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These IoT networks are 'unapologetically slow'

Stephen Lawson | Jan. 12, 2015
LPWAN is designed primarily for M2M (machine-to-machine) networking, which is already widely used for things like tracking assets, monitoring industrial equipment and collecting data from smart meters.

The LoRa Alliance will promote the LoRaWAN protocol as the foundation for wide-area networks around the world, allowing users to count on connectivity wherever they take devices or equipment. LoRaWAN is based on patented technology from Semtech, a semiconductor company in San Jose, California, which is open to licensing it to other chip makers. It already has a licensing deal with Microchip Technology, said Hardy Schmidbauer, wireless products director at Semtech. He declined to comment on whether those chip makers need to pay for the license.

LoRaWAN is already a complete technology and is in commercial use in numerous deployments, primarily private networks such as smart utility meter systems, Schmidbauer said. The Alliance plans to help promote its use in public networks, including ones run by carriers, where many customers can buy service.

Other members of the Alliance include IBM, Cisco Systems, and other IoT vendors, as well as telecommunications carriers including SingTel, KPN of the Netherlands, and Swisscom. IBM says it has released its software for LoRaWAN as open source under the Eclipse Public License.

LoRaWAN is one among several LPWAN platforms in development or use, including Weightless, RPMA (Random Phase Multiple Access) from On-Ramp Wireless, and a system being deployed by French technology and service provider Sigfox.

Sigfox has already built a nationwide LPWAN in France by itself and deployed one across Spain with a carrier partner that provided cell sites and other infrastructure. It's building out a network in the U.K. with another partner. In March, Sigfox plans to announce the completion of a network across the San Francisco Bay Area, and it aims to be in the top 20 markets in the U.S. this year.

Several silicon vendors, including Texas Instruments and STMicroelectronics, use Sigfox technology free of charge in chips for devices, said Luke D'Arcy, director of business development for Sigfox in the U.S. The company is working with the 3GPP, which develops most cellular technologies, to standardize its technology. It hopes ultimately to make the system part of the 5G specification expected around 2020. Ultimately, Sigfox wants to be just one of many companies deploying and operating Sigfox-based networks, D'Arcy said.

Sigfox's networks run at about 100 bits per second in Europe and will offer up to 500 bits per second in the U.S.

"We're unapologetically slow," D'Arcy said. "It would be compellingly frustrating to use to surf the Internet. We're absolutely not going after connecting up human beings."

 

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