Who Will Win the IoT Global Network Race?
- Digital Factory
The starting shot was heard. The race has been started, regarding who would build the global communication standard for the Internet of Things (IoT). Three basic models have gradually crystallized from university laboratories and garage start-ups, which will fight for the sunshine. Right now, the history is going to be written – let us enjoy our participation.
The IoT, i.e. millions and billions interconnected devices, is nothing new. So-called „machine to machine“ (M2M) communication is here with us for tens of years now. In connection with technological development, its usage is entering other verticals, and more and more, it is close to the end-user. From large manufacturing halls and tangled world of PLC and production machines, the interconnected devices are approaching places of common usage, and almost any one of us can meet them in life.
In order the „things“ can „talk“, the global communication standard must be created, having two basic properties – it must be inexpensive, and energy unexacting. By now, mobile networks of the second generation have been used (GPRS data transfer), however, they are retreating now, and the operators look up to other technologies, which might bring them new gains in the future.
Networks based on the LPWAN standard, i.e. Low-power WAN, are attracting the attention. It is a wireless communication network, similar to the mobile one, which aims to provide a platform for energy unexacting transfer of a small amount of data in real-time. At present, SigFox or LoRa type networks are anticipated to get established. The third in back, LTE-M is standing, extending capabilities of existing LTE transmitters.
SigFox and LoRa
The SigFox was founded in 2009, and during several years, they succeeded to collect sufficient amount of means to start their network on a commercial basis, and to promote it to other countries. The principle is similar to GSM networks. It means that a network of base stations must be built, receiving signals from programmed client units, and forwarding the information to the cloud. The information can be picked here using programs, and provide further processing. It is primarily intended for the communication at the direction of the client – base station. Technically, reverse direction is possible, too, however, its usage is complicated and technologically limited from a program point of view. The client devices are also capable of running using a classical knob battery for several months. The SigFox network allows for sending the information quickly, cheaply, and with minimum current consumption.
The LoRa (or LoRaWAN) technology, compared to the SigFox, is fundamentally different due to its support of bidirectional communication. Its communication protocol is also different, however, it works on a similar principle. The base stations are much cheaper than those for SigFox. The LoRaWAN networks are built on their openness, any specifications of them are publicly accessible, and almost anyone can adapt the standards, and provide the network based on the LoRaWAN protocol.
LTE-M is the extension of the existing LTE protocol, which is already provided by many mobile network operators, who have built the base stations for them. Most of such stations can relatively easily be upgraded to support the LTE-M, and that is why the operators monitor it very carefully. However, a big potential problem is the availability of simple and cheap devices supporting this network. World leader Qualcomm holds many patents, and at the moment, they do not indicate any great interest to make them accessible to the whole world community, which might result in many cheap chips supporting the LTE-M.
The winner of the global IoT network race is not clear yet. It may SigFox, LoRa, or something completely different. Both networks differ not only with technological specifications but also with their business model. SigFox wants to become a global network, and even though they negotiate with local operators, any data from the whole world will finally flow through their own SigFox servers. On the contrary, LoRa allows anyone to build complete infrastructure, however, requires compliance with certain standards. Companies or individuals can even build their private infrastructure. Possibilities are open, but only one thing is clear. Not the better technology will win, but the most interesting business model will do. Witnesses of the war between Betamax and VHS standards could tell.