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LoRa vs. 5G: Can they coexist for IoT network connectivity?

LoRa vs. 5G technologies differ in terms of cost, use cases and technology types. However, LoRa and 5G may complement each other well for IoT connectivity.

There's little doubt 5G is the new technology darling of the 2020s, mostly because U.S. carriers, such as AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, are actively working to upgrade their nationwide networks with the latest generation of cellular technology. Thus, smartphone users and application developers are eagerly awaiting the impressive throughput and latency gains.

Yet, users and developers must remember 5G is also an incredibly powerful technology when it comes to highly distributed IoT projects. The advancements in performance, capacity and virtual segmentation open opportunities that were previously impossible to accomplish with 4G and earlier cellular architectures. For IoT projects that require immediate transports of large data amounts, 5G will be king.

But what if an IoT project requires only small data amounts be sent across the wireless network? What if the data must be sent at specific time intervals, as opposed to in real time? If an IoT project requires this type of wireless network, 5G will be overkill.

Additionally, carriers will only deploy carrier-grade 5G in areas with dense populations. Remote areas, small towns and other locations off the beaten path will be out of the question unless organizations deploy their own private 5G infrastructure. This route becomes highly complex and expensive to deploy and maintain.

The shortcomings of 5G are precisely where long range (LoRa) and LoRaWAN wireless begin to make sense.

What is LoRa?

LoRa is an unlicensed narrowband technology, meaning the channel widths are smaller, which results in a cleaner transmission that translates into increased range compared with wideband alternatives, including carrier 5G. This also means it's less expensive for organizations to deploy a large-scale LoRa wireless network compared to both 4G LTE and 5G.

The LoRa wireless standard is also highly power-efficient. IT teams can set remote LoRa transmitters to intermittently transmit data on a fixed schedule, as opposed to constantly sending and receiving data in real time, so many LoRa devices can operate on battery power for years. Thus, if an IoT project requires sensors in highly remote areas where electricity is difficult to reach, LoRa is an excellent 5G alternative.

LoRa vs. 5G: Friends or foes?

LoRa and 5G are friendly or complementary wireless technologies. While 5G will be useful in most bandwidth-intensive IoT deployments, LoRa will likely carve out a niche market for IoT deployments in the agriculture, oil and gas, utilities and transportation industries. For these use cases, LoRa will be easier to deploy and manage and won't hurt the pocketbook nearly as much as 5G.

This was last published in September 2020

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