LPWAN - LoRa WAN and Sigfox

The Void in IoT Communications

For those of us who are in the IoT space and in the M2M wireless communication space, there has always been a missing piece in the communication options, so far the range of communication is concerned. There are short distance communication technologies Bluetooth, Zigbee, Wi-Fi etc and then there are network based long distance cellular communication technologies (GSM). Between the two ends there is a void that has existed for decades without an answer.

Historically, Monopolies have been bad for innovation and that is what is wrong with leading LPWAN technologies at this time.

The LPWAN Promise

Then came LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) technologies. These technologies were tailor made with the IoT opportunity in mind and hence they are ideally suited for the requirements of IoT namely low data rate and very low power. For a moment it looked like the missing piece was found and everyone can get back to business and come up with solutions that were hitherto not possible (or at least not practical).

Two of the most prominent LPWAN technologies that are looking practical so far are LoRa (LoRa WAN) and Sigfox. In an ideal world a developer could get a bunch of LoRa or Sigfox modules and start delivering solutions. The missing piece would be in place and IoT folks would find it much easier to add the next gazillion gadgets on to the internet. But the LPWAN world is not ideal just yet. Both LoRa and Sigfox have taken routes that are not open and hence will take years to reach all parts of Europe and the US, let alone India, China or other countries.

The Limitations

Semtech led LoRa is projected as an open standard through the LoRa Alliance, but the reality is – as of now the only manufacturer of semiconductors for LoRa is Semtech and all existing modules and even gateways are strictly based on a recipe provided by Semtech to select companies. So on paper LoRa is open, but the ingredients needed to make Lora solutions are available from only Semtech and the recipe is also controlled by Semtech.

Sigfox on the other hand does not claim to be open and is on a network provider model. Sigfox has licensed out the semiconductor to third parties, but has retained the gateway side of the network. So in effect you can only get on to a Sigfox network as and when Sigfox creates a network gateway in your neighborhood. Obviously there are many limitations in this model for it to ever become a universally accepted solution for LPWAN applications.

Historically, Monopolies have been bad for innovation and so is the state of affairs with LPWAN at this time. But until a universally accepted open LPWAN technology comes up LoRaWAN and Sigfox are the options.