IoT wouldn’t be IoT without an internet connection, but the infrastructure for connecting devices isn’t as seamless as today’s desktop and mobile internet. While there are multiple players in the space, low power wide area networks (LPWAN) offer a battery-efficient and low-power solution for small devices. Your use case and required areas of coverage will play a large role in your decision, but know that there’s currently a battle for who will become the definitive connectivity solution.
Consider the five popular options below when starting your IoT implementation:
Sigfox is a French startup that aims to become the global connectivity solution for IoT. While they have a low cost solution available today, their ambitions are to own the entire infrastructure surrounding IoT implementations - ultimately by getting network operators to pay royalties on reselling its technology stack to customers. In other words, SigFox gives away the hardware that enables connectivity, but sells the software/network as a service (Source: Link-Labs).
Sigfox’s already has extensive coverage in Europe and they are in the process of building out coverage in the US. Network rollouts are fast with Sigfox as their infrastructure is very small and easily installed. In some cases, SigFox deploys the network and acts as the network operator, such as in France and the U.S. Signing on with them may seem like a simple all-inclusive solution, but one should consider coverage area, transmission specifications and network ownership before selecting. Sigfox’s coverage continues to grow successfully thus many hardware/solutions providers are selecting this network for backhaul and machine connectivity.
Sigfox, with all of its cost and usability advantages, remains a proprietary system with only one vendor. Basic alarm systems, location monitoring, and simple metering are examples of what might make sense for this network (Source: Link-labs).
LoRa is an “open-source” option, with standards and specifications controlled and published by the LoRa Alliance. Per the LoRa Alliance’s website, “LoRaWAN™ is a Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) specification intended for wireless battery operated Things in a regional, national or global network.” While the standards are open source and the infrastructure can be made and deployed by multiple providers, the intellectual property for LoRa is largely owned by a single company from which prospective suppliers must obtain a license.
Unlike Sigfox, anyone can own the infrastructure, so there’s less risk in using their solution in the long-term. Both Sigfox and LoRa can only transmit smaller payloads, but evaluate your use case as this may not be an issue.
The best use cases for LoRa and Sigfox involves simple sensors that need to transmit data infrequently. For meters that update the reading, say once per hour, it does not matter if some readings are missed, as long as some make it through (Source: NickHunn).
Ingenu RPMA or Random Phase Multiple Access is another deployment that was founded in 2008 and poses a highly competetive offer to SigFox and LoRa. Their interactive and easy to understand explaination of how RPMA works with their partner devices should be your first stop in learning more - an especially helpful tool in discerning the best choice for your own use case.
Ingenu comes with long range, supports up to 384,000 nodes per “sector,” operates in the unlicensed 2.4 GHz ISM band, and offers higher combined uplink and downlink bandwidth than competitors (Source: CNX Software). RPMA touts that it beats out SigFox and LoRa in multiple areas such as coverage, capacity, throughput, security, scalability and mobility support. To see how RPMA compares to the rest of the options on this list, see their commissioned analysis by ABI Research, Inc. comparing RPMA features with Sigfox, LoRa, EC-GSM-IoT, MB-IoT and LTE Cat-M1.
For more details on Ingenu's technology and development kit, click here.
LTE-M (LTE-Cat M or Cat-M1) is an evolution of existing LTE technology that adds on to network operator services. Because of this, LTE-M will come as part of a regular infrastructure upgrade, so support requires virtually no setup. LTE-M’s previous challenges lay in higher costs, however carriers are finally coming out with lower cost LTE-M plans for connected devices. For example, AT&T switched on their first LTE-M commercial site in San Francisco in late 2016 with the intention of lowering costs, extending battery life of IoT devices and improving coverage indoors and underground.
LTE-M has more than a few kinks to work out and has come under heavy criticism as a late effort by carriers to maintain control of network connectivity for all devices. The infrastructure has the longest history of connectivity and can be a safe bet for companies who are ready for massive deployments with more frequent data transmission.
Cell coverage, while not yet ubiquitous, has gathered some serious momentum as some large operators have begun rollouts. Note that a few carriers released new official pricing plans at CES.
Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT, or LTE-M2) is another technology that is standardized by the major cellular standards body, the Third Generation Partnership Product (3GPP). Like LTE-M, NB-IoT uses the existing mobile network infrastructure, but NB-IOT is designed for use-cases where devices send less data, less frequently - similar to SigFox and LoRa. Benefits of Narrowband IoT include low power consumption when operating, low component costs as NB -only chips are easier to create and support wider deployment coverages than LTE-M1.
Unlike LTE-M, NB-IoT works with second and third generation cellular technologies, as well as fourth generation LTE. The ability to support previous generation infrastructure should be kept in mind, especially when dealing with developing countries that may not have the latest and greatest networks.
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