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LoRaWAN: Cisco’s Sensor Solution for IoT

While enterprise IT has it’s fair share of buzzwords (looking at you “single pane of glass”), its always interesting when you find one that spans the often disparate technology world. Perhaps the most notable of these is the Internet of Things. People have been talking about IoT from the Consumer Electronics Show to Cisco Live Europe, so clearly there’s a lot of interest.

But what is IoT? Well in both the consumer and enterprise space, it’s about bringing connectivity to devices. In the consumer space, this connectivity comes in often absurd ways, like having a full Android installation running on your refrigerator. There is one fundamental difference. For consumers, IoT connectivity is a way to add convenience. For enterprises, IoT uses this connectivity to be able to take data and drive more business.

For IoT to proliferate in the enterprise, Cisco thinks we’re still missing something. I’ve prepared a very technical chart to illustrate this.

Connected sensors are a key to drawing a complete data set. It’s relatively easy to get IoT devices deployed in an office environment, where power is plentiful and everything can be connected to the office network, even if wirelessly. The problem is that many businesses and organizations don’t exist solely in an office. In these instances, how do you get enough sensors out there, without them becoming a complete maintenance nightmare? If a sensor is needed without available power, what are your options.

Cisco’s solution is LoRaWAN. While I first thought it was inspired by Klingon, it turns out it stands for 2-way Long Range Low Power Wide Area Network. While LoRaWAN might be a bit of a tongue twister, I guess it is a better option that LRLPWAN.

So what makes LoRaWAN ideally suited for IoT sensors? Low power, really low power. Cisco’s putting together low power sensors with LoRaWAN that they’re predicting will get ten years of life off of the embedded battery. To get this, you’re naturally going to get more limited performance. This isn’t meant to be an AP to route your torrent traffic, or even for constant streaming of an IP camera. Instead, it’s meant for small intermittent data bursts. Using unlicensed spectrum, these devices have an over-the-air range of about 10km, operating in the uncanny mobile valley between cellular and Wi-Fi.

Cisco wants you to be able to blanket any deployment in readily available low-cost sensors. I haven’t gotten a lot of detail from them as far as how much communication is going back to the sensors. These are by design fairly basic, so beyond some simple on-off and diagnostic toggles, I can’t image there’s much in the way of interaction.

Still, the point of IoT is to be able to add connectivity, not necessarily compute. The main challenges to IoT are how to get data from your sensors and devices, and how to organize and make sense of it once it’s collected. Cisco’s LoRaWAN enabled sensors certainly make the first part a whole lot easier. I’d definitely keep an eye on their IoT ambitions, I image they have a lot of ideas on the latter as well.

About the author

Rich Stroffolino

Rich has been a tech enthusiast since he first used the speech simulator on a Magnavox Odyssey². Current areas of interest include ZFS, the false hopes of memristors, and the oral history of Transmeta.

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