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The five building blocks of a private LoRaWAN system

The terms Wi-Fi, Cellular, and Bluetooth are commonplace, and most people rely on the technology behind the terms every day. We don’t even think much about them when we use our phones, our wireless earpieces, or our computers and tablets. But have you heard of LoRa or LoRaWAN? It is a communications protocol that enables low power sensors to communicate over several kilometers using very little power. The name LoRa is derived from Long Range and refers specifically to how the data is transmitted and received wirelessly. LoRaWAN is the Low Power, Wide Area Networking (LPWAN) software standard that sits atop LoRa supplying bidirectional communications, end-to-end security and more.

There is a lot of buzz around Public LoRaWAN Networks like Helium and The Things Network. While they may make sense for widely distributed applications spread across cities, states and even countries, there are many applications that can benefit from the long range and battery life LoRa offers but do not need or want the data directly sent to a cloud-based system. A private LoRaWAN system is ideal for this and is not difficult to put together.

Here are the five building blocks that make up a private LoRaWAN system:

1. Applications Software

Applications software enables the collection of LoRaWAN sensor data and facilitates acting on it through dashboards, rules, actions, notifications, and network monitoring. Machinechat JEDI Pro is a software application that is installed on a server to provide these functions and more.

2. LoRaWAN Network Server Software

Network server software runs locally, gathering the sensor data sent from the LoRaWAN gateway(s). It then deduplicates, decrypts and converts it into a common data format. This data is available via several integrations including MQTT and HTTP. ChirpStack is one such open-source LoRaWAN network server. It also provides a web-based interface to quickly onboard and manage devices and gateways.

3. Server Hardware and Operating System

This is a computer (often a PC server) where the software above will be installed and where the operational data will be stored locally by JEDI Pro. ChirpStack runs on the Ubuntu Linux operating system, as does JEDI Pro. In many applications it works well to run both software packages on the same server, but it is not required. The network server can send the data to JEDI Pro running on another Windows, Mac, Raspberry Pi, or other Linux system.

4. Gateways

All LoRaWAN gateways provide the function of gathering the wireless information from sensors and then forward this data to the network server software using IP networking (wired Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Cellular). There are several gateway manufacturers including MultiTech, Laird, and Seeed Studio.

5. Sensors

There are many readily available LoRaWAN sensors on the market. The LoRaWAN standard is well defined, making LoRaWAN products from different manufacturers interoperable. They are available for a broad range of applications and come integrated with batteries, antennas, and in some cases IP-rated enclosures suitable for outdoor use. Some sensors have built-in batteries that last up to three years. When selecting sensors and gateways it is important to choose devices that operate within the frequency bands approved for the country where the system is being deployed.

Diagram of a private LoRaWAN system using the building blocks above:

Unlike other types of sensor systems, LoRaWAN has a number of security measures built-in including: mutual authentication, integrity protection, and confidentiality through end to end encryption. And by creating a standalone, private LoRaWAN system, you will be providing yet another layer of protection for your valuable information.

By using off the shelf hardware and software for these five building blocks, constructing, and operating a private, edge based LoRaWAN IoT system is straightforward. It will give you end-to-end ownership and control and alleviates the need for custom software development and maintenance. It also eliminates cloud service fees that add up over time and dependence on persistent Internet connections.

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