A New Connectivity Standard for the IoT—Building a Better Mousetrap

Why is such a standard so important for the Internet of Things?
By Bo Ilsoe

From toothbrushes and dog collars to thermostats and more, this could add a wide variety of devices to the wireless grid. For example, a Dutch company that I met at the event, Xignal, is literally building a better mousetrap—yes, a wirelessly connected mousetrap. For large industrial sites, it is important to understand whether or not your trap been activated, and where it is located. LoRa Alliance technology can enable this.

The LoRa Alliance is an open, non-profit association of members collaborating to drive an open global standard for secure IoT connectivity. At the event, it was encouraging to see so many IoT players coming together—hundreds of C-level decision-makers in IoT, from both large corporations and smaller startups, who are actively building on LoRa. The whole value chain was present, from sensor makers, chip manufacturers and connectivity-layer providers to gateway manufactures and all the way to end-to-end service providers. But why the huge interest in this seemingly marginal technology? The answer is actually quite simple:

1. Low power: LoRa end devices can operate for many years on a single AA battery, meaning no fixed power source is necessary.
2. Wide area: LoRa has a long range (up to 15 kilometers in rural environments) and strong propagation, allowing urban and underground use cases.
3. Low cost: LoRa chipsets and subscriptions are low-cost, which even allows use cases in which devices are disposable. LoRa technologies are significantly cheaper than traditional cellular options, both in terms of CAPEX and OPEX.
4. Simple provisioning: LoRa devices are designed so that management and provisioning are simple and flexible.

What You Need to Know
So what are the key takeaways from the LoRa conference that everyone should know? My top three:

1. The time for LPWA is now, but cost slows down adoption:
LoRa networks are being rolled out rapidly, but demand is still lagging behind due to unclear use-case scenarios. Although the number of LPWA connections is still small, I expect that they will increase rapidly during the next few years, and that most of those initial deployments will either be proprietary or LoRa-based. The LoRa ecosystem has matured to a point at which the market is ready to take off. Still, device and connectivity cost needs to come down before widespread adoption is possible. The largest issue right now for the alternative LPWA technologies is that device costs are not yet well understood, while many industry players are making inflated, low-cost marketing claims. Ultimately, however, device cost will be a big driver (or barrier) for uptake. We expect 3GPP-based NB-IoT and LTE-M will come onstream soon as well; however, for the time being, LoRA has the upper hand in actual deployments.

2. Unclear business model and regulatory issues create additional hurdles for some verticals:
Different LPWA-spectrum allocations and regulatory approaches are likely to drive industry fragmentation. The current LPWA device deployments have been limited to primarily private deployments, delaying the growth of public network connections. The LoRa use cases with the most potential and actual deployments are smart metering, smart buildings, supply chain, asset tracking and agriculture.

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