French mobile operator, Orange, has fleshed out its plans for a nationwide LoRaWAN network, first revealed in September, provoking a bit of a put-down from Mobile World Live, the news organ of the GSMA. That was not such a good idea: it serves only to flag the fact that the mobile industry sees LPWAN as serious competition.
Orange said the network would be rolled out gradually across France beginning in 17 urban areas in the first quarter of 2016: Angers, Avignon, Bordeaux, Douai and Lens, Grenoble, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier, Nantes, Nice, Paris, Rennes, Rouen, Toulon, Toulouse and Strasbourg.
However the telco made clear that it was hedging its bets: “At the same time, Orange is continuing standardisation work on future cellular networks (2G/4G), optimised for the Internet of Things, which will be operational in 2017,” it said, adding: “By the end of the year Orange and Ericsson will perform the first usage trial of 2G/4G networks. The technical tests will focus primarily on coverage in difficult areas such as basements and on sensor life.”
The general view is that LPWAN technologies like LoRaWAN and Sigfox will fill a need in the IoT market ahead of the availability of technologies based on cellular standards, and quite likely both will co-exist well into the future. However if the GSMA fears the rise of LPWANs it would do better to ignore them rather than try and discredit them, which is how it responded to the Orange announcement.
Orange hedging its bets
Mobile World Live reported the Orange announcement with the angle: “France’s Orange is keeping its options open when it comes to choice of technology for the Internet of Things (IoT).”
The report went on to explain: “LoRa is one of at least six technology options open to companies wishing to deploy IoT networks serving low-bandwidth, low-power IoT applications such as utility meters and vending machines. … Although this group of players are attempting to drive support for a global standard for LPWA, question marks remain over the long-term viability of the technology. It has a head start over future cellular IoT offerings but, like rival Sigfox technology, LoRa only operates in unlicensed spectrum and is unlikely to benefit from the economies of scale that cellular IoT technology will enjoy.”
If one LPWAN technology becomes dominant, it might well achieve significant economies of scale. The good thing about unlicensed spectrum is that it is free, and the cellular industry wants to make use of it too, but there are competing approaches here too, as this report observed. “Cellular carriers, who now are wholly dependent upon expensive and crowded licensed spectrum, want to set up shop in unlicensed areas,” it said. “Nobody is contesting their right to do so. Quite a fight is brewing, however, over precisely how this will be done.”
LPWAN could be significant
According to Machina Research – a company claiming to be “the world’s leading provider of strategic market intelligence on the Internet of Things,” and to have “tracked the evolution of LPWA networks ever since they started emerging around five years ago,” – there is every chance that LP WAN technology will become a significant part of the IoT scene.
It has just published a report discussing the market for LPWANs and says that standards-inhibiting fragmentation is not exclusive to the LPWAN camp. “The new cellular standards are scheduled to be finalised in 2016, and much about this market’s future depends on how successfully the likes of Ericsson, Huawei, Intel, Nokia, and Qualcomm will be able to co-operate on them.”
The report author, principal analyst Aapo Markkanen comments: “While it is true that today’s cellular ecosystem remains reasonably well-placed to take advantage of the benefits of incumbency, it would be unwise to collectively write the dedicated form of LPWA off as a technology fad, or a ‘new WiMAX’ (a reference to a Nokia blog). After all, these are the technologies that are empowering enterprises’ IoT strategies already right now – and not in two or three years’ time.”
He also adds: “Considering how profound the IoT’s impact will be across industry verticals, it is not necessarily prudent to advise an inevitably affected enterprise to wait another ‘couple of years’ because a potentially more promising technology option is just round the corner. Those couple of years might be the difference between disrupting and being disrupted.”