Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) are designed for low power devices that transmit small amounts of data (up to 32 bit
) over very long ranges. While this technology is not suitable for streaming content or making phone calls, there are many valuable use cases including environmental monitoring, asset tracking, and industrial automation. Operators work on many different business models but silicon is cheap (currently less than $3 with a technology roadmap to be less than $1) and implementations are growing.
Practitioners at the event were keen to point out that IoT was a hard business to enter, and the emergence of LPWAN is making it harder, with several competing standards (Sigfox
and LoRaWAN) as well as GSM
recently announcing that three of their networks were suitable for low power applications (If you can't beat them, claim you are them) and the announcement of the first NB-IoT network from Vodafone
in Madrid, Spain, using licenced cellular spectrum for low power applications leading to a consuming marketplace for companies looking to build a network of devices.
Each of these networks has their own pros and cons which are discussed in IDTechEx upcoming research report 'Wireless Networks 2017-2027' but a business betting on a technology that may not be around in five years' time is a considerable challenge for decision makers. It seems likely that the network that can enable a company to get connected quickest, will be the winner in the short term.
Smart cities were another theme that was mentioned in several talks, it was made clear by many of the speakers that these decisions will be motivated as much by politics as by innovation- cities rarely upgrade infrastructure like streetlights and so a company looking to sell 10,000 connected lamp posts may have a difficult job, ways to retrofit existing infrastructure, such as those from Current by GE
are likely to prove much more successful.
Cambridge city council spoke about their recent LoRaWAN deployment, the LPWAN network in Cambridge- while they are looking at working with other network operators, they said that the lack of subscription costs meant that they could help lots of local projects get off the ground, the first deployments will be 350 environmental monitoring stations and 350 connected bins across the city. An LPWAN boost competition will announce up to 10 new projects that will be connected to the network at the end of April.
Interoperability remains a challenge for users of IoT systems- therefore choosing a system that is affordable and easy to pay for as well as offer some form of interoperability will prove to be a successful networking operation.
With at least five low power networks expanding across Europe in 2017, there will be lots of competitions for business and lots of opportunities for companies to implement the Internet of Things
as part of their operations to gather and act on vast amounts of data. The aim of all these operators is to connect billions of devices, not just allow IoT to be a playground for makers, hobbyists, and small-scale deployments. The winning LPWAN system is likely to be the one that makes it easiest to get connected.