The race to define, design and deploy new low power wide area networks for the Internet of Things won’t cross a finish line in 2016. But by the end of the year it should start to be clear which LPWA nets are likely to have long legs and the opportunities for brand new entrants will dim significantly.
Nearly a dozen contenders are trying to fill a need for long distance networks that cut the cost and power consumption of today’s cellular machine-to-machine networks. Some emerged in just the last 18 months, turning up the heat in 2015.
Rivals and market watchers say Sigfox (Toulouse, France) has an edge with a significant deployed base for its 900 MHz network in Europe and more than $90 million in new funding from a handful of companies including branches of three carriers—Telefonica, SK Telecom and NTT Docomo. San Francisco is the first of ten U.S. cities in which Sigfox will deploy its network by April.
Sigfox is still on track to cover 10 U.S. cities by the end of the year, said Luke D'Arcy, the company’s senior director of global semiconductor and module partners. In addition, the company now aims to cover 50 U.S. cities by the end of 2016, he added.
Sigfox is increasingly neck-and-neck with the LoRa Alliance which backs a spread spectrum 900 MHz technology developed by chip designer Semtech. Its 155-member group includes heavyweights such as Cisco, Foxconn, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Schneider.
At least nine operators including Orange in France have announced plans to deploy LoRa networks. The latest user, Tata Communications, announced in November it will deploy a national LoRa network in India, starting in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore.
Semtech is said to have shipped millions of LoRa chips to date although the company declined to provide figures. Semtech and its licensee Microchip currently are the only providers of the LoRa chips, but another company is in negotiations with Semtech as a third source of the silicon. The spec itself is available free and carries no royalties.