LoRa Modulation Basics (English)

LoRa is a spread spectrum modulation technology patented by Semtech. LoRa is a derivative of Chirp Spread Spectrum (CSS) which lowers data rate to improve sensitivity. If you want to place LoRa in the OSI Layer, implementation of LoRa modulation exists on the physical layer and can’t be bound to other layers above it. This allows LoRa to adapt with several robust connections. This article is made to discuss several LoRa basic concepts as a reference to develop LoRa-based systems

Spread Spectrum Technology

For someone well-versed in Telecommunication, the Shannon-Hartley Theorem is no longer something foreign. This theorem explains about the canal capacity of a communication link using specific bandwidth with noise in the canal. I won’t write in the full theorem and details, but from the derivation of the mathematical formula, we can find that by increasing bandwidth, the performance between link communication with Noise-to-Signal ratio level will improve. In Spread Spectrum technology, you’ll usually hear that Noise-to-Signal ratio compared to Signal-to-Noise ratio because the power of a signal is usually below the noise floor

Just like the Shannon-Hartley theorem, bigger bandwidth can compensate for SNR degradation in the radio canal. In a Spread Spectrum system, the sent data is multiplied with Spreading Code, also known as Chip Sequence. Chip Sequence usually has a frequency far higher than the information frequency which resulted in a wider bandwidth when both signals are multiplied. On the receiver side, the received signal will be multiplied with the same chip sequence signal to obtain the original data

Picture 1. Spread Spectrum Illustration

LoRa Spread Spectrum

LoRa modulation provides alternatives for Spread Spectrum communication which are low power and low cost compared to the conventional Spread Spectrum technique. LoRa modulation uses chirp signal, which is a signal with a frequency which varies over time. By using this method, the complexity for the receiver side will be reduced. The output signal from this modulation matches the bandwidth used by the chirp signal

In LoRa modulation, the data with a certain bit rate that we want to transmit will be multiplied with a chirp signal with a certain Chip Rate. The Chip Rate is far larger than the data signal we want to send, which then became the Bandwidth from modulated LoRa signal

Aside from Bandwidth, there is also Spreading Factor. If Bandwidth shows chip rate, Spreading Factor shows how much chip is used to represent a symbol. Other than that, Spreading Factor also shows how many bits contained in a symbol

LoRa also has a mechanism called Forward Error Correction (FEC). FEC configuration can be done using the Coding Rate parameter. Just like a normal radio communication, noise can affect the performance of a system. By adding redundancy using FEC, the LoRa-based system designer can decrease the bit rate to increase the system’s reliability

To design a LoRa-based system, you have to pay attention to these three parameters to get an appropriate bit rate, decent enough range, and a nice reliability

Edit Aug 05/2018: The terminology in Spread Spectrum parameter had been corrected to make it more accurate

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