If you work in a Local Government, a private company collecting environmental data, in building management looking at building energy performance, in campus or workcamp management, etc., you would have heard in the last 4-5 years a lot of talk about various ways of transmitting this data as inexpensive as possible.

Data transmission is based on a network of some sort which allows the sensors to send their measurements to an end point, a platform of some sort. In a previous article, we have discussed platforms. You can read more about it by following this link : What is an IoT Platform ?

Usually the networks used are the well known cellular 4G and 5G, newer NB-IOT, CAT-M1, LoRaWAN and even Wi-Fi. One network stands out as one of the preferred networks for commercial and also for experiments: LoRaWAN networks.

These networks don’t have to be big. A single gateway can provide enough radio coverage for quite a few sensors. But a network is NOT just the radio transmitter and the gateway.

First, what forms a LoRaWAN Network ?

A LoRaWAN network is formed of two layers:

  1. The hardware layer – LoRa gateways, LoRa enabled sensor hardware (please note the use of “LoRa”, it is not a mistake).  LoRa (not to be confused with LORaWAN, is the radio technology. It means Long Range and it uses chirp modulation for the radio signal. Chirp modulation is not new and has been used in radars and other applications for a very long time.
  2. The software layer – LoRaWAN protocols in devices, LoRaWAN servers. In simple terms, the protocol is the set of rules that the software running inside the devices has to follow in order to compress and encrypt the data. The server is the central point for a LoRaWAN deployment. All gateways and devices have to report to the LoRaWAN server before the data can be used in other end points.

We will perhaps approach the entire architecture of a LoRaWAN based project in a future article.

For now, let’s focus on the question in the title: public or private ?

Public LoRaWAN Networks

Public LoRaWAN networks are those who allow pretty much anyone to connect a gateway and sensors and get some data. Usually public networks are free of charge, albeit they have some limitations. A very well known example of a public network is The Things Network (or TTN for short).  This is a collection of servers around the world which provide access and all the services required for someone to collect and display data. Any school, private individual, organisation, etc. can  purchase hardware from a retailer and then use it in on TTN to get data.

There are obvious reasons why this approach is very popular. The Things Network has enabled thousands of people an organisations around the world to get into the data collection using new, relatively inexpensive technologies.

The Things Network is not the only one. There are new networks popping up such as Helium. TTN is, however, the best known and most popular, for now.

Using public LoRaWAN networks comes with limitations and risks though.  A public network is a free for all solution which can present instability, many unexpected and unscheduled downtimes, slow response to faults, delays in data transmission due to routing through many servers, etc. There is not one single point of contact if data flow is interrupted and the user relies on someone rebooting or monitoring a server which otherwise brings no revenue.

LoRaWAN servers  (which handle all the authentication and security of the devices and communication) are hosted in various countries and the integrator has no control over the data routing. This affects data sovereignty. Public LoRaWAN networks are a bit like a public Wi-Fi. They are very convenient but you wouldn’t build your business network and base your normal communication on the free Wi-Fi of the neighbouring coffee shop.

Private LoRaWAN Networks

On the other side, you have private LoRaWAN networks. These are solutions packaged and tightly controlled and managed by a single organisation.

Everything deployed in a private network is part of a closed system. This means that the general public does not have access to registering devices, gateways, collecting data, etc. Private LoRaWAN networks are a lot more stable, have excellent performance monitoring capabilities. A private network gives full control to the customer of who is using the network and how the data is handled. The chain of data ( sensor, gateway, server and even to the dashboard ) is  a closed eco-system with complete autonomy form public influence.

These private deployments are not usually used for experiments or development.

A private LoRaWAN network is not necessarily hosted on customer’s site. Private deployments can be site-hosted or cloud hosted. As we have outlined in another article, the hosting has to be resilient, secure, sovereign. Private networks are not free. There are many pricing models from per-byte costing to pools of devices to one-off cost. it all depends on the design, use and the customer’s preference.

SimplyCity has developed such a solution under the name of SimplyNet. The servers used to enroll devices, authenticate and secure the transmissions are all under one banner, all located in Australian based servers. The enrollment of devices is tightly controlled in partnership with the customers using the network and access is restricted to very few individuals with special training.

Working with a private network ensures excellent uptime, security, data sovereignty, data ownership.  Obviously this is not a free solution but it is the right path for a commercial deployment.