What is LPWAN and why is it considered critical for IoT?

With a large number of IoT deployments carried out on LPWAN, LoRa and SigFox have come to dominate businesses

In case you missed the recently concluded Mobile World Congress, held in Barcelona, here’s a recap. Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) in IoT was the hottest topic and a couple of significant announcements underscored how the unlicensed LPWAN has emerged as a major cost effective solution for IoT. LPWAN is threatening the licensed, cellular networks and is redefining IoT network service providers of tomorrow.  According to Kaustubha Parkhi, Principal Analyst at Insight Research, “The battle of LPWANs is fought between LoRa and SigFox, it is unlicensed and there to steal”.

LPWAN — the new cornerstone of IoT connectivity

Why is LPWAN key to IoT applications and how does it provide a low cost of entry to organizations? LPWAN fuels the connectivity of devices that need less bandwidth than what is usually required for most standard devices. The defining characteristic of LPWAN is not high speed connectivity, rather a scalable, robust “low power blanket” for smart devices such as sensors, lighting etc. Ideally used in industrial settings, LPWAN technology can connect devices up to a range of 15 miles and are now applied in healthcare; transportation; buildings and energy and utility sector.

Battle of LPWANs is fought between LoRa, SigFox — it is unlicensed and there to steal

Before we dive any further, let’s look at how LPWAN offers the ultimate tradeoff to telecom operators in being the next-gen IoT services provider in B2B and B2C segment. LPWAN is characterized by its low cost of connectivity, low latency and high battery life, enabling telcos a hassle free deployment even in remote, rural areas. There are two main technologies in play in the LPWAN market –LoRa and LoraWAN backed by Semtech which offers the full LPWAN technology stack.  

France based SigFox revealed the ace up its sleeve at the recently held MWC 2017 when it announced the partnership with Telefónica, Spanish broadband and telecommunications stalwart to “to integrate Sigfox’s low power connectivity into the operator’s managed connectivity platform”.

According to reports, LoRa has emerged as the LPWAN technology of choice and leading the charge in wireless technology.

Let’s look at the key features of one of the most popular LPWAN technologies — LoRa Wireless RF Technology:

Long range: LoRa technology offers wide penetration capability for indoor and urban environments and has the capability to connect to sensors that are more than 15-30 miles away in rural areas as well

Low power: One of the key defining features of LoRaWAN protocol was low power and its unprecedented battery lifetime of up to 20 years depending on the application

Low cost: The technology doesn’t require heavy-duty hardware and infrastructure investments and pares down operating costs

Open standard: The protocol ensures interoperability among IoT service providers and telecom operators for deployment and accelerating adoption

According to ABI research, Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) is the fastest growing segment in connectivity and the technology will see an increased penetration by 2025. The research cites, “The rise of LPWANs will translate into one billion chipset shipments with the technology generating a total value of more than $2 billion in 2025”.

Another report by Beecham Research investigates how Low Power Wireless Access Networks (LPWAN) will become the go-to connectivity technology in both the business and commercial context, thanks to the lower deployment cost as compared to cellular networks, cornering a share of 26% of IoT connectivity by 2020.

However, the success of the technology lies in its use cases:

Tata Communications launch MOVE: Tata Communications has made significant headway in building a seamlessly connected world by unveiling MOVE — a platform that enables companies to embed global connectivity in anything, enhance user experience, and generate new revenue streams. MOVE — global mobility platform, is underpinned by its global network of 900 mobile communications service providers across the globe and further bolstered by its recent investment in Teleena, an IoT connectivity specialist and mobile virtual network enabler. Tata Communications picked up a 35% stake, making it the single largest shareholder in the company.

According to a statement, the first phase of MOVE roll-out encompasses global cellular IoT and SIM connectivity. Meanwhile, enterprise and mobile network operator capabilities are expected to follow later in the year.

Tata Communications successfully tests LoRaWAN network, plans afoot for POCs: The forward looking Tata Communications was the first telecom operator in India to debut LoRaTM, ultra-low power connectivity solutions for IoT in India targeted at 400 million people across India. Of late, the leading communications provider launched its first application centre in collaboration with NASDAQ listed Semtech Corporation, provider of analog and mixed signal semiconductors.

Post the successful trials of LoRaWAN network in three major cities across India — Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru, the telecom giants now plans to deploy 35 IoT proofs-of-concept (PoCs) based on LoRa Technology across these cities. The PoCs are aimed to cover a range of applications, such as energy management aimed at optimizing water, gas and electricity; smart building applications; sensors for air conditioner monitoring and safety deposit boxes.

VS Shridhar, Senior VP and Head, Internet of Things, Tata Communications, revealed in a statement that Tata Communications had tested India’s first IoT network across major cities and the company is right on track in meeting its goal of connecting 200 million end devices by 2019.

Tech Mahindra testing the market for end-to-end enablement of IoT solutions

In an interview, Tech Mahindra representative revealed the company is carrying out extensive research in the LPWAN area and is reportedly supporting end-to-end enablement of several IoT solutions on LoRa. Tech Mahindra representative divulged in an earlier interview why LPWAN is the preferred solution for certain segments.

According to Tech Mahindra, solutions requiring low data requirements such as smart lighting, smart parking are ideal for LPWA networks as opposed to solutions with high data requirement such as connected cars, for example.

The B2B Opportunity — IoT network service provider of the future?

As IT converges with telecom, businesses are being recasted and reshaped keeping in mind the pressing need of connectivity across sectors such as manufacturing, healthcare, transportation and energy & utility. Industry experts believe telcos will operate as channels and become the enablers of next-gen data connectivity. According to Parkhi, “IoT is just a precursor to the M2M technology and some of the earliest M2M applications were seen in smart grids, telemetry, and telematics.”

The real question is how can telcos realize business value? What are the different revenue streams? “They can do so by integrating disparate networks and by internalizing use cases. IoT marries PAN, LAN and WAN and it widens the use case. It opens up the operator’s network. They are the drivers of bundled solutions, are access agnostic and are well-placed to generate value,” he shared at the recently concluded IoT show held at BIEC. A thorough partner ecosystem opens integrated solutions and gives touchpoints to interact with customers.

A Mckinsey report cites emerging trends in which telcos can capture B2B segment – from offering unified communications across devices to unleashing mobile revolution through M2M applications, in smart metering and vehicle asset tracking among other areas.

 

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Richa Bhatia
Richa Bhatia

Richa Bhatia is a seasoned journalist with six-years experience in reportage and news coverage and has had stints at Times of India and The Indian Express. She is an avid reader, mum to a feisty two-year-old and loves writing about the next-gen technology that is shaping our world.