LPWAN is the hottest topic in IoT 2017

March 7, 2017

connected catI dived into what I called narrowband networks for IoT 2011 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.
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LPWAN suddenly needed for IoT

January 11, 2016

fire-alarm-detectorThe need for a narrowband wide area network devoted to IoT was obvious but it is only recently it has become obvious for many. We need them to connect cats, bikes, fire detectors and things like that. We only need to send heart beats, position and events but the devices often need to be tiny, with low cost and most importantly very very power efficient. The connectivity to connect a pet can’t be more than maybe 5-10$/year. Many have developed such network solutions but until Sigfox came up with an operator model and a global ambition, nothings was there to attract developers.

Now these networks have got a category name: LPWAN – Low Power Wide Area Networks – and numerous articles and reports explain, compare and calculate business opportunities. As always within IoT the numbers are huge. While Sigfox is a proprietary network with base stations from Sigfox but modules and tools from a range of vendors, LoRa is a more orchestrated approach. A couple of mobile operators including Orange, Bouygue and KPN have declared publicly that they plan to build LoRa networks and I know several others looking into LoRa and other LPWAN network options. Sigfox has networks deployed in several countries including France, Holland, Spain and UK.

Also 3GPP have been working hard to come up with a standard for narrow band IoT data – NB IoT – which is expected to be published as part of 3GPP’s Release 13 in early 2016. The first networks are supposed to be deployed late 2016. Orange recently said that they will trial NB IoT technology alongside their launch preparation of a LoRa network. Also 5G seems to include a LPWAN solution, LTE-M.

LPWAN has quite rapidly gone from “not needed” to an obvious part of the communication mix for IoT. Now Telefonica and SK have invested in Sigfox, others look into deploying Sigfox,  LoRa and the 3GPP NB IoT. This reminds me of Wi-Fi which was “not needed now when we get 3G” and now Wireless Broadband Alliance, started some 10 years ago by a couple of mobile operators, gather some 600 delegates for their Wi-Fi Global Congress events.

The development of several LPWAN solutions is a sign of a grown up IoT industry. But let’s remember that building the infrastructure is only the beginning – getting it used big way is the real challenge. LPWAN is a low cost high volume business and the winning technology will be the one who gets the developers excited.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the different camps will address the IoT developers and will do my best to ensure that the Swedish IoT developers will get well served and successful also in the LPWAN space. LPWAN will be a focus area 2016 both for my alliance of 48 Swedish IoT start-ups – SMSE – and our hardware hub in Stockholm – THINGS.


We still need another infrastructure for IoT!

February 11, 2015

SIGFOX LogoI’ve been talking for years about the need of a network to connect “cats, bikes and smoke detectors” in order to reach the billions of connected devices people talk about. The only thing it needs to provide is heart beats, position and events, thus very very little data. The requirements are very cheap connectivity, very small and light hardware and tiny power consumption so batteries can last maybe 4-5 years. This infrastructure will complement the other ones we have and it will allow me to connect my dog for maybe 10€ a year without any over-night charging of batteries.

I have been in favour of Sigfox approach to this issue for years why todays announcement that Telefonica, NTT DoCoMo, SK Telecom, Air Liquide, GDF Suez, Eutelsat and U.S. hedge fund Elliott Management together with existing investors Elaia Partners, iXO PE, Partech Ventures and Idinvest invested 102 M€ in Sigfox came as really good news.
This gives the muscles for Ludovic and his team at Sigfox to really start conquer the world. And this is something many of my 36 members in the Swedish IoT Alliance SMSE have been waiting for.
Avanti!

M2M enabling efficient marketing

December 11, 2013

Evian DropCompanies are investing a lot of money year after year to communicate with their customers and influence their perception of their company and brands. The budgets are there basically to sow for future sales and they remain on the same level year after year measured as a percentage of sales. The ever-increasing challenge is the growing number of channels to be used, and the constantly changing relative importance of them. But the best channel by all means has always been the product itself. Customers who buy it has it and use it often for a long time. People around them might see them using it. Satisfied users as well as dissatisfied users are happy to tell others about their experience.

All of this is well-known facts. But what is less known is that it has become realistically possible to establish a continuous dialogue with the products and also the users of them depending of what product it is, by using modern M2M or Internet of Things technology. Examples of products that often are connected already are: trucks, electrical meters, cars, alarms, vending machines and coffee machines. They are typically connected for operational benefits like being able to tell the truck driver to go to a service facility and depending on where he is propose which one, for electricity companies to measure and report consumption almost in real-time, for vending machines to understand when it’s time to go there to fill it up and better schedule the service route, for coffee machine rental companies to change recipes over the air and for alarm companies to get the alarms automatically. This is all fine and the normal first phase of an M2M investment. Operational value is easy to realize and make ROI investments on thus easier to get project approval and budgets for.

As we all know by now: data is the gold of M2M. And with these things connected we can gather and interpret the data from the connected things and start use it to create strategic value. Examples could be that the owner of the truck could measure how drivers actually drive, provide training to them and become a more sustainable company, the electricity company could offer customers better price off-peak hours, vending machines would get decision support from real data to know what products to have on weekends and warm days in different parts of the country and to use dynamic pricing, coffee machine companies could tune the choice of coffee for different seasons and learn customer’s coffee drinking habits and the alarm companies could add new adjacent services to their alarm infrastructure to become more competitive. All these things are examples of how the collected data could be used to add brand value, competitiveness, customer loyalty, innovation and attractiveness for employees, etc.

We are in the teen-age of M2M aka Internet of Things and many companies have started to connect their things, mainly for operational reasons. But it is still very rare to see companies using the data to create strategic value. Most consumer goods is not connected and if it is, there is no organized use of the data collected. Most professional equipment isn’t connected either and if it is, the data is rarely used in an organized fashion to create strategic value.

But this is about to change and I think we will see a lot of new examples in 2014. A number of new relevant ways of connecting things are available including the power-efficient and very small Bluetooth 4.0 chips with innovative solutions like iBeacon, networks optimized for connecting millions of autonomous things like Sigfox and a host of different ways to associate real life things with an avatar on the Internet like QR-codes, smart cameras, RFID and innovative solutions from companies like Evrythng.

This isn’t about technology. It is only when clever strategists, progressive marketing directors, creative advertising agencies, determined product managers and innovative business developers really understand what is practically and financially possible today that true innovation beyond operational value creation starts to happen. Interesting examples of creative customer communication through products could be the Evian Smart Drop, Volvo’s On Call app enabling their B2B+B2C model and Apple’s recent launch of an iBeacon based service in all 254 Apple Stores in the US.


Alternative WAN solutions for Internet of Things

December 7, 2012

SIGFOX LogoAt the local area network (LAN) level we have a lot of different wired and wireless alternatives for M2M connectivity. But at the wide area network (WAN) level we have few options. There are a lot of legacy solutions using the fixed switched phone network (PSTN and fixed broadband Internet access is the dominating way to connect LANs to the Internet. The mobile industry is positioning themselves as the obvious solution for wireless WAN connectivity. The mobile operator alternative includes the cheaper and low capacity 2G option, 3G and the emerging high-capacity and low latency LTE option. 2G is still by far the most utilized option with more than 90% of all M2M subscriptions. Satellite communication provides an almost complete outdoor coverage and is a frequently used alternative especially for tracking.

But there are potentially other alternatives for M2M WAN connectivity. Entrepreneurs are working on the idea to build a dedicated M2M network designed to connect billions of devices in a cost efficient and high quality fashion. One of the most interesting today is Sigfox in France who has designed and built a wireless network optimized for M2M using ultra narrow-band modulation techniques. They started roll out earlier this year and plan to have France covered by the end of this year which is amazing. Sigfox uses unlicensed spectrum (868 MHz in Europe and 915 MHz in the US) normally used by cordless phones. With open sight distances up to 40 km covered and when compared with GSM, for the same level of coverage, Sigfox’s solution requires around 1,000 times less antennas and base stations. The impact on cost is massive – it is 100 times less expensive to build, install and operate. They claim they will have France covered with some 1000 transmission sites. The radio modules embedded in the connected things are tiny and consume 1/50 of the power typically consumed by a cellular M2M module. With such low power consumption batteries could last up to 20 years before recharging or replacement is needed.

The Sigfox network is designed to connect millions of devices that only send messages occasionally – maybe once a week or once a year. The position of the object is included and data is encrypted. The bandwidth is only 100 bps which allows transfer of only small messages. And this will likely be the most common type of connected object why volumes could be very large and economies of scale could help Sigfox bring down cost to a couple of dollars per module. They predict that their efficiencies in running the network will enable them to connect devices for a couple of dollars a year.

Now you might wonder what type of mushrooms they have down in Toulouse. But already now they have announced that Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings is a customer using Sigfox to connect their billboards and MAAF Assurances just announced an agreement for their innovative connected objects’ household protection service, they have suggested to ETSI to make their proprietary UNB technology a standard and in September Intel Capital led their €10 million B round.

Friends, this is for real and companies like Sigfox have the potential to change many games onwards. Connected objects without hassle for a couple of dollars a year sounds attractive, doesn’t it? Bonne chance!


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