LoRa VS Sigfox: two competing ultra-low power networks
With the large-scale deployment of the Internet of Things (IoT), the prospects for the development of artificial intelligence and connected objects are impressive. With these, information gathering becomes a global challenge.
Two Ultra Low Power (LPWan) telecommunication networks have similar characteristics and it is usually difficult to choose one over the other.
LoRa and Sigfox: pioneers in communication between connected objects
In recent years, technologies allowing communication between connected objects have appeared. Among them, the LoRa network and the Sigfox company are pioneers in the field.
What is LoRa ?
LoRa technology, which stands for Long Range, allows connected objects to exchange small amounts of data at low speeds. Unlike broadband networks such as 4G or 5G, it has the advantage of being very economical by reducing the energy consumption of devices. Thanks to a small battery, it also extends the life cycle of the devices, which can then operate for up to ten years in autonomy.
In addition, LoRa technology is particularly popular with consumers for its impressive ability to penetrate buildings and basements. A radio antenna, whether private or public, can transfer data over a radius of several kilometres. This is why the technology is also called LoRaWAN, which stands for Long Range Wide Area.
In practice, to use LoRa technology, public or private operators install antenna stations. Devices equipped with a LoRa chip and connected to the Internet via gateways send the data collected to nearby antennas.
Where LoRa technology is used ?
LoRa tools are real marketing tools, which enable new customers to be won over. By reinventing Machine to Machine (M2M) communication, LoRa makes it possible to manage the geolocation of customers, their opinions, queues, etc., and any other information that can improve the customer experience.
To go further and generate customer engagement, LoRa uses Beacon devices to offer specific content.
The LoRaWAN community network
There is a community network, The Things Network, which is powered by Lora technology and allows information to be transmitted through objects with low energy consumption.
Open source for the Internet of Things, the network has more than 400,000 contributors: companies, universities or even municipalities that use it for free and participate in its development.
Sigfox technology is very similar to LoRa technology. It offers cellular connectivity dedicated to low-speed, low-cost and low-energy communications.
Communication between connected objects is possible thanks to the UNB (Ultra Narrow Band) technology. This technology operates on free frequencies such as the ISM (Industrial, Scientific and Medical) bands. In France, these bands are located on the 868 MHz frequency.
As with LoRa technology, Sigfox uses these bands for M2M (Machine to Machine) communication, with devices such as the coffee machine or the freezer.
Since the end of 2019, it is now possible to deploy a private Sigfox network. This creates a coverage extension for connected sensors.
Where Sigfox technology is used ?
Sigfox connectivity can be useful in many areas. Its use is particularly relevant in the field of logistics, thanks to its simplified information gathering.
The technology can be used to control billboards, manage house alarms, etc. By combining M2M communication, which it makes possible, with a decision-making unit, this device can provide a better understanding of the outside world and thus be a major asset for its users.
LoRa vs Sigfox: the real differences
A planetary blanket ?
LoRa and Sigfox are direct competitors. However, there are certain points that differentiate the two companies. The first is the coverage they have.
LoRa technology is made up of 148 operators. According to Rémi Lorrain, director of the LoRaWAN network at Semtech, 12 of these operators have national coverage in Europe, i.e. covering 80% of the country’s population.Objenious, a subsidiary dedicated to IoT, created in February 2016, also covers over 80% of the French population.
Sigfox has a leading position in the market. The company states that 1.3 billion people can benefit from Sigfox networks worldwide.
There are other technical differences between the two companies. LoRa technology is open source, unlike Sigfox, which remains closed. Thus, the long-term functioning of the connectivity depends directly on the sustainability of Sigfox. The strength of LoRa networks lies in the fact that they are generally deployed by large institutions in each country with guarantees of operation over several decades. The Objenious and Orange networks in France come to mind. This is a real guarantee of confidence.
Nevertheless, Sigfox has the advantage of being a single global operator. So there are no roaming issues between countries. This is much more complicated for LoRa, where each national operator has to interconnect with neighbouring networks. Roaming for the LoRa network is still very limited in Europe (France, Belgium, Switzerland). On top of that, it creates additional costs for the users.
Furthermore, LoRa offers a lower geolocation accuracy than Sigfox. When the sensors or trackers do not have GPS chips, the Sigfox solution seems much more interesting. Nevertheless, the accuracy sold by Sigfox or Objenious greatly overestimates the reality. The real accuracy is in the order of 1 to 3km or even 20km, far from the 50m advertised.
In terms of energy savings, LoRa has the advantage because it consumes less energy than Sigfox. Nevertheless, the orders of magnitude remain the same. In our opinion, this is not a strong decision criterion.
Finally, until the end of 2019, a private Sigfox network could not be set up. LoRa, on the other hand, allowed it. This was a well-known advantage for the latter.
Without this really being an advantage or a disadvantage, these types of networks are nevertheless complementary and their use depends on the needs of companies or individuals who seize the technological opportunity they represent.