LoRaWAN vs NB-IoT -aligning statements with reality

Time for some mythbusting. Last year when I spoke at the Things conference, I described the battle in the massive IoT market as a tug-of-war between two technologies; LoRaWAN and 4G/5G.I have been trying to shed more light on the respective technology’s similarities and superpowers in the last year. Both standards are essential for each other’s co-existence, driving the evolution forward.

I put together a lot of posts comparing the two technologies to prepare for the Things conference, and I have had lengthy discussions ever after about Massive IoT and LPWAN. I recently found a LinkedIn post listing the two technologies and their differences. It caught my eye as it referred to a blog post by NexPCB , and I was a bit concerned about the summary. Let us look at the list:

“It can be deduced that:

1. LoRaWAN works in a larger area range than NB-IoT, but both technologies perform well on a longer distance range than traditional LAN (Local Area Network) such as Zigbee, Bluetooth, and WiFi.
2. LoRaWAN has a higher interference immunity than NB-IoT, meaning that it would be able to work in crowded environments, i.e. with many furniture, buildings, or trees, and still be able to maintain the connection and the quality of the data packets sent.
3. Data transmission speed and size are higher with NB-IoT than LoRaWAN, with also lower latency. Thus, making NB-IoT more reliable for real-time applications.
4. With a higher operating and sleep current in NB-IoT applications, its power consumption would generally be higher, impacting its battery life to be shorter than of LoRaWAN’s.
5. LoRaWAN allows mobility: ensures devices are connected even when they are on the move, whilst NB-IoT wouldn’t be able to. This is due to the fact that the NB-IoT standard only allows single handshaking between the base station and the end device.
6. NB-IoT offers a higher level of protection for data transmission, having a licensed LTE Encryption running on 256-bit data instead of the AES 128-bit system used by LoRaWAN.
7. The cost of LoRaWAN products, along with its maintenance and operating costs are lower than that of NB-IoT’s, as NB-IoT would require contracts and licenses from mobile operators registered. ”

The post was published in 2021, but it is not that accurate; time for some mythbusting.

1. Coverage

The claim is that “LoRaWAN works in a larger area range than NB-IoT”. If you want facts, please look at my blog posts “5G vs LoRaWAN part 2: distance” and “5G vs LoRaWAN part 3: coverage“.

Three things that bust this statement are that
a) LoRaWAN has lower output power than NB-IoT
b) LoRaWAN has less receiver sensitivity than NB-IoT in practice
c) The frequency between these technologies is similar. However, the NB spectrum will be more protected as it is not using a free radio spectrum.

Number one busted.

2. Interference

The blog post claim is “LoRaWAN has a higher interference immunity than NB-IoT”; it will work better in crowded environments”. So what affects the outcome of transmission in such environments? The same three things I mentioned above. LoRaWAN is constantly changing the frequency. This mechanism makes the system somewhat robust to interference, but it is not using a licensed spectrum. NB-IoT has the advantage of being a licensed band. LoRaWAN uses different spreading factors to overcome distance, and NB-IoT uses repetitions. If you check the blog posts mentioned above, you will find more information; some additional facts are found in this blog post as well.

I want to call number two busted as well.

3. Data speed

Oh, it took some time to find a confirmed statement on the list, but number three makes sense!

4. Battery life

“With a higher operating and sleep current in NB-IoT applications, its power consumption would generally be higher, impacting its battery life to be shorter than of LoRaWAN’s.” Many factors will affect battery life, and I have made a thorough analysis in an earlier blog post. This statement makes sense, but sleep current is not the only thing that will affect battery life. Distance to the base station, data package size and if your device can store data in its memory will all affect the power consumption. The statement is plausible but only answers part of the problem. Still, the statement seems like it addresses the pros of LoRaWAN, but not all parameters that you need to consider when evaluating different questions. It is hard to put confirmed or plausible on this statement; the question is only partially answered. Read more here.

5. Mobility

Here is another busted statement. “LoRaWAN allows mobility: ensures devices are connected even when they are on the move, whilst NB-IoT wouldn’t be able to”. The post we are looking at was written in 2021, and NB2, from 3GPP release 14, addresses a lot of the problems with mobility; NB-IoT now handles hand-over, read more here.

6. Data protection.

Well, this one makes sense, “NB-IoT offers a higher level of protection for data transmission” however, there are more things you could say benefit the mobile networks, it has a second layer of security (SIM-card), and you can use encryption on top of the data protocol for enhanced protection. A confirmed statement

7. Costs

This one is also busted. Maintenance of a wireless network will equal the Total Cost of Ownership, whether you have a LoRaWAN or 5G device. LoRaWAN devices are cheaper, but the availability of the frequency long term is a huge question mark. Again, I refer to a blog post about maintenance costs and TCO. It would help if you read it; the answer is not what you think.

So, a few confirmed statements and many busted or questionable ones.

I may be wrong; it has happened before; however, writing a neutral blog post is something other than a “neutral” one. I understand this post I am debunking is a pro-LoRaWAN post, but let us discuss the opportunities with IoT instead of battling out the best standard for the IoT market.