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LoRa®-based Contact Tracing to Help Businesses Reopen Safely

12 August 2020 / by Roelof Koopmans

Semtech_LoRa_COVID_ContactTracingIn many parts of the world the COVID-19 lock-downs are gradually opening up, requiring businesses to improve facility hygiene and protect itself from a virus outbreak. Many companies – in particular, factories, distribution centers, and logistics warehouses where people work very closely to each other – will also have to revisit its business processes. Yet, businesses of all sizes must now create safe and secure workspaces to mitigate infection risk and safeguard the health of workers.

From a legal perspective, employers may be liable if they do not take sufficient measures to protect workers against virus-spreading within a company environment. In the U.S., several states are proposing legislation that presume individuals contracted COVID at work unless their employer can “rebut” this presumption. Additionally, at least 14 states have already taken action to extend workers’ compensation coverage to include COVID-19 as a work-related illness. These examples illustrate the pending impact the coronavirus crisis will have on businesses.

Contact Tracing & Proximity Detection

Enterprises are turning to technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) to aid in the challenge to protect staff, facilitate early detection and enable the quarantining of colleagues who have come in contact with a coworker who has tested positive for COVID-19.

In several countries, manufacturers are developing and testing contact tracing apps for smart phones. While a digital method is faster and less prone to subjective data than manual interview-based contact tracing, these “big brother” apps are proving controversial because data is being collected and stored about an individual’s whereabouts 24 hours a day.

A better alternative is a proximity sensing solution that works only within the perimeter of a company’s premises. Workers can carry a badge or wear a wristband or lanyard, which includes a proximity sensor and a combined Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Ultra Wide Band (UWB) or LoRa® receiver that detects whether two devices have been closer than six feet, and communicates data with a LoRa-based gateway within the building.

From a data security perspective, there are several alternative solutions. Some of the solution providers store the sensitive data in a secure application that only can be accessed by authorized human resources staff of the employer if an employee has tested positive for COVID-19. In this situation, the employer has the ability to quickly trace all devices which have been in close contact with the infected worker and send these devices a message that the corresponding worker has to begin quarantine and be tested for Coronavirus. There is no direct association between the devices and the workers in the system.

A contact tracing solution is like life insurance for a company against spreading of the virus on its campus.

Another feature of proximity sensing ensures social distancing. The devices can send a vibrating alert or notification to workers when too close to each other.

These tools are readily available and will greatly help to avoid infections. According to estimates from International Data Corp, a market research firm, the market for contact tracing technologies could soon be worth $4 billion annually in the U.S.

How Digital Contact Tracing Works

Available IoT solutions for contact tracing are based on a combination of BLE, UWB or LoRa for proximity sensing, and LoRa-based networks, such as those based on the LoRaWAN® protocol, for long range communication between the sensors and one or more gateway (base-stations) installed on the premises.

Since the LoRaWAN protocol leverages the unlicensed spectrum, companies can install a private network by themselves, similar to Wi-Fi networks. A benefit of LoRaWAN networks is that coverage can traverse concrete walls and floors and the distance between gateways can be several 100 meters, enabling deep network coverage without the much greater number of access points required for Wi-Fi based solutions.

Employees can bring their wearable device to work with confidence that their privacy is protected because the only environment in which they are traceable is within company premises. When they go outside the company, the sensors will not be in coverage of the enterprise private LoRa-based network, removing the risk of inadvertent tracing of workers at home or anywhere outside the office. Sensor data can be collected and stored in a secure way and can be configured to automatically delete data after two weeks when the information is no longer relevant for contact tracing.

There are several LoRa-based solution providers that offer digital contact tracing solutions, such as Actility, Careband, Microshare, Phidata, SmartConnect, SmartMimic, SoluM, and others. Explore COVID-19 solutions from the LoRa ecosystem on our website.

Easily Deploy a LoRa-based Network and Expand Smart Building Applications

The underlying wireless technology for contact tracing solutions are LoRa devices provided by Semtech. The LoRaWAN specification, managed by the LoRa Alliance®, is a low power, wide-area networking protocol designed to wirelessly connect battery-operated “things” to the Internet.

Once a company has built a private LoRa-based network, it can also leverage the network for other smart Building applications. For instance, occupancy sensing of shared work desks and meeting rooms could allow staff and employer to know which are in use or free at any given moment. Another compelling use case is restroom cleaning based on actually usage, or soap dispensers alerting when empty. The monitoring of air quality is also becoming ever more important. All of these smart building use cases can operate on the same LoRa-based gateways installed for proximity sensing.

With integrated technologies and shared infrastructure approach, businesses can gain the full benefits of a digital transformation while specifically addressing their immediate requirements for safe and secure workplaces during the COVID era.

Download a checklist to learn how your business can prepare for reopening in the post-COVID era.

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Semtech, the Semtech logo and LoRa are registered trademarks or service marks of Semtech Corporation or its affiliates.

Topics: LoRa, Wireless RF, IoT, COVID-19

Written by Roelof Koopmans

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