Highlights of IoT Developers Conference, April 26-27, 2017 in Santa Clara, CA

Introduction:

There seems to be an Internet of Things (IoT) conference every month at the Santa Clara Convention Center, with the same issues and problems being discussed at each one.

The IoT Developers conference (IoT DevCon) is different. The conference is intended for embedded design engineers and managers working on IoT technologies and applications.  IoT DevCon seems to be the only conference and trade show focused specifically on the IoT product developer with real solutions discussed in technical sessions and several IoT modules/platforms displayed on the exhibit floor.

That’s why we found the conference very refreshing.  In particular, sessions on IoT security, Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs), IoT FOG (edge computing) platforms and moving from IoT proof of concept (PoC) to production.

Sessions Attended:

These are the sessions we attended and learned from:

  • Powering a Bold New IoT Conversation, Greenwave Systems
  • Security Trade-offs and Commissioning Methods for IoT Wireless Protocols, Silicon Labs
  • Makeup of an Ideal Secured IoT Device, CENTRI Technology
  • How to Securely Connect to the Cloud, ST Microelectronics
  • FOG Computing’s Role in Solving Next-Generation IoT Challenges, Cisco
  • Why are 70% of IoT Projects Stuck in PoC Purgatory?, Electric Imp
  • Navigating the Non-Cellular Sea: Transitioning to LPWAN, Podsystem Inc
  • LoRa Technology and Real World Applications, Microchip Technology Inc

Please contact the author (ajwdct@comsoc.org) or the particular speaker if you’d like additional information on any of the above sessions.

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Observations:

Due to time and space limitations, we can’t cover all of the above sessions or the various IoT modules observed on the show floor. This conference report focuses on LPWANs, which is the hottest area for IoT wide area connectivity between devices/gateway and the ISP point of presence.

On other topics, speakers said security was improving for wireless LANs (especially WiFi), that there were specific steps and recommendations to move from IoT proof of concept (PoC) to production, and there is a very important role for FOG or edge computing in many IoT industry verticals (especially those requiring low latency or caching of information).

LPWAN Sessions:

1.   Navigating the non-cellular sea- Transitioning to LPWANs, Sam Colley, CEO, Podsystem Inc.

Abstract: There is currently a lot of talk surrounding non-cellular connectivity for IoT, and it can be difficult to see how to integrate these new services with your existing devices. The applications that can benefit from these technologies are almost endless, from smart roads to agriculture and renewable energy, but as LPWAN expands globally, cellular technology will help to supplement its growth. For these sectors and countless more, freedom to use both cellular and LPWAN technologies together is crucial to minimise downtime, and allows devices to be future-proofed despite major market changes. Mr. Colley’s presentation delineated the different options available to the IoT market today, and show that a flexible approach to connectivity is the most sensible approach in these interim stages of LPWAN.

Backgrounder:  Podsystem Group is a global Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) offering data connectivity worldwide via three dedicated divisions focused on the M2M/IoT, business enterprise and operator markets.  The company is privately owned, 100% dedicated to customers needs and focused on research, development and innovation.  Podsystem claims to have a “unique data connectivity solution provides maximum reliability and control.”

What are LPWANs?

As we’ve discussed in many previous tech blog posts (e.g. 2016 IoT World-Part 3), LPWANs are low power, low speed, (perhaps) low duty cycle, wireless wide area networks that are specifically intended for low cost IoT/M2M communications.  They are NOT  for broadband mobile endpoints (e.g. smartphones, tablets, low latency or high bandwidth IoT devices, etc).  That class of IoT devices is best served by LTE, LTE-Advanced or “5G.”

Chart Courtesy of Podsystem Inc.

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Among the LPWAN contenders are:  LTE Category M (or M1), Narrow Band (NB)-IoT,  LoRa WAN, Sigfox (proprietary network provider), Weightless SIG, Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) by Ingenu, and many other proprietary versions.

Sigfox is the largest deployment of the LPWANs globally, operating primarily in France.  It is based on a proprietary Radio Access Network (RAN) specification that uses (free) unlicensed spectrum and requires low power devices as IoT endpoints.  Of course, the risk with unlicensed spectrum is frequency interference.  Other attributes of Sigfox include:

  • Extremely low throughput – 18-36 bytes/s
  • Unique Positioning Technology (spot’it)
  • Very Low Power
  • Very Low Cost to user
  • Infrastructure required is high – Sigfox must build it all
  • Could be said to be a niche technology due to limitations

Note:  Upon invitation by this author, Sigfox presented their technology at an IEEE ComSocSCV meeting in 2015.

Mr. Colley said that the Weightless SIG, now aligned with ETSI (with three different versions), is the only truly open LPWAN standard.  It comes in three versions as we’ve previously described in this blog post.

The cellular industry’s response for LPWANs was to introduce LTE-Category M (sometimes referred to as LTE-CAT M1) and NB-IoT.  However, that’s caused even more confusion in the areas of cost, power and coverage.

Safeguarding against a wealth of standards and technologies or future -proofing will be very difficult.  5G and cellular IoT offerings (LTE, LTE CAT M/M1, 5G, etc) will expand cellular IoT use, no single connectivity option will suit every application.  Here are a few suggestions offered by Sam:

• Agnostic approach will be necessary

• Businesses tied to one technology face incompatibility

• Dual cellular/LPWAN modules could bridge gap

• Secures against failure of any one standard – forward compatibility

• Platforms can offer true interoperability

• Centralized control of different technologies across your base

• Consolidating account management including billing without compromising on one bestfit connectivity

• Receivers & transmitters must not be restricted – future cross-sector competition & collaboration requires adaptable connectivity

Chart Courtesy of Podsystem Inc.

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LoRa Technology and Real World Applications, Dave Richkas Product Line Manager, Microchip Technology Inc.

Abstract: Microchip believes that LoRa WAN has become established as the leading technology within the LPWAN space, with a fast growing ecosystem of solutions ready to use today. Mr Richkas’ presentation provided an overview of the LoRaWAN technology and its capabilities, a view into the LoRa Alliance and its growing membership, plus real world examples of both public and private deployments.

Comment: This author was surprised and impressed to learn how many companies had joined the LoRA Alliance and how many LoRA WAN networks have been deployed to date.   As noted in the illustration below, there are 460+ members of the LoRa Alliance.  The member list is here.

Chart courtesy of LoRa Alliance

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Technical Aspects:  LoRaWAN™ is a Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) specification intended for wireless battery operated “Things” in a regional, national or global network. LoRaWAN targets key requirements of Internet of Things such as secure bi-directional communication, mobility and localization services. The LoRaWAN specification provides seamless inter-operability among smart Things without the need of complex local installations and gives back the freedom to the user, developer, businesses enabling the roll out of Internet of Things.

LoRaWAN network architecture is typically laid out in a star-of-stars topology in which gateways is a transparent bridge relaying messages between end-devices and a central network server in the backend. Gateways are connected to the network server via standard IP connections while end-devices use single-hop wireless communication to one or many gateways. All end-point communication is generally bi-directional, but also supports operation such as multicast enabling software upgrade over the air or other mass distribution messages to reduce the on air communication time.

Communication between end-devices and gateways is spread out on different frequency channels and data rates. The selection of the data rate is a trade-off between communication range and message duration. Due to the spread spectrum technology, communications with different data rates do not interfere with each other and create a set of “virtual” channels increasing the capacity of the gateway. LoRaWAN data rates range from 0.3 kbps to 50 kbps. To maximize both battery life of the end-devices and overall network capacity, the LoRaWAN network server is managing the data rate and RF output for each end-device individually by means of an adaptive data rate (ADR) scheme.

Dave noted that each LoRa endpoint device class has different behavior depending on the choice of optimization: Class A – Battery Powered; Class B – Low Latency; Class C – No Latency.

A key point is that the LoRa certification program is essential for successful inter-operability between the endpoint device and LoRa WAN.  There are multiple independent test houses accredited for Alliance certification and a growing list of certified low cost products.

There are at least 34 national deployments of LoRa WAN. Network operators that support LoRa include: Comcast, Bouygues Telecom. KPN, Orange, Tata Communications, SK Telecom, Swisscom and several new players.   For example:

  • Senet has deployed a U.S. nationwide LoRa network;
  • Digimondo FireFly (a subsidiary of E.On Energy Company) is deploying a German-wide LoRa network;
  • Digital Catapult  has a “Things Connected”  IoT network in London, England;
  • KPN has deployed a nationwide LoRA WAN in the Netherlands;
  • SK Telecom (working with Samsung) has a nationwide LoRA WAN in South Korea.

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Microchip, which acquired Atmel last year, intends to provide for local wireless (e.g. IEEE 802.15.4 sub gHz radio), personal area networks (e.g. BlueTooth), and LPWANs (e.g. LoRa WAN) in different modules it makes. For more information on a new Microchip product for wireless IoT designs visit their press release here.

–>The company displayed a LoRa WAN connected mousetrap in their booth on the exhibit floor.  They also showed the following as per Dave Richkas post conference email:

1.   SAM R21 & SAM R30 System in Packages (SiPs) for wireless connected designs.  The SAM R21 (SAM R21) and SAM R30 (SAM R30) have embedded ARM® Cortex®-M0+architecture which provides the developer with a choice of multiple wired interfaces, including: UART, SPI, I2C, USB host or device, GPIO and several 12-bit ADC channels. These wired interfaces bridge the connected sensors (digital or analog) to the wireless interface. Both SiP’s support the industry standard IEEE 802.15.4 MAC/PHY layer. The SAM R21 operates in the 2.4 GHz spectrum and was demonstrated in the Phillips Hue lighting solution along with theATMEGA2564RFR2 MCU, which was used in the energy harvesting switch that sends Zigbee® packets to control the lights (SAM R21) through the Hue Hub (SAM R21). The SAM R30 bridges those same interfaces to 15.4 operating in the Sub-GHz space where better range can be realized.

2.   The LoRa modules shown included the RN2903A (for North America) which offers a standard UART interface and is controlled with Simple ASCII commands – that means no special software tools or code to compile. There is also an option to add your own basic sensor code to the 8-bit MCU (micro-controller) inside the module to utilize additional GPIO and serial interfaces using Microchip’s MPLAB®Integrated Development Environment with Microchip’s Code Compiler – MCC.

End quote from Dave Richkas of Microchip:

“Our goal is to continue to deliver lower-power connectivity solutions that meet our customers’needs.  Battery-powered remote solutions are becoming more and more popular. Additionally, the need for extended range emphasizes the need for sub-GHz wireless solutions for IoT. LoRa can deliver 10Km of range and last years on a couple of AAA batteries. Designers are also looking for ways to “cheat” range limitations and that’s where technologies such as our MiWi™ protocol delivers more than a simple point-to-point connection and provides star (demonstrated on the SAM R30 at the show) and mesh configurations.”

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LPWAN and LoRa WAN References:

https://iot-for-all.com/history-of-lpwan-look-future-of-lpwan/

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

http://www.amihotechnology.com/global-perspective-lorawan/

http://www.rcrwireless.com/20160704/carriers/operators-korea-netherlands-deploy-lora-networks-iot-tag23

https://www.i-scoop.eu/internet-of-things-guide/iot-network-lora-lorawan/

One thought on “Highlights of IoT Developers Conference, April 26-27, 2017 in Santa Clara, CA

  1. IoT issues that urgently needs solutions include what type of LPWAN, wireless WAN, or near field communications to use for connectivity. Also, what type of security for each network used by IoT devices.

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