LPWANs are designed to cover large geographical areas and minimize the amount of power required for sensors to interact with the network. There are many solutions available to enable an LPWAN, including LoRaWAN, 3GPP and Weightless. CableLabs has created a new open source software solution, the LPWAN Server, to route traffic between LPWAN network technologies and related solutions.
We believe no one LPWAN technology will fully own this IoT space. Our reasoning for this belief comes from multiple factors. For example, as we look at the sensors in this space, some are intended for real-time applications with consistent and verified uploads, while other sensors simply wake-up periodically and transmit small data payloads. Without going into more specific examples, we believe some LPWAN applications are better suited for mobile networks, while other LPWAN applications are better supported for unlicensed solutions, such as LoRaWAN.
With these considerations in mind, we developed a new open source solution to enable easily moving data from devices and applications across varying network types and related solutions. The LPWAN Server was designed to enable multiple use cases. First, it can be used to simply migrate or operate between two LoRaWAN network servers, such as ChirpStack and The Things Network. Second, and more importantly the long-term design intention is to enable the bridging of multiple LPWAN technologies, such as LoRaWAN and SigFox or LoRaWAN and NB-IoT. In order to integrate IP-based devices the server enables a “relay server” of sorts. This allows for the IP traffic to mix with LoRaWAN traffic for a single upstream interface to an application or data collector, such as Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure. Our goal with this project is to see developers integrate more back-end integration with network servers and technologies to enable this routing of traffic across multiple LPWAN technologies.
The LPWAN Server was designed to support the following use cases:
- Multi-vendor LoRaWAN environment
- Multi-network device deployment
- Simplify device provisioning across multiple networks
- Normalize data formats from LPWAN devices
Using the LPWAN Server in a multi-vendor LoRaWAN environment allows a network provider to,
- test multiple servers from multiple vendors in a lab,
- trial with multiple network servers from multiple vendors
- run multiple vendor solutions in production
The LPWAN Server allows you to operate a single application for devices deployed on multiple network types. In the future, the LPWAN Server will enable an IP relay-server for connecting with NB-IoT (and Cat-M1) devices commonly behind an Evolved Packet Core (EPC). It also allows for managing devices on the LoRaWAN network. The devices are managed under a single application within the LPWAN Server. This allows an application to receive data over a single northbound Application Program Interface (API) rather than maintain API connections and data flows to multiple networks.
The LPWAN Server simplifies provisioning to one or more LPWAN networks. A major challenge for a back-office solution is to integrate provisioning into a new network server. This is further complicated with multiple new network servers and types. In order to simplify this, the LPWAN Server manages the APIs to the networks, and the back-office solution only needs to integrate with a single API to the LPWAN Server.
The final use case explains how the LPWAN Server can normalize data from varying devices on one or more networks. Unfortunately, even in a single network environment, such as LoRaWAN, there is no standard for data formats from multiple “like” sensors. For example, a weather sensor from two different vendors could send the same type of data but change up the order. An application will need to interpret the data format from multiple sensors. The LPWAN Server could reformat the data payload into a common format for sending up to the application server. In this way, the application server will not need to interpret the data.
The LPWAN Server is intended to be a community open source project. The initial release from CableLabs provides support for a multi-vendor LoRaWAN use case. The back-end, has been designed for future support of all of the use cases, and the UI is flexible to support them as well. We currently are using the server for data normalization, too; however, this is via a back-end process. The open source community is encouraged to take advantage of the initial CableLabs development and further the development into a useful application for even more servers, solutions and use cases.