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The IoT connectivity Players

Published on April 26, 2016

Choosing a wireless technology to transmit small amounts of data from A to B should be very simple in todays world, but in reality making sense of the wireless connectivity technology landscape for the Internet of Things is the opposite of simple – it is a complex landscape and its getting more complex as time goes by.
In the short range corner we have some familiar LAN and PAN technologies such as Bluetooth, Ble, Wi-Fi and even Zigbee. Local area network technology will find IoT applications in the home and office where range is not a priority, if someone finds a way to remove complexity from the process of setting the IoT devices or else we will find ourself having to adapt long range connectivity solutions to the short range arena.
Over in the long range corner we have the familiar 3GPP. If you were reading this just five years ago it’s almost certain that the discussion would be about, at best, novel alternatives to the ‘mainstream’ 3GPP option. Non-cellular technologies certainly weren’t regarded as a legitimate segment and solutions from the 3GPP camp were widely seen as the natural favourite in the race to connect up the billions of things that are coming.
Well the world gets real complex real quick. In 2015 the GSMA were heading, so they thought, so they hoped, or so they told us, towards consensus. An embryonic 3GPP based IoT standard was emerging and we could look forward to it at the end of the year. As it evolved and metamorphosed through various iterations we tracked the progress of the nomenclature if not the technology. So far we have enjoyed LTE-M, LTE-MTC, Cat 1, Cat 0, Cat M, Release-12, Release-13, CIoT, Extended Coverage IoT and NB-IoT and the milestone date in our diary has slipped March 2016. So what can we expect then?
NB-IoT could be the long term goal, but we don't know for sure. What we have until that arrives is Cat 1. In between, Cat 0 will be skipped outright, and we will also have Cat M as a stepping stone.
The difference between Cat M / NB-IoT and Cat 1 is in the power consumption and cost. Nevertheless Cat 1 is not where it needs to be. It is the interim solution until we get to Cat M / NB-IoT. When will these actually arrive? Cat-M is scheduled to be commercially available in 2017, while NB-IoT is announced for 2018.
Ultimately it won’t be a single race of course, and there won’t be a single winner. NB-IoT or whatever it is called when it finally arrives will undoubtedly play a very significant part of the IoT landscape but not yet and then only for use cases where there is a good fit.Applications where the value of the individual data streams are relatively high and where energy consumption is not so critical are a natural fit. The reality of required backward compatibility with a complex legacy (LTE) technology is that no amount of optimisation will be competitive with a true ‘clean-slate’.
The simplistic view from a decade ago is far from reality today and the dozen or so offers circling makes this a complex industry to analyse:
Sigfox : In 2009 this start-up, emerged with a ultra narrow band modulation scheme and an operator rather than a technology model. The company has since become one of the best known vendors in the current LPWAN market. In the process it has arguably done more than any other company to evangelise the LPWAN segment with aggressive marketing, solid finance and an enthusiastic, with an excellent PR department generating awareness. Sigfox coverage at the present time is impressive with presence in more than 17 countries and covering more than 266 Million people. They also have announced that they now have more than 7 million connected devices.
Weightless SIG: A global standards body with three different standards available; Weightless-N, Weightless-P and Weightless-W. Each Standard is designed to be deployed in different use cases depending on a number of key priorities. Some of the players in the market are for example Nwave and M2COMM.
LoRa Alliance: In this case we have Semtech that bought French long range wireless IP company, Cycleo, in 2012 and subsequently launched its wide band technology. We can say they’re more open than SigFox, strictly because the specification that governs how the network is managed is relatively open. You can download the specifications and join the LoRa Alliance, and any hardware or gateway manufacturer can build a module or gateway that conforms with the LoRa specifications. The catch was that only one company was making the radio for LoRa and the was Semtech, this was true until some weeks ago, more than certain we will see some other manufactures also producing the chip. So while the ecosystem itself is open, it does have a closed element or at least it did. In the LoRa domain we should be aware for example of SK Telecom and KT where they have announced their plans to deploy a nationwide network in South Korea and on the other side of the world, in the USA we have to take into consideration for example Senet just to mention a few.
Ingenu: also arrived with an interesting alternative to LPWAN, Random Phase Multiple Access, RPMA, technology claiming better capacity and range.
Other players include Russian company, Strij, with what appears to be a remarkably similar solution to that of both Nwave and WAVIoT. 
Well the mission is going to be to make sense of this raft of technologies – a non-trivial challenge! The goal is not to forecast winners or losers – The IoT market will not polarise. There will be applications in the home and office environment that Bluetooth and Wi-Fi provide a perfect fit. There will be high data value applications with commercially feasible connection that will almost certainly favour an NB-IoT technology and there will be a lot of power sensitive, low data value applications where LPWAN technology will offer a compelling rationale, its in this domain that we will see the biggest numbers in connected devices and where the creativity will play a major role.
References : An article by Alan Woolhouse, Chair of the Weightless SIG Marketing Working Group in the Iot Business news - 12/2/16

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