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IoT networks surface: Tackling coverage, cost issues

Posted: 12 Aug 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Aeris Communications? IoT? M2M? Semtech? LoRa Alliance?

According to a panel of experts working to manage the gap to boost Internet of Things (IoT) deployment, the IoT lacks a wide area network with broad coverage and low cost. Existing long range machine-to-machine (M2M) networks generally use wired or cellular links that are widely available but too expensive to be profitable, said Syed Hosain, CTO at Aeris Communications Inc., an M2M carrier.

In the next couple years, none of a handful of emerging technologies likely will have the coverage needed to spark widespread use, he said in a panel at the recent ESC SV event.

People deploying IoT networks don't want to have to think about whether a network is available in their area, said Hosain whose first customers were alarm and trucking companies offering services across the U.S.

"I postulate that for the next ten years cellular is the only viable option for that kind of coverage," Hosain said. "I'm not sure where we will get the dollars to deploy [these new IoT networks]," he added.

The LoRa Alliance led by Semtech has the best shot at being the first to have broad coverage, in part because it has backing from more than 90 companies including Cisco, IBM, Microchip and SK Telecom, Hosain predicted. One U.S. carrier is said to be close to signing a deal to deploy the 900MHz LoRa net in one of its U.S. regional markets for applications such as smart buildings, agriculture and asset tracking.

Sigfox (Toulose, France) is widely thought to have an edge because it already has national networks in a handful of European countries and snagged more than $90 million last year to deploy a U.S. network. In February, Sigfox said it plans to 1,300 base stations in ten U.S. cities by the end of the year, including Houston, LA, New York, Portland San Francisco and Seattle, and as many as 4,000 base stations covering a total of 30 cities by the end of 2016.

Hosain praised Sigfox for its simple API and network architecture, but said having coverage limited to 30 cities over the next year and a half was subpar. He also expressed concern SigFox may not be able to meet an FCC requirement to limit 900MHz networks to 400ms transmissions when deployed in urban environments. The FCC requirement is the reason Sigfox limits nodes to transmitting 140 12-byte messages and receiving four 8-bytes a day, Hosain said.

In addition, he took issue with the Sigfox business model of charging a fixed cost per node, estimated at about $1.1 to $11.04 a year. A Sigfox representative was invited to the panel but was unable to attend and did not answer questions sent via email.

Data plans of any sort are beyond the budget for many IoT applications, said Paul Peck, a representative of the 900MHz NWave technology which is the basis for the Weightless-N specification. Most apps "just need to say a trash can is full or not, or let you know that the ground is moist or dry," he said.

Peck said the NWave network supports: 3km to 10km range, depending on environment conditions; 20-byte payloads, with "virtually unlimited" daily updates; up to seven years life on 3.6V lithium-chloride batteries; bi-directionality coming in a 3Q15 update and a $4,500 cost per base station, not including installation.

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