A handful of 800-900 MHz low power wide area networks are emerging as low cost alternatives to cellular for connecting what may someday be billions of nodes on the Internet of Things. Representatives from many of the competing options faced off in a panel discussion at the Internet of Things World here. Participants agreed the new networks are starting to gain significant traction, and standards are still a ways off. The networks are expected to help monitor everything from smart cities to farm fields in applications where sensors need to send only a little data sporadically over a long life time.
“This is a fundamental game changer…the networks and the devices are a fraction of the cost of the typical [cellular] carrier networks,” said Will Franks, chairman of the Wireless IoT Forum. “We have a potential technology here to connect billions and billions of devices at a very low cost.”
In a keynote here, Samsung showed support for one of the alternatives — Sigfox — as part of the Korean giant's announcement of a new family of IoT modules called Artik. Samsung’s Chief Strategy Officer demonstrated how French startup Weenat employs the Artik module and LPWA networks to connect soil monitors and improve water use.
Moderator Matt Hatton, founder and CEO of Machina Research : Who will deploy these networks?
Franks : Clearly the mobile carriers that are going to be deploying these networks and have new standards technology coming in to overlay low power wide area [capabilities on their cellular nets]. There will also be proprietary approaches and private networks rolled out like Sigfox [which is deploying a network in San Francisco]. There’s going to be quite a lot of choice out there.
Luke D’Arcy, director of Sigfox USA : Sigfox is very much a public network so we want to create networks running parallel to cellular networks. Our model is to partner with traditional networks, like cellular. Many IoT companies are already using cellular networks but they’ll appreciate finding a way to reduce the cost and power consumption.
Rob Chandhok, COO of startup Helium : We’re taking a slightly different approach…to focus on things that are in an area that’s mostly fixed but [deployed] ad hoc. We want to figure out how do we make [communication] best in an area that I can choose.
Moderator : Will there be different ways to deploy this network? Will it be a piecemeal approach or will one model dominate?
Hardy Schmidbauer, vice chairman of the marketing committee for industry group LoRa Alliance : The LoRa Alliance is supporting private, kind of smaller networks which I think will, long term, become part of a public network. There are many different business models you can get through the ecosystem of an alliance.
Moderator : Is there a risk of fragmentation? There are a lot of technologies that can be used in different countries and cities. Are we setting up for a CDMA versus GSM discussion?
Franks : There is fragmentation and for us all to really benefit, we have to have standards and by that I mean open standards where everyone in the industry gets input and we’d have it use-case driven. We have to have a strong ecosystem of supplies and distributors. If we don’t, this is going to take quite a long time to take off.
D’Arcy : The problem with standards is it’s difficult as a startup company to do anything disruptive through the standards process, it just takes too long. [Sigfox wants] to get technology standardized and we’re working with 3GPP and our goal is to standardize this technology on future 5G technology for long range low power connections.
Schmidbauer : To enable a new IoT market segment you need scale. The way to create scale is [through an] ecosystem and standardization, which is what LoRa is trying to achieve. It’s important to have standardization [for mobile operators] to sell around the world, to have roaming between different low power wide area networks.
Chandhok : There are so many technologies that are good for what we’re doing, so there’s less incentive to standardize. It’s not just the radio [networks]…hotspot stuff still isn’t federated well enough. It’s all those levels of standardization which need to happen which is challenging. I think we’ll see solutions then economic pressure.
Moderator : Has hardware manufacturing sufficiently matured? Do we have the ecosystem necessary to create these devices?