The distribution of Internet of Things (IoT) devices in remote areas and the need for network resilience in such deployments is increasingly important in smart spaces covering scenarios, such as agriculture, forest, coast preservation, and connectivity survival against disasters. Although Low-Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technologies, like LoRa, support high connectivity ranges, communication paths can suffer from obstruction due to orography or buildings, and large areas are still difficult to cover with wired gateways, due to the lack of network or power infrastructure. The proposal presented herein proposes to mount LPWAN gateways in drones in order to generate airborne network segments providing enhanced connectivity to sensor nodes wherever needed. Our LoRa-drone gateways can be used either to collect data and then report them to the back-office directly, or store-carry-and-forward data until a proper communication link with the infrastructure network is available. The proposed architecture relies on Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) capabilities to host a virtualization platform on-board the drone, aiming at providing an intermediate processing layer that runs Virtualized Networking Functions (VNF). This way, both preprocessing or intelligent analytics can be locally performed, saving communications and memory resources. The contribution includes a system architecture that has been successfully validated through experimentation with a real test-bed and comprehensively evaluated through computer simulation. The results show significant communication improvements employing LoRa-drone gateways when compared to traditional fixed LoRa deployments in terms of link availability and covered areas, especially in vast monitored extensions, or at points with difficult access, such as rugged zones.
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