SAN JOSE, Calif. — Move over, LoRa and Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT); two new competitors see a space that you are missing. Iota Communications and Anterix are buying spectrum in the 800- to 900-MHz bands to create new licensed networks for the Internet of things.
The two rivals are leveraging work at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to reorganize part of the sub-gigahertz spectrum. Both Iota, focused on building automation, and Anterix, targeting utilities, have significant spectrum holdings already and financing in progress, but neither has networks up and running yet.
It’s early days for both companies, which are still defining their service-level products. For that reason, they have not come on the radar for analysts who cover the low-power, wide-area networks (LPWANs) that LoRa and NB-IoT currently dominate and where the HaLow version of Wi-Fi is debuting this year.
LoRa uses unlicensed 800- to 900-MHz bands, which is inexpensive but subject to interference and requires users to set up their own networks. Narrowband-IoT, a low-cost version of LTE, typically uses higher frequencies with less range and penetration than the ISM bands.
“There’s an untapped market [for robust 800- to 900-MHz IoT network services that] we can address,” said Terrence DeFranco, chief executive and co-founder of Iota.
Iota got its start in 2013 as the Solbright Group, Inc., specifying gateways and developing IoT applications for end users. It worked with partners Tatung, a Taiwan ODM that builds gateways and other products, and STMicroelectronics, which was trying to commercialize the powerline networking protocol that it acquired with startup Arkados.
“We leveraged cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee — whatever would work — but we were turned away from some jobs because we lacked connectivity,” said DeFranco.
For example, an effort to automate operations in New York’s Chrysler Building “tried different cellular carriers to get backhaul out of building, but it got costly and our app was not feasible,” he said. “Cellular is a mainstream technology for IoT, and it works well for many apps, but it’s still power-hungry and delivers broadband links that a lot of apps don’t need.”
Seeking a solution, Solbright purchased in August LPWAN provider M2M Spectrum, which owned some 800-MHz bands on which it ran a variant of LoRa based on the Symphony protocol from Link Labs. “They were a network in development looking for apps, and we had apps looking for connectivity,” said DeFranco.
Seeing an opportunity in the FCC process to acquire enough spectrum for a U.S. national network, Solbright renamed itself Iota to mark its new mission. “We believe a licensed 800-MHz network would be a huge differentiator,” he said.