LoRaWAN® GPS Tracker or GSM GPS Tracker – Differentiators and Industry use cases

GPS Tracker has always been in market, why do we need yet another technology to do the same thing? An obvious question that comes to the mind. The short answer is, it gives you the same features of GSM Tracker without recurring cost (considering one opts for Private Network) that is levied by SIM Card. The long answer, however, is intricate. Let’s look at some of the advantages that LoRaWAN® brings to the table

Ability to penetrate through thick and thin

Special ability of LoRa to penetrate through walls, buildings, large debris etc. makes LoRa signals reach even when the devices are behind wall, underground (tested 5-6 kilo meters at SF 12), inside a boggy etc. GPRS signals may struggle at these locations. I found a good article that talks about “Range and coverage of LoRaWAN in practice” [Ref: https://smartmakers.io/en/lorawan-range-part-2-range-and-coverage-of-lorawan-in-practice/]

Immunity to interference

There are different types of interference a wireless system needs to consider – co-channel interference, blocking rejection [Ref: https://www.raveon.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/AN205LoRa.pdf]. Usually RF systems starts misbehaving even when the interference is 10dB weaker than the signal being Received. LoRa, however, provides a tolerance of 19 dB, so that the receiver can get the signal. This ability makes LoRa suitable in Industrial environment which is highly contaminated with different types of signals generated by machineries and other external factors. LoRaWAN trackers are usually installed in Industrial areas such as mines, power plants, machinery plants, oil&gas stations etc. where, heavy machinery are present creating noise and interference. LoRa is expected to work better.

Long Range

GPRS signal usually gives range of 1 Km radius [Ref: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/general-packet-radio-service], however, as the tower spread is dense, user experience continuity in connectivity.

On LoRa connectivity, there are many experiments conducted on this topic and different module makers and OEMs. Results vary, to some, “realistic range” [Ref: https://www.murata.com/en-sg/support/faqs/products/lpwa/lora/hardware/0008] is 7 Km although the stated range is between 15Km to 20Km. During experiments conducted at EasyReach, we did get 7Km to 8Km of line of sight, with few packet drops. Considering a midsize Industrial area, the spread of the location could be of 5 to 9 Kms radius.  Optimal placement of LoRaWAN Gateways would achieve good results.

OPEX – Operational Expenditure

This is an interesting subject. LoRaWAN network can be obtained in two formats – Private Network and Public Network. Under Private Network, responsibility of setting up network, optimization of network, ensuring enough coverage etc. remain with the company. With Public Network, the responsibility is with the LoRaWAN Public Network Operator. Setting up Private Network, will require CAPEX, that includes LoRaWAN Gateway and LoRaWAN Network Server. With Public Network, the cost is taken up by the Network Operator, for which it charges on monthly basis. With GSM network, option of setting up your own Private Network does not exist at all.

GPS Signals, Storage, Data Sending Frequency, Power Optimization – non differentiators

Some of the important features of LoRaWAN® Tracker are its ability to capture GPS signal, can it store data when the signal is unavailable, the size of data storage, data transmission frequency, how long the battery will last, will the battery recharge itself, will the battery live on vehicle battery etc. Every LoRaWAN Tracker supplier provides different variants. However, the same can be provided in GSM/GPRS Tracker as well. E.g. If the same GPS module is used on LoRa transmitter or on GSM transmitter, it is expected to give the similar accuracy. Hence, these factors do not really qualify as a differentiator.

Are GSM/GPRS Tracker all that bad?

Does it mean that GSM/GPRS based trackers are bad or should not be used? Certainly not! There are many strong cases for GSM/GPRS based Trackers. E.g. In case, one wants to track vehicle traveling across the country from state to state or city to city, GSM is a best choice. LoRaWAN® network is yet to spread across country. GSM has much higher bandwidth and data sending rate is much faster than LoRaWAN®, if the use case needs one to send higher amount of data at larger speed, GSM based tracker will work better. Industries where there is a good coverage of GSM and less interference, any technology will work equally well.

Business Cases Suitable for LoRaWAN® based Tracking

As we ponder over where to use LoRaWAN® tracker over GSM Tracker, there are few scenarios that emerge where LoRaWAN® tracker would be more suitable over GSM based Tracker.

Moving Vehicle Tracking in mines

Terrain of mines is unusual. Location may have huge pits or mountains of material spread across. Workers move across these areas. Some areas are more sensitive areas, where only works with special skills and gears are allowed to go. Trucks entering into one mine section is not allowed to enter into another section. Mines are usually setup in the area far away from city, where GSM connectivity could be unavailable. LoRaWAN based Tracker becomes more useful there to track people, vehicle and material.

People Tracking in Tea Plantation

A typical Tea plantation has large area covered with Tea plants. Workers are spread across this large area. For a   LoRaWAN® Gateway mounted at high position, most of the area becomes line of sight. Again, GSM connectivity in these areas is sparse. LoRaWAN® Tracker becomes effective mechanism of tracking.

Equipment Tracking & People Tracking in Power Plant

A typical power plant is a busy area. 5000 to 7000 people move in and out on daily basis. Work runs 24 hours in three shifts. Metal structures are erected at various places – boiler, shed, parking, being some of them. Material and equipment flow are constant.  LoRaWAN® Tracker deployment, if reduced OPEX can become a cost effective solution.

Finished Goods / Vehicle Tracking inside Yard

A typical automobile company shifts finished vehicle in a large yard. It is important that the goods / vehicles manufactured first should be sold out first – FIFO principal. In a large yard, it becomes difficult to search where a specific vehicle is parked. With LoRaWAN + GPS combination, one can easily identify the location of the vehicle inside Yard and reduce time to pickup. This ensures fast movement of FG (Finished Goods). LoRaWAN Tracker needs to send Location data once in a day or whenever vehicle moves. Low data points across large area makes LoRaWAN Tracker a suitable option.

Tree Tracking in Sandalwood Forests

India alone has 9000 sq km area under Sandalwood cultivation. Sandalwood, due to its high value, becomes prone to theft. Usually these farms are dense in nature. LoRa’s ability to penetrate through thick becomes a primary differentiator. LoRaWAN Tracker installed on each of the Sandalwood Tree acts as major deterrent.

Conclusion

LoRaWAN and GSM Tracker have their own use cases. LoRaWAN Tracker fairs well on some of the stated use cases. Decision makers in those industries should take weighted decision based on their business needs.