If you’re not a close follower of what’s happening in the Internet of Things (IoT) this acronym—for low power wide area network—might be new to you, but it represents one of the most important components and one of the most hotly contested aspects of the Internet of Things – the radio communications technology that ‘things’ will use to communicate.
LPWANs are of interest because most existing wireless communications technologies are not ideal for IoT, where devices need to be able to operate for years on battery power. Peter Egli, a consultant who runs a, highly technical, web site indigoo.com has a presentation on Slideshare that, while pretty technical in parts, gives a good background on the need for LPWANs for IoT.
The need for LPWAN
It covers the shortcomings of other wireless technologies for IoT applications, explains the need for and characteristics of LPWANs and their topology and concludes with a list of LPWAN technologies saying: “In the still evolving IoT and M2M markets, a few competing radio technologies are emerging. Common to these technologies is the use of lower frequencies than 2.4GHz or 5.8GHz to achieve better penetration into buildings or underground installations. Work is still in progress in most of these technologies.”
It lists these as being: ETSI LTN, LoRaWAN, Weightless-N and RPMA. Conspicuous by its absence is Sigfox, which deserves to be included on the strength of its ambitions and its funding if nothing else. As we reported recently the company has just raised $US115 million from seven heavyweight investors: Air Liquide, Eutelsat, NTT Docomo, SK Telecom, and Telefónica. Its network covers France, Spain, the Netherlands and 10 of the UK’s larger cities and it aims to roll out its network in 60 countries in the next five years.
LoRaWAN has the backing of IBM, Cisco and a host of major telcos. Weightless-N is the product of the Weightless-N SIG. The SIG announced in January that it was committed to a Q2 2015 publication timescale for version 1.0 of the Weightless-N Standard. Major backers are nWave Technologies and Neul, recently acquired by Huawei.
On-Ramp RPMA is a proprietary technology from OnRamp Wireless, claimed to be “the first wireless network designed from the ground up for low power, wide-area machine-to-machine communication.”
ETSI’s LPWAN standard
ETSI announced in September 2014 that its standardisation group dedicated to low throughput networks technology had released the first three specifications of an Internet of Things (IoT) network dedicated to low throughput communications. These are ETSI GS LTN 001,002 and 003 covering, respectively, the use cases, functional architecture and the protocols and interfaces.
ETSI does not appear to have said which companies are participating in the development of the standard. However the documents list as contributors a being people from Covea, Elster, HL2 Group, Hewlett Packard, Kimeggi, Orange, Semtech and Sigfox.
The Rethink Internet of Things web site has a lengthy comparison of the relative merits of Sigfox and LoRaWAN. It does not nominate an overall winner. I recently flagged a report from UK based research firm, FC Business Intelligence study Standards and Emerging Technologies in IoT: Can proprietary technologies succeed? that compared these technologies.
Its conclusion: “In the next six months almost anything could happen.” Given the number of different technologies vying for a slice of what will be a massive market but one that will evolve for several years I’d guess it will take longer than six months for a winner or winners to emerge.