One of the biggest challenges during the next few years will be providing networking capabilities to support the Internet of Things (IoT). In addition to being ubiquitous, these networks must support sensors and other endpoint devices that operate on very low power.
It’s a major challenge. Many companies using three distinct approaches are deeply involved. Today, low power wide area network (LPWAN) provider Sigfox said that it is opening its third office in the United States, which is in Dallas. Current offices are in San Francisco and Boston. The new office, according to the press release, will serve as the network hub.
Sigfox operates in unlicensed. There is a good deal of competition to provide these networks. Light Reading reports that the cellular players who operate in licensed spectrum suddenly feel threatened:
Originally dismissive of the LPWA threat, the cellular industry changed its tune when it saw the growing interest in Sigfox among companies looking for a more "narrowband" option than cellular could offer, say analysts.
Thus, on one level, there is a cellular versus unlicensed spectrum battle. This, in turn, is leading suddenly concerned cellular players, such as Narrow Band – Internet of Things (NB-IoT) and battling with LTE-M -- to battle with each other.
NB-IoT, the story says, may be putting itself in the position of unexpectedly losing market share to LTE-M. LTE-M, which uses more power than NB-IoT, is gaining because the latter is not used to commercial readiness.
Commentary in the story suggests that the deciding point for operators looking at cellular approaches has shifted from performance characteristics to ecosystem maturity and ease of deployment. The check marks on these two questions is in the LTE-M column.
There is a third approach to creating these networks: Low-Power Wide-Area Network (LPWAN; its name is sometimes shortened to Low-Power Network, or LPN). Network World posted a story based on a conversation with Dave Kjendal, the vice president of Engineering and CTO for Senet. The Senet network, which covers one-fortieth of the United States, operates at three distinct power levels. The story also offers a graphic highlighting the three approaches.
Each of the three approaches has its unique strengths and weaknesses and, consequently, its unique use cases. The competition is a good thing: Ubiquity of service is one of the biggest challenges to the successful rollout of the IoT. Having companies pushing each other both across platform lines and within each category bodes well for technical advances and lower costs.
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 email@example.com and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.