LPWAN: What the smart Wireless IoT Technologies can do

02.04.2024 by Annalena Rauen

Radio mast with mobile phone antennas on a field


Low power, wide area – the LPWAN wireless technologies specially developed for the Internet of Things score points with their low energy consumption and long range. An overview.

Quite a few IoT applications place tricky demands on the mobile networking of the associated systems and devices via radio. In the case of smart electricity meters, emergency lighting, or heat pumps, the radio signal must be able to pass through thick basement walls. Radio modules on remote pipelines or measuring stations must work without an external power supply and also provide long range. And in the city, thousands and thousands of parking spaces, street lamps, or waste bins need to be connected as cost-effectively as possible. One technology is ideally suited to such challenges: Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN).

Definition: What is LPWAN?

The abbreviation LPWAN stands for Low Power Wide Area Networks and refers to wireless radio networks that have been specially developed for the Internet of Things (IoT). LPWA standards such as NB-IoT and LTE-M are characterized by their long range, low energy consumption and low costs.


What LPWAN Technologies are available?

LPWAN includes a dozen different technologies, some proprietary, some standardized, with different performance characteristics. What they all have in common is long range and low energy consumption. They can best be divided into two groups: licensed and unlicensed (see info box). The four best-known standards are LoRaWAN, Sigfox, NB-IoT, and LTE-MT.

LPWAN in the Unlicensed Spectrum

LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network), often abbreviated to LoRa, is a proprietary network protocol developed by the US company Semtech. LoRa networks consist of the end devices, the gateways to which they are wirelessly connected, a network server, and an application server.

Sigfox is a wireless network for IoT applications developed by the French telecommunications company of the same name. The infrastructure used is independent of existing networks such as mobile communications.

LPWAN in the Licensed Spectrum

NB-IoT (NarrowBand IoT) is an industry standard that is now globally available and was developed by the industry specifically for IoT applications. It uses the infrastructure of the mobile network operators and their radio spectrum licensed by the 3GPP standardization committee. NB-IoT is therefore subject to the usual standards for mobile communications in terms of reliability and availability as well as transmission security and quality.

LTE-M (Long Term Evolution for Machines) is, like NB-IoT, a further development of the 4G mobile communications standard specifically for machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. Compared to NarrowBand IoT, LTE-M offers a higher bandwidth and lower latency. This technology therefore covers IoT applications whose requirements lie between LTE and NB-IoT (see graphic).

Licensed and Unlicensed Radio Spectrum

The two frequency ranges differ primarily in terms of authorization, costs, and reliability:

Licensed radio spectrum is reserved for use by companies or organizations that have received a license from the relevant regulatory authority – in Germany, this is the Federal Network Agency. The exclusive, usually fee-based use is subject to strict rules and regulations in order to prevent interference. Licensed frequency bands are primarily used for mobile and broadcasting as well as other services that require a high level of reliability and quality of service.

Unlicensed radio spectrum is generally open for general use and does not require special licensing. Anyone can use devices that operate on unlicensed frequency bands as long as they comply with the applicable technical standards and regulations. Unlicensed frequency bands are often used for wireless communication technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or LoRaWAN, where lower transmission quality is acceptable or where flexible use is more important than guaranteed quality of service. As the spectrum can be used by anyone, there is a higher risk of interference between devices, which can affect performance.


The four technologies serve partly similar, partly different requirements of IoT projects. Further information on transmission quality, coverage, energy efficiency, security, costs, and future viability can be found in our fact check "NB-IoT, Sigfox, LoRaWAN: An up-to-date Comparison". Our white paper "Comparison and Analysis of the Security Aspects of LoRaWAN and NB-IoT" is specifically dedicated to the topic of security.

Case Study: AkkuFischer Emergency Lights

They hang in schools and hospitals, in supermarkets and warehouses, or in factories and company buildings: white and green illuminated signs pointing the way to the nearest emergency exit. They are rarely used, but, in the case of an emergency, must function reliably. Central monitoring is therefore mandatory to detect any potential failures.

Since 2018, this regulation has also applied to luminaires powered by a single battery – which poses a challenge for building managers. Laying cables to connect all the signs is complex and expensive; wireless solutions often have reception problems. German business Fischer Akkumulatorentechnik GmbH therefore opted for LPWAN NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT) technology, a mobile radio standard that was developed specifically for the Internet of Things.

Fischer equipped its signs with an NB-IoT radio module that transmits the status of the emergency lighting and the integrated battery to the cloud via Telekom's mobile network. Building operators can thus see all the emergency lights installed in their properties at a glance. Faults are reported in real time and can be rectified immediately. The high building penetration of NB-IoT even allows it to be used in basements.


What Advantages does LPWAN offer?

As the name suggests, the low-energy long-distance networks are characterized by two main features:

Low energy consumption: Since IoT devices are often placed in hard-to-reach areas and operated autonomously over a period of several years, the energy efficiency of LPWAN is crucial for minimizing maintenance and operating costs. LPWA network technology specializes in the occasional transmission and reception of small amounts of data. The corresponding radio modules therefore consume an extremely small amount of power. This has several advantages:

  • Depending on the application, the modules can be operated maintenance-free for several years using a commercially available battery.
  • Battery operation makes LPWAN devices independent of sockets and power grids – and therefore flexible to use, even for mobile applications such as tracking.
  • No maintenance and low power consumption therefore also keep overall operating costs low. The wireless modules themselves are also cost-effective, as they are comparatively simple in design.
  • This cost advantage over LTE or 5G modules, for example, makes scaling more profitable: LPWAN is suitable for implementation on a large scale, for example in a smart city.

Long range: LPWAN technologies can cover a large area despite their low power consumption. The long range enables comprehensive network coverage with less infrastructure. In contrast to conventional wireless networks such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, which are designed for short distances, LPWAN enables communication over several kilometers. This is achieved by using low data rates, simple network architectures, and efficient modulation methods.

One particular advantage over other technologies such as Wi-Fi or LTE is the deep indoor penetration. This is where NarrowBand IoT excels: an NB-IoT radio module transmits reliably even through thick basement walls or via sewer pipes.

Areas of Application for LPWAN in the IoT

LPWAN has found a wide range of applications in the IoT sector:

Future Outlook and Trends

LPWAN has established itself as a key technology for the Internet of Things by enabling efficient, cost-effective, and far-reaching communication. The future of LPWAN for IoT networks looks promising, with trends pointing towards increased capacity, improved security features, and the integration of AI for smarter network management solutions. The ongoing miniaturization of IoT devices and the development of new LPWAN standards promises to create exciting new possibilities for IoT applications and solve complex problems in areas such as environmental monitoring and public safety. And mobile operators are driving development with increasingly flexible IoT tariffs tailored to customer projects, technical innovations such as SIM cards designed specifically for the Internet of Things, and new options such as combining mobile and satellite radio to ensure global IoT coverage.

*List of abbreviations
Important Abbreviations in the Article
3GPP = 3rd Generation Partnership Project
4G/5G = 4th/5th generation mobile communications standards
IoT = Internet of Things
LoRaWAN = Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRa for short)
LPWAN = Low Power Wide Area Network
LTE = Long Term Evolution
LTE-M = Long Term Evolution for Machines
M2M = Machine-to-Machine communikation
NB-IoT = NarrowBand IoT
WLAN = Wireless Local Area Network


NB-IoT and LTE-M: Energy-efficient IoT connectivity

NB-IoT and LTE-M: Energy-efficient IoT connectivity

Learn more about the wireless technologies NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT) and LTE-M. With low energy consumption and long range, they enable reliable connectivity for your IoT applications.

More about NB-IoT & LTE-M

Learn more about the wireless technologies NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT) and LTE-M. With low energy consumption and long range, they enable reliable connectivity for your IoT applications.

More about NB-IoT & LTE-M

Reliable and energy-efficient networking with NarrowBand IoT & LTE-M
Annalena Rauen
Annalena Rauen

Marketing Manager IoT

Back in 2016, Anna worked on IoT topics at Deutsche Telekom for the first time. Since then, she has been supporting customer best practices in a wide range of industries – always focusing on the benefits that the Internet of Things can provide. Her IoT blogposts describe real use cases and the value these innovations add to market players, their business models, and even entire industries.