Startup planning Australian LoRaWan network

LoRa AllianceAustralian startup company National Narrowband Network Communications is planning a dedicated low power wide area wireless network based on the LoRaWan standard for connecting IoT devices.

The Australian LoRaWan network would be open to any organisation to use for its own IoT applications and devices and the company is looking to partner with Australia’s Government Owned National Broadband Network company, nbn, and with large user organisations, such as water utilities, to expedite network rollout.

Cofounder Rob Zagarella told IoTAustralia that the company plans to tap large users of the network to speed rollout. “We are talking to a number of large customer groups, like water metering companies, and they are interested in leveraging their sites for collocating the base stations,” Zagarella said. “They will be able to build part of the network using their capital and have it as part of the overall network and that will accelerate the rollout. This is what they have told us they want to do.”

He said having such organisations take equity was possible but unlikely to be a priority for many of them. “What they really want is a rate plan the SLAs [service level agreements] that they need.

Trial network with nbn

nbn’s involvement was still being determined. “They have a lot of sites, they have access to communities and backhaul and they were already looking at how they could engage in M2M activities. We are only in early discussions but that will come out really soon.”

NNN Communications presently has a demo installation in Sydney with one base station. “The plan is to build out a commercial grade showcase site or maybe a couple of those in partnership with NBN Co and that will have a larger number of commercial grade base stations and applications deployed and that will happen in three months or so,” Zagarella said.

LoRaWan is one of several low power wide area wireless technologies developed specifically for IoT applications. Zagarella said that NNN Communications had chosen it over competing options on the strength of its performance, the breadth of its technology and the strength of the companies backing it. “They have standardised all the components end –to-end and there are five companies that have network server software platforms available, including IBM.”

Sigfox rejected

It looked at the Sigfox technology which the French company of the same name is planning to roll out around the world, but did not like the business model. “The way Sigfox works is that they end up owing a large part of the network and I did not think that would be flexible enough to work in Australia,” Zagarella said.

He expects the range of the network to be from 2km in urban areas to 15km in rural areas and said the technology – which operates in the class licensed 918MHz-928MHz band – should have excellent building penetration.

“LoRaWan is a star-of-stars networks,” Zagarella said. “The sensors will send out signals to any or all basestations in coverage and they will have 3G or 4G, WiFi or fibre backhaul and from there we will serve APIs to third party applications.”

Basestation costs $5k only

Zagarella said he was working through funding requirements, but claimed that the network could be rolled out at a fraction of the cost of a broadband network. “There are four manufacturers of carrier-grade Lora basestations that can handle from 10,000 to 100,000 endpoints each and we are talking about $5k for a base station.”

Once the network is operational anyone would be able to install LoRaWan certified sensors and get data from these in standard format over the network.

In Australia LoRaWan devices would need to be certified by ACMA for conformance to the requirements of the band and, separately, for conformance to the LoRaWan specification. Zagarella said he hoped that certification facilities could be put in place in Australia.

“The LoRaWan technology has been around for a while it was only at Mobile World Congress where it really started to get traction,” Zagarella said.

MWC marked the formal launch of the LoRa Alliance following its unveiling to journalists at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. It is one of a number of proprietary technologies and standards initiatives for low power wide area networks designed to support IoT. Several LoRaWan networks are already in operation around the world. French telco Bouygues plans to have coverage of 500 towns by the end of 2015.


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