LoRaWAN is a low power IoT protocol that comprises the LoRa radio technology, allowing for an open, reliable, and economical network deployment. By contrast, NB-IoT is a licensed LTE radio technology offering low latency and strong security at a steeper price point.
The LoRaWAN and NB-IoT standards are both part of a larger family of technologies known as LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Networking).
More so than other protocols like Sigfox and NB-Fi, these communication standards are setting the trend for what's to come in IoT.
According to Statista, LoRaWAN and NB-IoT are expected to account for around 85.5% of all LPWAN connections by 2023. This is clearly shown in the graph below:
The overlap between the two is clear, but the question remains:
What makes these two technologies so compelling compared to other protocols? Are LoRaWAN and NB-IoT going after the same market? Or are they destined to niche down into different use cases?
Even though they are in the same category, the way these two technologies are being developed is different.
LoRaWAN is an open protocol offered by the LoRa alliance that uses unlicensed spectrum, allowing almost anyone to set up their own networks at a low cost.
NB-IoT is a licensed protocol from the standards organization 3GPP offered through the licensed RF spectrum, making it available only through established mobile network operators.
So, which one is best for your organization? Let's find out.
LoRaWAN vs NB-IoT: A Quick Overview
Before we jump into the comparison, here's a quick refresher on both protocols:
ollowing the definition from the LoRa alliance, the LoRaWAN specification is a "Low Power, Wide Area (LPWA) networking protocol designed to wirelessly connect battery operated ‘things’ to the internet in regional, national or global networks by targeting key Internet of Things (IoT) requirements such as bi-directional communication, end-to-end security, mobility and localization services."
This specification comprises the LoRa (Long Range) technology which is a spread spectrum modulation technique derived from Chirp Spread Spectrum (CSS).
This technology is under patent from a company known as Semtech which indirectly charges a small fee on each LoRa chipset in sensors and gateways offered as off-the-shelf solutions for IoT enthusiasts and enterprises alike.
3GPP does not provide an official definition for the NB-IoT (Narrowband Internet of Things) protocol, also known as LTE CAT NB1. Referring back to one of their press releases from Feb 2016, NB-IoT is defined as "a new radio added to the LTE platform, optimized for the low [bandwidth] end of the market."
NB-IoT was made specifically with low-power stationary sensors in mind. For each device deployed in a network, this protocol offers wide coverage areas with deep indoor penetration.
NB-IoT was made specifically with low-power stationary sensors in mind. The protocol offers wide coverage areas with deep indoor penetration.
Unlike LoRaWAN, this is a licensed protocol that is likely to cost more in the long-term but provide a better overall experience for the end users.
One thing to note is that NB-IoT devices are rapidly moving towards Embedded SIM (eSIM) usage. According to a study by McKinsey & Company, eSIMs would "enable IoT product manufacturers to build devices with 'blank' sims that could be activated in destination countries for a more streamlined equipment connectivity."
To learn more about eSIMs and the future of cellular IoT, check out this presentation from Particle's Sr. Director of Product, William Hart.