I dived into what I called narrowband networks for IoT2011 since there was an obvious need for an infrastructure that didn’t exist. I used to say “think cat, bicycle and smoke detector” to put the finger on the need. Or translated into requirements: low cost and often small and light communication modules, low cost connectivity and very low energy consumptions. The answer to that would be inexpensive infrastructure which is providing primarily heart beats, events and when needed position. The first solution I found was Sigfox and after a training in Toulouse I wrote this post.
There are four key alternatives for LPWAN emerging: Sigfox, LoRa, 6LoWPAN and NB IoT. Each have it’s strengths and weaknesses and it’s likely they all will play a significant role in the rapidly emerging new generation of Internet.
Sigfox is a proprietary solution with national networks built with Sigfox base stations operated by national Sigfox operators using the same back-end system operated by Sigfox. Sigfox has networks in some 30 countries today, with over 8 million connected devices and have a well developed eco system of developers and vendors on the terminal side.
LoRaWAN is a global LPWAN specification created by the LoRa Alliance to drive a single standard for seamless interoperability across the industrys. Networks are built with LoRa Gateways and LoRa Network Servers available from several different vendors. LoRa alliance has some 400 members and continue develop the standard. LoRa could be compared with WiFi since networks can easily be built with one base station covering an area like a campus or square and expanded to cover cities and countries. But there is no common back-end arrangement for roaming, service level agreements etc.
6LoWPAN is a concept originated from the idea that IP, the Internet Protocol, could and should be applied even to the smallest devices, and that low-power devices with limited processing capabilities should be able to participate in the Internet of Things. It’s worked on by an IETF working group. 6LoWPAN is similar to LoRa since networks typically are deployed independently in a campus, city or building with no global back-end service.
NB-IoT is the narrowband bet by the mobile operators. It differs since it is using private spectrum and typically the infrastructure already in place in mobile networks. The initiative has been developed in record time and most mobile operators are planning roll-outs. The first NB IoT networks are expected mid 2017 and we have just started to see modules, developer tools etc. It is also interesting to follow how NB IoT relate to 5G since support for narrowband has become a key part of what is targeted.
Due to the very big interest and potential for narrowband networks there are several other vendors and efforts to address this need.
LPWAN is now the hottest of questions in IoT since manufacturers, vendors, users, developers, consultants, operators, teachers and journalists all need to understand what it is, the different solutions available, how to develop applications for LPWAN and when to choose which solution. This is why I try to run as many “Get On Top Of LPWAN events” as I can to ensure Swedish IoT will remain leading edge.
Finally, I’m glad to let you know that we finally have a Sigfox operator also in Sweden!IoT Sweden was just announced and have started to roll out their network in larger cities already. They run their launch event at THINGS March 21 if you’re interested.