Networking Choices in the IoT World

Carl Weinschenk
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IoT Adoption, Emerging Tech Driving Tech Industry Revenue Growth

One of the most important questions that must be answered as the Internet of Things (IoT) evolves is which basic underlying technology will be used to connect all of those tiny devices. The answer may be that the best option depends on precisely what the carrier, or its customer, is trying to do.

SK Telecom’s IoT strategy, as an example, will rely on LoRa, which works in unlicensed spectrum, and LTE-M to fulfill this role, according to Light Reading. SK Telecom is an investor in Sigfox, a company pursuing a different low-power wide-area network (LPWA) approach.

Many options and a good amount of industry uncertainty and hedging exist on this important topic, and this passage hardly suggests that an industry consensus exists:

While operators including AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) seem to be committing themselves solely to cellular, the details of SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM)'s plans show how 3GPP standards could co-exist with and complement other LPWA technologies.

RCR Wireless last week posted a good primer on these IoT networks. Particularly helpful is a graphic that offers thumbnail descriptions of the cellular (i.e., LTE), local-area network (LAN) and low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) options. There is no clear favorite among the three in terms of benefits or liabilities. It seems that LPWANs have a bit more penetration than LANs, with cellular a bit behind.

AT&T is to go with the cellular approach; it will use LTE-M. TelecomsTechNews says that LTE-M’s current standard, Cat-M1, fulfills the mandate of the IoT network, which is to use as little power as possible. The level of throughput can be minimal: IoT devices generally don’t have a lot to say. The challenge is that there are so many of them.

This very busy sector is not being led by the west, according to IoT Evolution, which says that the centers of the development of IoT networks are in China, India and Japan. The story focuses on a LoRa-based project that Nippon Telegraph and Telephone West (NTT West) is starting in the Kansai area. It will assess smart meters, agricultural systems, network equipment monitoring, asset and people tracking and environmental warning systems.

Networking IoT devices will be a massive undertaking, and there is room for more than one approach. Enterprises and carriers must make shrewd choices, since the options seem to have significantly different plusses and minuses.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

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