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16 March 2020

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Using LoRaWAN to improve the construction industry

How can we connect the unconnected to improve efficiency, safety and output on today’s construction sites? LoRaWAN could be the answer. 

lorawan, smart industry

Smart wearable devices, mobile wireless networking and the ubiquitous Internet of Things (IoT); these are just some of the buzzwords mentioned when it comes to the digitisation of our construction sites. But how will we start to automate what was once manual? And how will we seek new insights into such things as asset optimisation, stock levels, air quality and such like? What about an affordable, easy to deploy, power efficient solution? Let’s take a look at LoRaWAN. 

What is LoRaWAN? 

LoRaWAN is a low power wide area network (LPWAN) specification designed for wireless battery powered devicesin regional, national or global networks. Its architecture enables single long-distance hops between the small devices used on a construction site and the gateways that provide onward connections to back end infrastructure.

Its simplicity means that the roll-out of the devices and infrastructure to support it are therefore inexpensive. It’s also securesupporting device authentication and employing robust encryption techniques that organisations demand today.

The full specifications can be perused in more detail and was developed by the LoRa Alliance® an open association of its certified members. The blueprint of the solution allows for seamless interoperability between manufacturers further encouraging the flexible open nature of the solutions that organisations can therefore utilise. 

Architecture 

LoRaWAN network architecture follows a star-of-stars topology in which gateways relay messages between end devices and a central network server. The gateways are connected to the network server via standard TCP/IP connections and act as a bridge converting Radio Frequency (RF) signals from the LoRaWAN network to IP packets and vice versa. This effectively connects the IoT devices over long distances simply and securely into new or existing infrastructure for analysis and reporting. 

The LoRaWAN specification relates to the way an IoT sensor communicates over the infrastructure at a physical layer and therefore provides seamless interoperability between different manufacturers as supported and documented by the device certification program. 

Security 

Such a global standard would be limited without a robust security standard and LoRaWAN provides this by utilising advanced 128 bit AES end-to-end encryption at both Network as well as Application layers for sessions enabling multi-tenant implementations without a telco having to unencrypt data within the message payloads. It also specifies the use of device authentication using MAC addressing to further ensure no device has altered or eavesdropped a data flow.  

Advantages 

The LoRaWAN™ protocol is an open global standard and has many benefits over traditional proprietary solutions. 

  • Easy to install and maintain 
  • Flexible and scalable  
  • Supports bidirectional communications 
  • Secure and Encrypted 
  • Supports battery powered sensors that can last up to 10 years (depends on class) 
  • Very long single hop wireless connections up to 15kms in distance (depending on topography) 
  • Multicast supported supporting large scale processes such as firmware updates “over the air” 
  • Low cost via simple architecture, cheap devices, free to use unlicensed radio frequencies 
  • Improved location tracking – by triangulation of LoRa network devices utilising less power than GPS 
  • Open source – the LoRa Alliance® ensures open standards across manufacturers 

Construction Use Cases 

There are several use cases that are well documented across differing verticals and industries but in construction we would naturally gravitate towards the interest around Logistics and Supply Chain management. Having said that solutions for Smart BuildingsEnergy and Utilities do have some inspiring applications that could be transferable into the Construction industry. Areas that could be addressed with better connectivity and insights include that of Intralogistics. This is the discipline for managing, monitoring and optimising materials handling within the perimeter a single facility. i.e. a manufacturing facility, port or warehouse but could also be within a single construction site. 

Here are some ideas of where IoT supported by LoRaWAN could be of interest to the Construction industry. 

  • Location tracking of assets, materials and workers  
  • Optimisation and utilisation reporting of construction vehicles 
  • Monitoring the temperature and supply of materials  
  • Collision avoidance and detection of construction vehicles 
  • Monitoring of air pollution and quality  
  • Enforcement and monitoring of safety zones for assets and workers 

These examples show the sort of applications that small, low power IoT sensors and devices could be used for. Together with a simple, scalable LoRaWAN architecture real benefits in performance, safety and security can truly be achieved quickly, easily and cost effectively. 

Conclusion 

Affordable technology that can monitor and manage expensive assets on construction sites is truly available for us to leverage today. 

LoRaWAN provides an open global, interoperable standard for businesses to use when developing solutions that will save money, increase output and efficiency and improve safety. And once in place, these connections and insights could yield data and information in ways that the construction industry has yet to think of.

The future benefits will come from connecting the unconnected and that could well be done using LoRaWAN. 

UK Connect are dedicated to being at the forefront of technology for the construction industry. Interested to find out more? Call 0333 900 9850  or complete our contact form to find out how UK Connect can help your business today.

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