Narrowband Goes Broad

Seems LoRa is really taking off. Citing data from research firm Analysys Mason, Chris Donkin writes that 85 new networks were announced as live, in a trial phase or in development in 2016 compared with 29 in 2015.

While early LPWA deployments were concentrated in the US and Western Europe, Analysys Mason found interest in the technology spread during 2016, with strong traction being seen in the APAC market.

During 2015, two thirds of initiatives took place in the US and Western Europe whereas in 2016 the figure was down to less than a third. Simultaneously APAC showed growth from 4 per cent in 2015 to 30 per cent in 2016.

The report identified developments in Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand as being especially significant in the regional shift identified last year.
– via Mobile World Live

While a lot of these led by SigFox or operators using the NB-IoT standard — a stripped down 3G, more interesting, I think is the LoRa version, which actually provided the single largest group — 29 deployments vs 27 Sigfox.

The LoRa Alliance says 17 nationwide deployments have been publicly announced, and there are live networks in more than 150 cities. So I’m guessing AM’s numbers are somewhat conservative. The Things Network, an open source implementation of LoRa, boasts dozens of communities — people who are working on networks, however small — and while most are in Europe and the US, Australia is strong — Sydney’s Meshed Network Pty has installed five gateways around the city.

The author of the AM piece, Aris Xylouris, says “we can expect more announcements to be made before Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2017. It is likely that the launch of the first real commercial deployment of an NB-IoT network will be among the announcements at MWC 2017.”

Here’s my take from August on narrowband.

Winners and losers from LoRa

This was a short box to accompany my Reuters piece on LoRa:

One company most likely to gain from the rise of interest in LoRa networks is Semtech Corp, which holds some of the IP related to LoRa and makes most of its chips. Companies like Microchip have also made LoRa related kits.

The most likely gainers from the spread of low power connectivity, however, are going to be the companies building and managing the networks. SigFox, a LoRa rival, allows others to make the hardware, and its partners to build the networks, but makes its money from charging companies fees for connecting their devices to the network.

“We’ll see a ton of SigFox and LoRa launches over the region over the next 12 months,” says Charles Anderson, an analyst at IDC.

More traditional players are either adopting or competing (or both) with the new networks.

Some telcos have aligned themselves with one or more of the technologies, rolling out LoRa networks in the hope of gaining a foothold ahead of their rivals. They include KPN Telecom NV and SK Telecom, both of which have rolled out nationwide in their respective countries. “The people who make the most money will be those having a large network at the right price,” says Isaac Brown, of Lux Research.

Other telcos are focusing on technologies that use existing cellular networks and 4G standards. Vodafone for example, is using NB-IoT (Narrowband Internet of Things), while AT&T is using LTE-M (the M stands for machine). Both are standards supported by the cellular specifications body 3GPP.

Telecom equipment makers are aligning with one technology or another. In part this reflects a war over technologies, where Huawei and Ericsson, backed by Nokia Networks and Intel, battled to have their proprietary standards adopted. The NB-IOT compromise has prompted a rash of trials — Huawei recently concluded a city-wide trial with Vodafone in Australia, after a similar trials with Deutsche Telekom in Germany last year. Meanwhile Ericsson in June demonstrated its own NB-IoT products, using Intel chips and software.

ZTE, meanwhile, is a high profile member of the LoRa Alliance, the industry body supporting the standard, officially joining the board in June. It launched some LoRa-based smart meters earlier this year. Other prominent members of the alliance include Cisco and IBM.

Singapore’s M1 aims narrowband deployment at the sea

Singapore telco M1 is getting Nokia to install an NB-IoT network atop its 4G one, interestingly with an eye not just to land but to sea. 

NB-IoT stands for Narrowband Internet of Things, and is the GSM world’s answer to narrowband technologies such as LoRa and Sigifox that threaten to take away a chunk of their business when the Internet of things does eventually take off. Why use expensive modems and services when you’re just trying to connect devices which want to tell you whether they’re on or off, full or empty, fixed or broken?  

Techgoondu reports: “While that network caters to heavy users who stream videos or songs on the go, a separate network that M1 is setting up at the same time is aimed at the smart cars, sensors and even wearables.

They said pricing will likely vary with each solution or package, with some companies saving costs from deploying large amounts of connected sensors. However, others that require the bandwidth, say, to deliver surveillance videos over the air, would likely stick with existing 4G networks.

And while many NB-IoT devices are still on the drawing board – standards for the network were only finalised in June – M1 executives were upbeat about jumping on the bandwagon early.

Alex Tan, the telco’s chief innovation officer, said the technology would open up new business opportunities in the years ahead.”

A press release from M1 says it’s working with the ports authority — Singapore is one of the biggest ports in the world — to  “explore the deployment of a network of offshore sensors to augment the situational awareness of our port waters,” according to Andrew Tan, Chief Executive of the Maritime and Port Authority, MPA.

This follows Sigfox’s deployment in the city state last month. It also pips to the post rival Singtel who have been talking since February about running a trial of NB-IoT with Ericsson.  (Update: “Our preparation to trial NB-IoT is well underway. We are working with our vendors and industry partners to conduct lab trials in December, with a view to launch an NB-IoT network by mid-2017.”)

Here’s my earlier piece on LoRa

LoRa offers a cheaper link to the Internet of Things | Reuters

My piece on the rise of narrowband networks: LoRa offers a cheaper link to the Internet of Things | Reuters:

Remote control : LoRa offers a cheaper link to the Internet of Things

By Jeremy Wagstaff

LAUNCESTON, Australia, Reuters – The future of communications may be 5G, where mobile networks push bandwidth-heavy video to phones and pull data from self-driving cars, but some firms see an alternative: farm irrigation equipment, donation boxes and oysters, connected by a technology called LoRa.

LoRa (for Long Range) is among a clutch of narrow band technologies that connect devices cheaply over unlicensed spectrum and vast distances, needing very little power.

The catch: they can only send small parcels of data rather than the gigabytes most wired and mobile standards aspire to.

But, advocates say, that may be more than enough.

‘It turns out you don’t need that huge an infrastructure, and it can be driven by small devices that are very smart and not very expensive,’ says Mike Cruse, CEO of Definium Technologies, which is building LoRa-based devices for farmers, universities and mines.

The so-called Internet of Things (IoT) has long promised to hook up devices, from aircraft to hair dryers, enabling owners to monitor, control and collect data from them remotely. Spending on the IoT will hit $6 trillion between 2015 and 2020, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

But the reality has been slow catching up. Ericsson this year almost halved the number of connected devices – including smartphones – it sees by 2020 to 28 billion.

Part of what’s holding things back, critics say, is that solutions are too expensive and elaborate for what is needed. Most involve cellular connections, which are either impractical in rural areas or beyond a user’s budget.

Take Richard Gardner, who runs a 2,500 hectare (6,178 acre) farm in Tasmania and pays A$1,200 per sensor for a cellular-based soil moisture measuring system. He’s working with Definium to design one costing a tenth of that.

‘There’s a lot of technology out there that works now, it’s just very expensive. We’ve got something now that we think has better attributes and is cheaper,’ says Gardner, who has invested in Definium and says he already has other farmers keen to buy the company’s products.

 

Making all this possible is LoRa, a narrow band standard adopted by the likes of Cisco and IBM, where the thumbnail-sized radios that send and receive data sell for a dollar or less.

Dutch enthusiasts are building a global community of open-source LoRa gateways, called the Things Network. Nodes send and receive messages – about a tenth of the size of an SMS – every couple of minutes to once every few hours. Followers have rolled out their own experimental networks using the community’s software in cities from Colombia to Russia.

Founder Wienke Giezeman says a $300 gateway – the router connecting the LoRa nodes to the Internet – will be available next month. Half a dozen would be enough to cover an average-sized city. ‘This,’ he says, ‘is going to push the next phase of growth.’

And LoRa isn’t the only narrow band technology in town.

Weightless, a British-based alliance, is one. Another is a proprietary U.S. technology run by a company called Ingenu, as is Sigfox, a French firm, which has raised $150 million from companies including Samsung Electronics.

The biggest potential losers are the telecoms companies, the traditional gatekeepers to the coverage these networks now claim. Ericsson says only 1.5 billion of the 16 billion IoT devices it reckons will be connected in 2021 will rely on cellular networks.

Some telecoms firms are counting on NB-IOT, a narrow band standard adopted by the industry that would use their existing cellular networks. Others are hedging their bets by building LoRa and other narrow band networks.

SK Telecom, for example, has rolled out a network across South Korea which it said would cost users a tenth of what they would pay to attach devices to its 4G network.

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Likely winners from LoRa networks in IoT Lagging, however, is how best to use these networks.

Charles Anderson, an analyst at IDC, says governments and companies are still pondering what might work, and what end users might want.

In the meantime, smaller players are feeling their way. One visitor to a booth at a recent IoT show in Singapore suggested connecting donation collection boxes so she’d know when they need emptying.

Rishabh Chauhan of The Things Network says the community is still experimenting – from remotely monitoring mouse traps to whether moored rowboats have filled with water. ‘It seems people have a use case, but want to see it on a small level. They’re still prototyping,’ he said.

Much of the pioneering work is outside cities, where existing networks are poor.

Gardner, the farmer, for example, sees the potential for monitoring water flow and levels, the voltage in his electric fences, or his crop sprinklers. Knowing whether they’re working properly would save two trips a day and cut fuel bills, he says.

In a back-room lab, Definium’s Cruse shows some of the sensors he’s designing for clients, all of which could easily connect to a LoRa network.

They include one for measuring salt levels for shrimp farmers in Bangladesh; an LED street lamp for a mining company that could be controlled remotely; a squirrel trap which would alert a catch, and a biosensor attached to an oyster to gauge its health.