LoRa and Sigfox. Friends or foes?
Since their conception, LoRa and Sigfox have been pitted against each other as competitors. While the technologies are similar, in that they both operate in the unlicensed radio bands and offer low-power, energy-efficient solutions, there are some significant differences between the two. The differentiators highlighted below makes me think that LoRa and Sigfox are actually more friends than foes.
Founded in France in 2009, Sigfox strived to create a global, low-cost and low-power connectivity solution. Taking on a proprietary technology that facilitates communications using the Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) radio band, using 868MHz in Europe and 902MHz in the United States.
‘It utilizes a wide-reaching signal that passes freely through solid objects, called “ultra-narrowband”’ . It requires little energy, therefore it’s known as “Low-power Wide-area network” (LPWAN). LPWAN is the preferred connectivity technology for the IoT industry, particularly for those applications looking to continuously emit small amounts of data over long ranges, such as sensors or metres.
Sigfox wanted to create a technology and network that could target mass IoT applications, most of which would want to send small amounts of data over a long range. Many of these applications could be in rural or out-of-reach areas, so long device battery-life was imperative, as was the high
network capacity and low connectivity fees.
Sigfox’s strengths are that it consumes a low amount of power and is ideal for simple devices that don’t need to transmit frequently as the small amounts of data are sent slowly. It is said to have a potential range of 25km and can easily penetrate structures, where LoRa has a range of approximately 10km, which can be influenced by environment and obstacles.
However, Sigfox isn’t the answer for everyone. Whilst currently deployed in 43 countries, the network isn’t available everywhere. And, even when available in some areas, it cannot always be accessed as the company may have exclusive arrangements with network operators. You also have to sign up with Sigfox directly to work with them, unlike LoRa who allow anyone to join and manage their own network.
LoRa (Long Range), was originally developed by Cycleo of Grenoble, also in France, and was then acquired by Semtech in 2012. ‘LoRa uses license-free sub-gigahertz radio frequency bands like 169MHz, 433MHz, 868MHz (in Europe) and 915MHz (in the United States)’ . They too allow long transmissions with low power consumption and have a longer battery life.
Unlike the Sigfox architecture, LoRa is a good option if you need bidirectional communication and can work well in motion, making it ideal for tracking moving assets such as machinery or even wildlife in one particular area. Also, an engineer utilizing LoRa can build and test their own LoRa device quickly, where a protocol must be followed and communication must be constant with Sigfox.
Currently operating in 49 countries and due to its standardisation, there is naturally a larger ecosystem of LoRa solutions available on the market.
I think it’s clear to see that LoRa and Sigfox have different features and offerings, each have pros and cons and are use-case specific. So I think we need to keep an open mind when trying to decide which technology is right for an application.
Now I’m just using my imagination here, but I can see how you could potentially use both technologies to create a solution; the LoRa technology could handle the local sensor network, while the Sigfox technology can communicate the data back for processing. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see LoRa and Sigfox partnering up on projects in the near future.
1 Reference from Sigfox website https://www.sigfox.com/en/sigfox-iot-technology-overview
2 Reference from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LoRa