LoRa Alliance relay feature extends LoRaWAN coverage

Nov. 8, 2022
Expanding the standard lets LoRaWAN achieve coverage in use cases requiring deep indoor or underground coverage, or relay data on satellite-connected LoRaWAN devices within range.

The LoRa Alliance, which supports the open LoRaWAN standard for low-power, wide-area networks (LPWANs), reported Oct. 3 that it’s expanded the LoRaWAN standard’s link-layer by adding a relay specification. Relays allow for battery-operated, easy-to-deploy network coverage extensions at a fraction of the cost of adding more gateways. Expanding its standard lets LoRaWAN achieve excellent coverage in use cases requiring deep indoor or underground coverage, or relay data on satellite-connected LoRaWAN devices within range.

“LoRa Alliance members identified that end users in specific markets needed a solution to achieve full network coverage due to environmental challenges surrounding their deployments,” says Donna Moore, CEO and chair of the LoRa Alliance. “With this relay specification, we’re providing a standardized solution that allows for full, end-to-end communications in extremely challenging underground, metal and concrete environments, where sensor signals could use a boost or redirect to reach either the gateway or end-device. This new relay feature is a direct response to market needs and provides an essential building block to enable massive Internet of Things (IoT).”

The alliance reports that one of the first markets to adopt this new relay feature is metering by utilities. This sector represents a massive opportunity for IoT, with VDC Research estimating that worldwide LPWAN communication services revenue will reach $2.47 billion by 2025. Adding the relay function to LoRaWAN to achieve coverage for even the most difficult cases, such as meters inside metal closets, strengthens LoRaWAN’s market position in metering and utilities, and more broadly across key verticals including smart cities and buildings, and industrial IoT. The relay feature is reported to be ideal for any application monitoring static assets in challenging environments.

The LoRaWAN standard is already proven for long-range communications, but there can be physical limits to where LPWAN communications can reach, such as around turns, underground, where a signal needs to be reflected/relayed into a specific location, etc. LoRaWAN relays allow signals to go where they couldn’t go before. LoRaWAN TS011-1.0.0, “LoRaWAN Relay Specification” document describes the relaying mechanism used to transport LoRaWAN frames bi-directionally between an end-device and gateway/network server via a battery-operated node. By enabling the relay feature, a device can transfer LoRaWAN frames between an end-device and network when there isn’t sufficient coverage from the gateway.

The new specification enables network coverage extension through a battery-operated relays and maintains compatibility with the LoRaWAN Link-Layer standard in terms of protocol and security. The new relay nodes are battery-powered, can be installed anywhere, and don’t require electricity or Internet connectivity. This makes them very easy to deploy, and a low-cost, low-power way to extend network coverage, without needing to add more gateways. Relay end points allow LoRaWAN to provide coverage of all devices with only a nominal installation cost.