LoRa gains traction amid alternatives

SAN JOSE, Calif — Claiming that the internet of things (IoT) is reaching a tipping point, the LoRa Alliance announced that it has more than 100 networks operating around the world. It plans to expand certification and testing programs this year to ease deployments, which it claims already cover millions of end nodes.

LoRa is one of a basketful of long-range, wide-area networks trying to get traction in IoT. It competes with OnRamp, Sigfox, Telensa, and others in unlicensed bands and with cellular Cat-M and Narrowband IoT networks from cellular carriers.

Wi-Fi vendors will roll out chips for the 802.11ah standard — aka HaLow — this year, increasing competition in the 900-MHz band. Practitioners say it’s still early days for IoT given that each deployment tends to require custom work defining a business case and designing a network for it.

“I’m very bullish; I do think we are at a crossroads where it is now a market pull,” said Donna Moore, a 10-year veteran of the Digital Living Network Alliance before becoming chief executive of the LoRa Alliance last year.

IoT is “complicated and requires more ease of deployment — that’s one of the big reasons why IoT has stuttered around the ground,” Moore said. “In the next quarter, we’ll launch a product marketplace and we see integrators coming in, offering more easy solutions.”

This year, the Alliance aims to roll out a certified software stack and new pre-test options, so vendors can check their products before sending them to a testing house. It also aims to add RF and battery life tests and more regional parameters to its certification suite for modules.

The group aims to demo over-the-air firmware updates at a meeting in February. The specs are already complete for the five- to 10-minute process, first shown at a 2017 meeting. Specs for roaming across networks are also complete, but operators are still hammering out business agreements with each other for handling the service.

Microcell gateways for LoRa can handle 7,000 to 10,000 nodes, about the same as a HaLow gateway. Lora’s picocells manage up to 3,000 nodes, but its macrocells can handle tens of thousands. LoRa claims range of several kilometers, typically further than HaLow.

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