such as Multi Services Operators (cable companies, TV broadcasters, fixed operators, Internet Service Providers) have adopted LoRaWAN as their legacy massive IoT technology. Unlicensed ISM bands empowers these Operators to leverage the agility of LoRaWAN as the most cost efficient LPWAN technology meeting their performance requirements. 

Private deployments are another reason why LoRaWAN will be deployed along with cellular IoT. LoRaWAN being an option of choice for enterprise customers and cities needing flexibility and agility to meet their specific business needs. The standard is well suited for cost efficient indoor deployments, penetrates through concrete, offering a very compelling business case in the ‘last mile’ scenario, often incorporating cellular for reliable low touch data backhaul.

Several leading Mobile Operators across regions use LoRaWAN and cellular IoT as complementary LPWAN technologies to serve different customer business cases. LoRaWAN may be rolled-out on a water meter, smart city or smart building project where cellular IoT can be deployed for an electricity smart grid project requiring high throughput and frequent data transmission to feed analytics into the cloud.

According to ABI Research, LoRaWAN has already proved its massive adoption in the following verticals4:

  • Utilities connecting smart meters for gas and water utilities.
  • Smart buildings for environmental monitoring and occupancy knowledge.
  • Logistics / Asset tracking for visibility and traceability of assets across a larger portion of the supply chain that extends from indoor environments to yard environments, and even across metropolitan areas and regions using a single technology.
  • Industrial and smart manufacturing for improving visibility on production flow, monitor machine health to reduce downtime, view asset utilization, and study overall operational efficiency.
  • Smart agriculture for monitoring soil moisture or livestock condition to improve crop yield or dairy yield; and the creation of affordable WAN networks to collect sensor data in place of cellular networks that may not be available

An Interconnected Future?

As noted previously, 5G specification is defining options to interconnect with non 3GPP technologies. Wi-Fi serves as an example of this today:

‘When our internet web surfing or voice conversation seamless shifts to the mall Wi-Fi hot spot where we are hanging out or going shopping, nobody is surprised. More than 10B devices connected to more than 200M Wi-Fi Access Points have been invading our private and professional spaces. Mobile Network Operators are more than happy to offload 60+ percent of global broadband traffic on Wi-Fi unlicensed networks around the globe. Just looking back as how operators have been using Wi-Fi in combination with 4G, we have the perfect example of how 5G could leverage unlicensed technologies’ strong capabilities. Let us not oppose licensed and unlicensed technologies and focus on complementarity to serve any customer use case.5

LoRa Alliance, supported by its members and the other partnering Alliances, already seamlessly interconnects with cellular IoT at the data management level (application layer) and will continue to look openly at the best options to interconnect and collaborate with 5G ecosystem.


1 [ WBA Annual Industry Report 2019]

2 Per iHS Markit 2019 report.

3GSMA paper : Mobile IoT in the 5G future

4 ABI: LoRaWAN® and NB-IoT - Competitors or Complementary

5 LoRa Alliance & Wireless Broadband Association, Wi-Fi & LoRaWAN® Deployment Synergies

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