LoRa vs LoRaWAN

LoRaWAN is the communication protocol and system architecture for the network while LoRa is the physical radio layer enabling the long-range communication link​.  LoRaWAN is a media access control (MAC)-layer protocol built on top of LoRa.  ​LoRa Alliance developed it for use by mobile network operators who want to use unlicensed spectrum to communicate with IoT devices in their network.

LoRaWAN is rarely used for industrial (private network) applications. It is a better fit for public wide-area networks because all the channels are tuned to the same frequencies.

All the gateways in a network are tied back to the same server, it’s the server’s job to decide which gateway should respond to a transmission. In a large network, any given transmission is typically heard by multiple receivers; the server then tells one gateway to respond and the others to ignore the transmission. This helps avoid downlink and uplink collisions because a single gateway is transmitting, and the gateways that are overlapping can simply listen for other transmissions.

Range

15 – 20km for suburban is quoted, as is >10km.

In reality it will depends on lots factors such as indoor/outdoor gateways, payload of the message, antenna used, etc. On average, in an urban environment with an outdoor gateway, you can expect up to 2- to 3-km-wide coverage, while in the rural areas it can reach beyond 5 to 7 km. ​Range depends on radio line-of-sight with 400MHz to 900MHz radio waves passing through some obstructions / materials but being absorbed or reflected by others.

Data Payload and Speed

The speed at which you can send data over LoRaWAN is extremely low

LoRaWAN defines a specific set of data rates: raw maximum data rate of 27 kbps (50 kbps when using FSK instead of LoRa) 

The LoRa layer though is capable of more rates and has selectable transmission parameters like TX power and spreading factor.  In the EU / CN 11 kbps and in the US 21.9 kbps using LoRa modulation (FSK allows faster)(see https://blog.dbrgn.ch/2017/6/23/lorawan-data-rates/ )

LoRa operates in unlicensed radio spectrum which means anyone can use the radio frequencies without having to pay.  It uses lower radio frequencies with a longer range. That the frequencies have a longer range also comes with more restrictions that are often country-specific. 

EU 863-870 MHz and Duty Cycle
In Europe LoRaWAN operates in the 863-870 MHz frequency band. European regulations require duty-cycle restrictions and these apply to each device which transmits on a certain frequency (so both gateways and devices have to respect the duty-cycles). Most channels used by LoRaWAN have a duty-cycle as low as 1% or even 0.1%, so the the network must be smart in scheduling messages on gateways that are less busy or on channels which have a higher duty-cycle.

US 902-928 MHz
In the United States LoRaWAN operates in the 902-928 MHz frequency band. There are dedicated uplink and downlink channels.

Australia 915-928 MHz
Similar to the US but with slight frequency changes.

LoRa for private use

You can use LoRa without using LoRaWAN, for example by using your own proprietary MAC layer.  Lots of companies use LoRa chips for other protocols.

A simple system would be use one LoRa device to be the gateway, and use all the others as nodes which connect to it.  To improve range you can add more gateways, but you’ll need to get clever with synchronizing them or playing with using different channels.

LoRa operates in unlicensed radio spectrum which means anyone can use the radio frequencies without having to pay.  

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