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April 2019
Interview

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EMAIL INTERVIEW –  Ken Sinclair and the LoRa Alliance Smart Buildings Working Group


LoRa Alliance
The LoRa Alliance™ is an open, nonprofit association that has become one of the largest and fastest-growing alliances in the technology sector since its inception in 2015.

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Sinclair:  Let’s start with a brief explanation of the LoRa Alliance and its charter.

Alliance:  The LoRa Alliance™ is an open, nonprofit association that has become one of the largest and fastest-growing alliances in the technology sector since its inception in 2015. Its members closely collaborate and share expertise to develop and promote the LoRaWAN™ protocol as the leading open global standard for secure, carrier-grade IoT low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) connectivity. With the technical flexibility to address a broad range of IoT applications, both static and mobile and the LoRaWAN CertifiedCM program to guarantee interoperability, LoRaWAN connectivity is available in more than 100 countries and is expanding continually.

Sinclair:  What role do LPWANs play in bringing automated intelligence to smart buildings?

Alliance:  Smart buildings are not new, but most previous automation technology relied on existing wired infrastructure or used Wi-Fi, both of which have a number of limitations. LPWANs add a new dimension with a huge number of use cases leveraging deployments of small, inexpensive, battery-powered devices. These networks enable the automation of functions that couldn’t be automated before, due to complexity and price point.

For example, maintaining an understanding of occupancy and traffic flow was previously too difficult and costly, but with an LPWAN this capability can be set up and monitoring initiated in an hour. Temperature monitoring is another area that benefits from LPWANs. Rather than having to deal with proprietary systems or HVAC vendors and paying a high associated fee, temperature monitoring can now be implemented for a much more reasonable cost, and there’s no long-term vendor contract requirement.
 
Sinclair:  What are the main challenges that LPWAN technology can help building automators solve?

Alliance:  Building automators face a range of challenges, many of which revolve around the need to understand and predict when things are breaking or about to break, e.g., if pipes are frozen and may soon burst or an HVAC system threatens to fail. There is a major need to really understand how space is utilized because that can drive efficiencies around how much heat or fresh air to deliver into a building. Monitoring a building 24/7 involves such parameters as water temperature, bacteria infiltration and the amount of fresh air to circulate – merely complying to minimum levels with manual monthly status checks isn’t sufficient to assure occupant health and safety.

With LPWAN technology, a building owner or facility manager can utilize the data from multiple sensors strategically located in the facility to see what’s happening in real time and predict any problems or issues likely to arise. With the network in place, a property can be easily retrofitted with new technology, obviating the need to deploy a more intrusive solution. Many of the target use cases are needed in fairly old buildings, and here LoRaWAN offers a low-cost way to add IoT functionality without requiring a major infrastructure investment.

Sinclair:  For indoor applications, there are many technologies vying for the attention of facility managers – Zigbee, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular, etc. Where does LoRaWAN fit into this landscape? What are its unique benefits for in-building applications, and what can’t it do?

Alliance:  It is very hard to compare LoRaWAN broadly against such a range of technologies; the short answer is that LoRaWAN is the only one that can deliver ease of installation, use of public or private networks, and long battery life. The vast LoRa Alliance ecosystem ensures a wide variety of options from sensor providers, as well as network and application layer providers, and eliminates the historic need to deploy dedicated and expensive vendor-specific proprietary monitoring systems.

In addition, LoRaWAN-based LPWANs can exist separately from corporate networks – they can be installed independently of corporate IT networks making them both cost-effective and secure to implement. In smart office buildings, LoRaWAN connected sensors are being used to provide data for such functions as temperature monitoring, predictive bathroom cleaning, and monitoring occupancy of desks and meeting areas – just to name a few. As with any single technology, there are some use cases where LoRaWAN may not be the strongest option. For example, applications requiring extremely low latency or high data rates are probably best served by other technology options. 

The fact that LoRaWAN is a freely available technology standard is a huge differentiator. The LoRa Alliance member ecosystem ensures broad availability of the technology and wide choice in providers for sensors, networks and the application layer. This approach is unique and a major shift from historic building automation, which was driven solely by proprietary vendor systems.

Alliance Coverage 

Sinclair:  How easy is it to set up a LoRaWAN system in a smart building? What are the time and cost implications?

Alliance:  Basic LoRaWAN systems can be up and running in an hour. Costs vary depending on the vendor selected, desired options and other variables, but overall, it is far less expensive than being tied to a proprietary vendor or existing network solution. With LoRaWAN, the user can control costs by creating a customized solution that comprises the desired number of sensors and application layers to be implemented. One source has stated that using LoRaWAN cuts the costs to connect directly to a network operator down to less than a dollar per month, per device.

PlantPROCOREThe reality with smart buildings is that there are lots of different stakeholders who want different information from the data. The person who manages real estate, a facility manager, a landlord, and then all of the other utility and insurance providers, all have different needs. An important distinction is that, by using LoRaWAN, the secured data can be made available to these different parties and used across the entire building ecosystem, which offers huge value in this market.

Sinclair:  Can you share an example of a case study that illustrates the benefits of LoRaWAN for facilities management?

Alliance:  One of our member companies, Microshare, provided a customer with a deployment focused on predictive bathroom cleaning in a high-occupancy building. The customer, Mace Macro, wanted a real-world IoT solution that was scalable so that they could start small, realize value quickly and grow efficiently. This centralized solution delivers reliable, real-time data through the LoRaWAN sensors, allowing Macro to understand demand peaks – including unexpected peaks that may pop up – and schedule cleaning services accordingly to ensure the best possible experience for building occupants and visitors.

Sinclair:  How can interested readers get started implementing a LoRaWAN solution in their buildings?

Alliance:  The best source of information about the LoRa Alliance and the LoRaWAN protocol is our website. Our Resource Hub offers a variety of information, from the protocol specification itself to technical white papers on topics ranging from security, to use case examples and presentations from a variety of events. Additionally, we will be hosting our All Members Meeting in Berlin, Germany in June, including a LoRaWAN Live day on June 13 that will be open to the public. LoRaWAN Live is the best opportunity to learn about LoRaWAN, with a variety of technical and business sessions, and also to engage with our vast ecosystem to network and understand the wide variety of solutions and providers that comprise our membership.


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