IoT World Summary Part III: Too Many Wireless WAN (LPWAN) "Standards" & Specs

Introduction:

This is the third and final article reviewing the super charged and ultra hyped IoT World Conference which this author attended on May 10-11, 2016 in Santa Clara, CA.  It is by far the most important for any outdoor IoT market segment (e.g. Industrial IoT in the field), because some form of wireless WAN connectivity will be needed for all “things” and devices.

1.  Panel: Examining Carrier Business Models & Networks for IoT

  • Panelist: Craig Miller, Vice President, Worldwide Marketing at Sequans Communications (LTE chip maker)
  • Panelist: Brian Huey, M2M & IoT Business Development for Smart Grid and Energy at Sprint

 

Panel Objectives (from IoT World website):

  • Establishing effective business models for collaboration with key verticals
  • Where are the partnership & monetization opportunities?
  • Optimising networks for IoT
  • Leveraging LTE Networks

 

Backgrounder: 

This session examined the alternatives for wireless WAN connectivity/Radio Access Networks (RANs) that go by monikers such as “NB-IoT” or “Narrow Band IoT,”  “LPWANs,” and other acronyms/ catchy names.  Track Chair Daryl Schoolar of Ovum pointed me to 3GPP Release 13 which will cover Low Power, Narrow Band connectivity as a set of additional LTE features.  From the 3GPP website:

“(3GPP) Release 13 will be the refinement and enhancement of work started in earlier Releases, including power reduction in both terminals and base stations via more efficient radio transmission.  Investigations will continue into Licensed-Assisted Access (LAA), with the start of specification work on LAA downlink operation in Rel-13.”

Discussion of Key Points:

1. Cellular standards are evolving to address the IoT market.  LTE Category 1 (low data use, low power) has been around for awhile, but not used much if at all.  

  • 18 months ago, Sequans began a design of LTE Cat 1 chip sets which are now being used by IoT makers in Japan, US, Canada, South Korea, parts of Europe and China.  To be successful in the IoT market, LTE Cat 1 “things” need to have very low power consumption and cost.
  • LTE Category M1 (formerly called Cat M) and M2 (formerly called NB-IoT) will be specified in 3GPP release 13.
  • Sequans has partnered with Gemalto (a digital security company) to develop a new set of narrowband LTE MTC (Machine Type Communications) solutions based on LTE Cat M1 and M2.
  • Ericsson is also backing NB-IoT as per this April 25, 2016 article with list of advantages of being part of 3GPP:

-> use of the LTE ecosystem, leading to fast development, economies of scale, and global roaming
-> can be deployed as a simple addition of new software to existing LTE infrastructure
-> a management framework exists, enabling large-scale deployments
-> framework includes state-of-the-art security
-> future feature growth for MBB and NB-IoT use cases

2.  Sprint is “excited about LTE Cat 1 as well as 2G/3G- CDMA solutions” that it’s used for M2M communications for many years.  The company is looking forward to standardized LTE Cat M1 IoT devices which could cost in the $15 to $20 range.  “Hockey stick” growth in low bandwidth, low power LTE for IoT is expected.  LTE Cat M2/NB-IoT wasn’t mentioned nor were the other LPWANs technologies detailed below.

3.  Orange (previously known as France Telecom) is one of the largest mobile network operators in Europe.  The telco has deployed a low power, long range wireless WAN based on LoRaWAN™ for IoT.   LoRaWAN was said to be an open global “standard” for secure, carrier-grade IoT LPWA connectivity from the LoRa® Alliance (which is NOT an official standards making body).  LoRaWAN (a Radio Access Network set of protocols) uses a new frequency modulation which produces maximum bit rates from 30K to 50K bits/sec.  It operates in the ISM Bands 

Note 1. The industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) radio bands are radio bands (portions of the radio spectrum) reserved internationally for the use of radio frequency (RF) energy for industrial, scientific and medical purposes other than telecommunications.

Note 2.  On May 23, 2016, Orange S.A., officially joined the board of the 300+ member LoRa™ Alliance.


From LoRa® Alliance: “With a certification program to guarantee interoperability and the technical flexibility to address the multiple IoT applications be they static or mobile the Alliance believes that LoRaWAN can give all THINGS a global voice.”  View LoRa’s short introduction video here.

4.  Panel moderator Chris Pearson noted that France based upstart carrier SIGFOX has called attention to the need for low power, low speed wireless networks required for the IoT which they refer to as “ultra narrowband.”  SIGFOX believes that the overwhelming majority of outdoor IoT applications require low power and low speeds- more like 2G and not anything close to much higher data rates from 3G or 4G-LTE (let alone the elusive “5G”).

Note for clarification: The SIGFOX network operates at sub-GHz frequencies, on ISM bands : 868MHz in Europe/ETSI and 902MHz in the US/FCC.  SIGFOX uses what they refer to as “Ultra-Narrow Band (UNB)” using Gaussian FSK modulation.  They say that’s key to its ability to provide a scalable & high-capacity network. With a 162dB link budget, SIGFOX says it enables long range communications, with much longer reach than GSM.  

ENGIE M2M is building a SIGFOX compatible, Low Power, Wide Area dedicated IoT network as an exclusive SIGFOX partner and network operator for the Belgian market. 

On May 11, 2016, ON Semiconductor confirmed in a press release that its AX-SFEU system-on-chip (SoC) is now fully SIGFOX Ready™ certified for optimal two-way communication in Europe with certification underway for the US. The company’s press release states that their new SoC is a “low-power device-to-cloud connectivity solution that is highly optimized for environmental sensors, smart meters, patient monitors, security devices, streetlights and a broad spectrum of other industrial and consumer-oriented applications.”  

Also see this article which compares SIGFOX’s network and LoRaWAN specifications.


Author’s Note: Vodafone told Light Reading that the emerging NB-IoT (now known officially as LTE Cat M2) standard will be the death of rival technologies like Sigfox and LoRa, which have been relying on the use of unlicensed spectrum in the ISM bands to support services.  

Vodafone has opened a dedicated NB-IoT lab at its Newbury, UK headquarters, in partnership with Chinese equipment supplier Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.  The global wireless operator was already a major player in the NB-IoT Forum, an association established in late 2015 to spur the development of the technology. Developers and organizations looking to use NB-IoT to support commercial services will now be able to test their applications at Vodafone’s new facility.

“NB-IoT operates in licensed spectrum and that is important to us at Vodafone because we need to deliver a high quality experience to our customers,” wrote Erik Brenneis, group director, Internet of Things (IoT) at Vodafone, in a blog post. “The alternative, using unlicensed spectrum, risks disruption to the signal from other technologies trying to use the same frequencies.”


5.   Brian Huey of Sprint said the forthcoming LTE Cat M standards from 3GPP would accelerate device to device communications and “mesh hopping” (which was not defined).  He also mentioned there were proprietary LPWA network schemes from INGENU (see below) and other start-ups.  

Developed country mobile operators were said to have “lit a fire” under the 3GPP, so that that organization would accelerate completion of Release 13 where LTE Cat M1 and M2 will be specified.  That’s because those operators urgently need a new network solution for IoT outdoor connectivity.  He noted that their traditional 3G/4G business has been slowing due to market saturation of smart phones and tablets.  So the revenue/profits (?) growth is expected to come from IoT!

6.  The “pain point” for operators deploying a new low power, low bandwidth wireless WAN for IoT will be in the certification process, according to the panelists.

7.  During the Q&A session, an audience member brought up yet another competing LPWA technology known as Wi-Fi HaLow from the WiFi Alliance.  It operates in frequency bands below one gigahertz, offering longer range, lower power connectivity to Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ products. Wi-Fi HaLow will enable a variety of new power-efficient use cases in the Smart Home, connected car, and digital healthcare, as well as industrial, retail, agriculture, and Smart City environments. 


Ingenu was a prominent exhibitor at the IOT World show floor and I visited their booth.  Originally called OnRamp and now Ingenu, the company has positioned their technology for meter reading and other low duty cycle/low bandwidth IoT applications.  Ingenu has kept the production of its modules in-house, selling its network hardware and appliances to those that license the LPWAN technology – either for an exclusive national rollout, or a smaller private network deployment. The company cites tremendous global demand for its Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) 2.4GHz LPWAN technology.
 
According to IEEE member Stu Jeffery, Ingenu claims a reach of approximately 10 mile “near” Line of Sight (LOS) to/from an Access Point located on a cell tower, using the 2.4GHz freqency band. Further, they assert LOS range at 25 miles, with about an 8 dB change in link margin.
On May 11, 2016, Ingenu announced that Taiwanese ODM Compal as a hardware manufacturer for its RPMA modules.  Rethink-IoT was told that “this is the first of a number of partner and platform announcements to come from Ingenu, over the next quarter. Large trials in China (10m devices, smart city), and Italy (40m smart meters), hint at the potential for strong future growth, and if other hardware partners are brought aboard, there is the potential for for many new verticals or niches to be filled by RPMA.”

RPMA was said to have “a distinct advantage over cellular rivals thanks to the much lower amount of variations needed to build a global product portfolio. For a globally compatible cellular smart meter, a company might have to ensure that it has upwards of ten different cellular radio modules – to accommodate the variations between different countries or regions and their cellular spectrum and technology. With a technology like RPMA, that manufacturer should only need a single skew – resulting in a much simpler production line and distribution channel.”


Panel: Examining the LPWA Networks Market Opportunity

  • An analysis of key players and emerging business models
  • Addressing key concerns over fragmented standards for both licensed and unlicensed spectrum
  • Ensuring greater collaboration to drive interoperability and scale
  • Forecasting the number of connections and connectivity revenue enabled by LPWA
  • Low-Power, Wide-Area (LPWA) is a generic term for a group of technologies with the following key characteristics:

•  Long battery life (often in excess of 10 years whilst supporting a benchmark smart metering application)

• Wide area connectivity characteristics, allowing for out-of-the-box connected solutions

• Low cost chipsets and networks

• Limited data communications throughput capacity

LPWA technologies complement existing cellular mobile network and short range technologies, enabling wide area communications at lower cost points and better power consumption characteristics. These same properties explain the potential for LPWA technologies:  lowering the costs of wide area out-of-the box connectivity allows many more solution business-cases to ‘cost-in’, whilst untethering devices from a power supply allows for far greater freedom in terms of deployment locations.

NOTE: This author was not able to attend this late afternoon Wednesday panel session, because he was saturated with conflicting and confusing information from previous panels that day.  Also frustrated by the horrible lunchtime logistics which caused him to miss the 1:40pm-2pm session.


From IoT Analytics website:

Mesh networks are emerging as an alternative to LPWANs:

Mesh networks made a few unexpected headlines at IoT World. Mesh networks are communication networks that rely on device-to-device communication rather than connecting individual devices to the network.

SilverSpring Networks introduced their new Starfish connectivity solution (based on the Wi-Sun Mesh standard) for smart meters and similar Smart City Solutions. The talk was also about connected car mesh clouds. From a communications technology point of view, mesh networks represent an alternative to the heavily marketed low-power wide area networks (such as Sigfox or LoRa) for low-powered devices that do not require large amounts of bandwidth – both technologies have their pros and cons.


Conclusions:

At IoT World, we heard about the following wireless LPWAN technologies:  

  • LTE Cat 1, LTE Cat M1, M2 (AKA NB-IoT),
  • LoRaWAN,
  • Sigfox’s proprietary 2G RAN, 
  • Wi-Fi HaLow/IEEE 802.11ah,
  • Ingenu RPMA, and
  • Wi SUN/IEEE 802.15.4g (smart metering utility industry)

 

There were also “in the halls, break time chats” about new proprietary LPWAN protocols (mostly based on long range WiFi) being developed for use on unlicensed spectrum.  Of course, interference mitigation and/or backoff will be a key issue, because unlicensed spectrum is shared by a large number of players.

From Craig Miller of Sequans via email:

“The lower speed (and cost and power) categories likely to be popular for most IoT applications are LTE Cat 1 (10 Mbps DL/5 Mbps UL) and Cat M1 (1 Mbps/1 Mbps in full duplex FDD, 300kbps/375kbps in half duplex FDD).  NB-IoT is coming soon too, and offers even lower speeds, in the neighborhood of 40-50kbps in HD-FDD.”

Craig thinks there will be as many wireless WAN categories as are required by the wide range of IoT applications and use cases expected to exist.  

“Regarding the 3GPP LTE variants, the different User Equipment categories (Cat 1, Cat M1, Cat M2 or NB-IoT) are merely cost/power/performance optimizations to meet a range of price/performance points.  One does not necessarily obsolete the next – all are likely to co-exist, and more importantly, all are compatible with existing LTE spectrum and network deployments.  This means a network operator can – on the same radio access network used today for their mobile phone subscribers – support IoT applications ranging from high-throughput infotainment solutions for passenger vehicles, down to VoLTE-capable alarm systems for homes and businesses, to asset tracking solutions, to wearables, and even down to simple sensors or utility meters that send only a few hundred bytes of data a few times a month on a battery that lasts for 10 or more years.  This is a remarkably powerful capability, built on a remarkably versatile global standard.”

This author agrees with Mr. Miller that the various 3GPP low power, narrow bandwidth categories will be the first choice for most wireless network operators.  But what about the others?

  • Orange’s choice of LoRaWAN?  
  • Network operators chosing any of the other LPWAN variants noted above?  
  • What if an IoT big user wants to switch from one wireless network operator to another which does NOT use the same RAN protocols?   For example, SIGFOX, Verizon, Orange all use different LPWANs for IoT connectivity!
  • How many LPWAN/RAN baseband protocols with analog front ends, different frequencies and antennas, etc can a SoC support and still claim to be “low power?”‘
  • In March 2015 AT&T said its fully integrated, LTE based, IoT solution platform includes:  IoT application services, business rules engine, data model, agents/device protocol adapters, connected products, and management applications. There was no mention of any other wireless WAN other than existing LTE!
  • “It is a top priority of our company to continue to be a leader in the IoT space,” Chris Penrose, senior vice president of AT&T’s IoT organization told Reuters.
  • Bottom line:  market fragmentation for any IoT application which requires wireless WAN connectivity.

 

Let’s sum up with a quote from John Treadway, of Cloud Technology Partners from his article titled:  IoT World: A Conference of Connectivity and Confusion

“There were also comments about the explosion in connectivity options and the need to manage complexity in these environments — something that is both a threat and an opportunity for integrators and vendors to solve.”

Good luck and till next time…………………………………………………………

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