Tuesday, 13 March 2018

LoRa is quietly marching on...

During the mobile world congress, I was pleasantly surprised to see how LoRa ecosystem keeps getting larger. There was also an upbeat mood within the LoRa vendor community as it keeps winning one battle after another. Here is my short take on the technology with an unbiased lens.

To start with, lets look at this short report by Tom Rebbeck from Analysys Mason. The PDF can be downloaded after registering from here.

As can be seen, all major IoT technologies (LoRa, NB-IoT, Sigfox & LTE-M) gained ground in 2017. Most of the LoRa and all of Sigfox networks are actually not deployed by the mobile operators. From the article:

These points lead to a final observation about network deployments – many operators are launching multiple technologies. Of the 26 operators with publicly-announced interest in LTE-M networks, 20 also have plans for other networks;
• 14 will combine it with NB-IoT
• four will offer LTE-M and LoRa and
• two, Softbank and Swisscom, are working with LoRa, LTE-M and NB-IoT.

We are not aware of operators also owning Sigfox networks, though some, such as Telefónica, are selling connectivity provided by a Sigfox network operator.

The incremental cost of upgrading from NB-IoT or LTE-M to both technologies is relatively small. Most estimates put the additional cost at less than an additional 20% – and sometimes considerably less. For many operators, the question will be which technology to prioritise, and when to launch, rather than which to choose.

The reasons for launching multiple networks appear to be tactical as much as strategic. Some operators firmly believe that the different technologies will match different use cases – for example, LoRa may be better suited to stationary, low bandwidth devices like smart meters, while LTE-M, could meet the needs of devices that need mobility, higher bandwidth and support for voice, for example a personal health monitor with an emergency call button.

But, a fundamental motive for offering multiple networks is to hedge investments. While they may not admit it publicly, operators do not know which technology will gain the most traction. They do not want to lose significant, lucrative contracts because they have backed the wrong technology. Deploying both LTE-M and NB-IoT – or LoRa – adds little cost and yet provides a hedge against this risk. For operators launching LoRa, there has been the added benefit of being early to market and gaining experience of what developers want and need from LPWA networks. This experience should help them when other technologies are deployed at scale.

The following is from MWC 2018 summary by ABI Research:

LPWA network technologies continue to gather momentum with adoption from a growing ecosystem of communications service providers (CSPs), original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and IoT solution providers. LPWA networks are central to the connectivity offerings from telcos with support for NB-IoT, LTE-M, LoRaWAN, and SIGFOX. Telefonica highlighted SIGFOX as an important network technology along with NB-IoT and Cat M in its IoT connectivity platform. Similarly, Orange and SK Telecom emphasized on their continued support for LoRaWAN along with Cat M in France and South Korea. On the other hand, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom, while aggressively pursuing deployment of NB-IoT networks, currently have mostly large scale POCs on their networks. 

Smart meters — Utilities are demanding that meter OEMs and technology solution providers deliver product design life of at least 15 years for battery operated smart water and gas meters. LPWA technologies, such as NB-IoT, LoRaWAN, SIGFOX and wireless M-bus, that are optimized for very low-power consumption and available at low cost are clearly emerging as the most favored LPWA solutions.

The following picture is from Ovum post MWC-2018 Webinar:

Here is a short video from MWC by yours truly looking at LoRa Gateways

There are also few announcements / news from LoRa world just to highlight how the ecosystem is thriving:

Source: SenRa

So someone recently asked me is LoRa is the new WiMax? The answer is obviously a big NO. Just look at the LoRa alliance members in the picture above. Its a whole ecosystem with different players having different interests, working on a different part of the ecosystem.

NB-IoT & LTE-M will gain ground in the coming years but there will always be a place for other LPWA technologies like LoRa.

Finally, here is a slide deck (embedded below) that I really like. The picture above very nicely illustrates that LoRaWAN and Cellular complement each other well. Maybe that is the reason that Orange is a big supporter of LoRa.

So for operators who are just starting their IoT journey or smaller operators who are unsure of the IoT potential, may want to start their journey with LoRa to play around and understand the business cases, etc. In the meantime LTE-M and NB-IoT ecosystem will mature with prices coming down further and battery time improving. That may be the right time to decide on the way forward.

Further Reading:

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