PicoWAN and LoRaWAN are based on the same LoRa PHY and use the same LoRa IC’s by Semtech inside end devices. Both are designed to be operated in the European 868-MHz ISM band with the same limitations in radiated power and transmit duty cycle (fraction of time the transmitter is on). So while sophisticated rooftop gateways and PicoPlugs may look very different, they will radiate the same RF power and range will be similar. Of course the range will also depend on the location of the antenna, so it is advantageous to place PicoPlugs as high up as possible (e.g. on upper floor) and close to or facing windows.
By construction LoRaWAN channel bandwidth is restricted to 125 kHz whereas the underlying LoRa PHY technology allows for the use of much narrower bandwidths, down to 10 kHz. The narrower the bandwidth, the longer the range. Reducing the bandwidth may drastically improve the range.
PicoWAN makes use of narrower bandwidths in order to reach objects that are the farthest. In this way, the sensitivity of PicoWAN devices (for downlink messages received from gateways) as well as PicoPlugs (for uplink messages from devices to gateways) can be drastically improved. Altogether PicoWAN exhibits a RF budget link higher than LoRaWAN by a few dB, resulting in better coverage.
As a matter of fact, because PicoPlugs are located indoor, more gateways will be needed to cover the same outdoor areas as telcos’ rooftop gateways. A few times more PicoPlugs are needed for the same coverage at street level, provided they are reasonably located high enough inside buildings and nearby windows.
Because PicoPlugs are very cheap and easy to install, you will get a very good deep-indoor coverage that rooftop gateways will never reach because PicoPlugs irradiate buildings from within.
Thanks to the clever PicoWAN protocol, transmission is always tuned to the best matching speed and power taking into account the instant conditions of the radio channel (see “Lower Power Consumption”).
With PicoWAN all messages are automatically acknowledged (ACKed) by the network and can be repeated until they are dully received. In contrast to other LPWANs, PicoWAN is designed to ACK every message at no extra fee: Sigfox has no ACK capability and the issue with LoRaWAN is that, by construction, downlink is subject to restrictions mostly due to the impossibility of receiving uplink messages while downloading (uplink messages are lost).
PicoPlugs are normally connected to the Internet via WiFi or Ethernet but PicoWAN offers further possibilities to extend the network to uncovered remote areas: any PicoPlug which has no Internet connection will automatically convert itself into a relay of messages to the closest PicoPlug nearby. This is very useful to reach remote areas, indoor or outdoor, with no Internet connections. This opens the possibility of extending coverage deep indoor to a block of buildings or a whole quarter with only one PicoPlug connected to the Internet and the others acting as relays. This functionality currently under test will be made available very soon.