IoT territorial disputes
With a few gateways distributed throughout suburban Munich (including one at the fair), Hardy Schmidtbaur, director of wireless and sensing solutions at Semtech was here to promote the company’s partner ecosystem of end-node modules, gateways/concentrators, and network controller solutions for private networks, with a thousand 1,000 IoT demonstration end-nodes to be given away by the ecosystem participants.
During a demonstration, Schmidtbaur was pairing a device to a smartphone, before sending data to the end-node via a remote gateway and pinging back temperature and light levels. Operating in the ISMT 868MHz frequency band using spread spectrum modulation, LoRa can connect reliably hundreds of thousands of sensors over a low power wireless network area spanning 15 to 20km, claims the company, with end nodes remaining operational for over 10 years on two AAA batteries (drawing 10mA for the receiver, under 200nA in sleep mode).
“Our nearest competitor would be Sigfox”, admits Schmidtbaur, “but their solution relies on narrow band Frequency Shift Keying, which is less robust to interferences or jamming”.
“Also, each of their gateway only routes data from tens of thousands of nodes, significantly less than what we can achieve with LoRa”, he added. “This is thanks to LoRa’s adaptive data rate, enabling lower power operation and conversely, better network scalability than competing solutions”, emphasized Schmidtbaur.
Sigfox’ business model is to license IP for others to build the networking RF chips and to bring cloud-based data management services to its customers through the deployment of an IoT infrastructure. The French company claimed victory over some IoT territories with nationwide infrastructures in France, spain and soon the UK by establishing partnerships with local telecom operators.
According to Schmidtbaur, it is very likely that such nationwide IoT infrastructures will be run by today’s telecom operators, since they are the ones who have already secured most of the high points in cities, where transmitters are the most effective. “Each new partnership announcement is akin to a land grab”, he said jokingly.
There is plenty of room for the IoT nebula to share data. In the future, cellular networks may take about 10% of the whole IoT traffic, short range RF solutions such as Bluetooth, WiFi or ZigBee may support about 35% of the traffic while long range IoT-dedicated networks may grab 55% of the data load.
Cambridge-based startup Neul Ltd is another potential player in the IoT network infrastructure game, although the license-free "white-space spectrum" in which it was looking to operate has been considerably trimmed down by the Weightless Special Interest Group when it launched Weightless-N, a variant of the larger encompassing Weightless-W standard. This means the company may have to start its RF-front end development all over again to enable cross-standard compatibility.
Even with the backing of Chinese networking giant Huawei who bought the startup last September, it may be a couple of years before they are ready to deploy an IoT infrastructure.
This is probably why Schmidtbaur looks so confident about LoRa. Semtech has designed the gateway chip set and partnered with IBM Research, Actility and Microchip to develop the LoRaMAC protocol to support a long range star network architecture.
Initially, LoRaMAC-compliant modules will combine Microchip’s PIC18 MCU with Semtech’s LoRa RF front end seating side by side, but the company is open to license its RF IP for further chip-level integration (very much like Sigfox does with Siliconlabs or with Atmel who announced a Sigfox-ready RF SoC at electronica, the ATA8520). Early next year, the company will be announcing a nationwide roll-out of a LoRa IoT infrastructure, but it didn’t want to give us more details at this stage.
Regardless of who wins the IoT network infrastructure race, consumers will be first to benefit with modules being developed to take advantage of multiple infrastructures. At the MtoM exhibition last March, French company Prorep unveiled the first such solution, Siglo, a LoRa- and Sigfox-compatible unit measuring only 26x13x3.6mm.
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