The New LoRaWAN® Relay Feature: A Powerful Tool for LoRa® and LoRaWAN Networks
07 August 2023 / by Martyn Stroeve
The recently announced LoRa Basics™ Modem v4 feature release includes a powerful new feature – relay. It allows customers to add battery-operated, easy-to-deploy relay nodes that act as network extenders. These relay nodes can be placed in remote locations or in areas where signal strength is weak due to extreme distances or circumstances, effectively extending the range of existing gateway(s) and networks using LoRaWAN® connectivity.
How Relays Utilizing LoRaWAN Work
To get up and running with a relay utilizing LoRaWAN, customers will need to upgrade their LoRa Network Server (LNS) to the latest version with relay support, as well as update specific existing LoRa® end nodes* to support the relay feature, or more optimally add a new dedicated relay device to the LoRa network to primarily act as a relay node. (*Note that although existing devices can support the relay feature, the additional battery drain could be problematic unless larger batteries and/or solar panels were already in play). Relays utilizing LoRaWAN work by receiving messages from end devices and then retransmitting them to a gateway and vice versa. This allows the end devices to communicate with the gateway even if they are located outside of the gateway's range. Relays can also be used to connect multiple gateways together, creating a larger and more reliable network. For a more detailed explanation of how the relay feature works, download the white paper here.
Benefits of Using Relays Utilizing LoRaWAN
LoRaWAN networks offer exceptional range and penetration, but there may be cases where devices fall outside of the network's coverage or optimal signal strength. For these instances, relays utilizing LoRaWAN can be used to extend the coverage of the network.
Relays are battery-operated, easy-to-deploy, require no additional backhaul, and are cost-effective compared to adding additional gateways. They can also be used in a variety of scenarios, such as smart cities, industrial IoT, agriculture, utilities, and more.
For example, in a utility setting, relays can be used to extend the coverage of meters that measure gas usage or water consumption. In a typical metering environment, most meters fall within the reach of a deployed gateway utilizing LoRaWAN. However, there may be several devices that are on the periphery of the network that don't have sufficient coverage. By adding a relay to the edge of the network, utilities can effectively extend the coverage of their LoRaWAN network without adding another gateway.
In an industrial or commercial setting, relays can be used to extend the coverage of sensors that are placed behind thick walls or other materials that attenuate the signal. By placing a relay near the sensor, the signal can be relayed to the gateway, even if the sensor is located in a difficult-to-reach area.
Here is an example use case from a customer who has been testing relay under Semtech’s Technology Access Program (TAP) that gives early access of new features to customers: “Oil refineries are mazes of pipes, liquids, caustic chemicals, and metal. Most radios don’t stand a chance at getting through, and wiring is simply not allowed in most cases. LoRaWAN is by far the best performer, but it too can encounter challenges. Now, with the Aria Relay for LoRaWAN, it doesn’t take a team of engineers to design coverage. You can easily and affordably add sensors and relays whenever and wherever you need. The relay feature solves such a big problem for our customers, it was obvious that we needed to create the Aria Relay for LoRaWAN,” Steve Ellis, CEO, Deviceroy. (For more information on Deviceroy’s Aria Relay for LoRaWAN, visit www.deviceroy.com/relay)
Relays are limited to 16 devices that can send messages through them, so they are not gateway replacements. However, they can be a cost-effective way to extend the coverage of a LoRaWAN network and are a powerful new tool that customers can utilize moving forward.
Don’t Delay, Upgrade to Relay!
The relay feature is a great new tool for customers to extend the already extensive range and coverage of LoRa, as well as improve the reliability of existing LoRaWAN networks where certain devices on the edge have intermittent signal integrity issues. The introduction of the new relay feature will be highly beneficial for many LoRa customers. Not only does it provide customers with greater flexibility in their network architectures but also reduces installation costs associated while providing better range and reliability. Relays utilizing LoRaWAN will have a lasting impact on how LoRaWAN networks are designed and deployed for years to come and we are very excited to see customers start to deploy and capitalize on this great new capability.
For more information, download the white paper on relay here and download the LoRa Basics Modem v4 software from GitHub here.
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