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Where is low-power WAN headed?

Posted: 11 Jan 2016 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Digi International? wearable? Internet of Things? LP-WAN? M2M?

Concerns regarding long-range, low-power, low-cost wireless connectivity need to be addressed in order for the Internet of Things (IoT) to expand beyond the home and wearable markets. Now, Joel Young of Digi International shared his opinions and ideas on the future of low-power wide-area networking (LP-WAN).

Presently, there are many technologies contending for a role in LP-WAN. EE Times caught up with Young, the senior VP of research and development and CTO of the connectivity company to get his take on how the LP-WAN market will unfold. Young has more than 29 years of experience in developing and managing data and voice communications.

EE Times: What are the major industry forces (technological advances, industry specifications, vendor movement, etc.) driving the development of LP-WAN today?

Young: Well, it is really part of the IoT/M2M megatrend and the need to be able to connect sensor points and machines that have not been easily connected before. And of course, there remain two barriers: cost (hardware cost, installation cost, ongoing cost) and power (the lack of availability driving more efficient power needs to support battery power or harvesting). What I see most interesting is that the developments in LPWA will be penetrating into the Personal Area Networks (PAN) applications, traditional cellular data market applications and proprietary long range RF markets.

Joel Young

Young: Cellular technologies have the long-term advantage, but the operators will need to move quickly...

EE Times: There are many different LP-WAN approaches arising. Are there any particular implementations that have caught your eye?

Young: This is an interesting time because we see a convergence of market forces, and while many have caught my eye, what works right now will probably be old-school technology in a couple of years. In terms of looking ahead, I would caution that market hype doesn't translate to long-term success. Sigfox is interesting from a market dynamics perspective as the provider of this very simple ultra-narrow band technology is attempting to build a worldwide network for sensor points. I contrast that with something like LoRa, which is a nearly proprietary, wideband chirp spread spectrum (CSS) technology masquerading as an open standard. My favourites are actually the up and coming cellular approaches coming in 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Release 13-Narrowband Cellular IoT and LTE-M. If the operators get their act together with a competitive offering, there is no good reason why these shouldn't win out.

EE Times: How do you see the competition among LP-WAN alternatives shaking out?

Young: As I mentioned before, early hype doesn't mean market success and the best technology won't necessarily win (do you remember WiMAX?). Sigfox has got a lot of money, but they have a scale problem. They need to build a worldwide network, which means big investment. Their approach is to offer low data rates, but in order to scale they need to onboard literally billions of devices quickly, or onboard devices in really big chunks before they get crushed by the cellular alternatives. LoRa doesn't necessarily have this problem as it can also be used in smaller private networks. However, to shed the proprietary, non-open label, they will need to license the technology to competitive chip providers, not just bundle Semtech chips and wafers into others' modules. The cellular technologies (NB Cellular IoT and LTE-M) have the long-term advantage, but the operators will need to move quickly since the technology is naturally slower to come out.

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