LPWA Technology and the IoT

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3Q 2016 | IN-4198

There is no silver bullet in the choice of LPWA technology for the IoT. Many solutions and use cases exist, and with the impending commercialization of LTE IoT, the choice will become wider. While proprietary technologies have a time to market advantage today, the window is closing as LTE IoT will launch commercially in the first half of 2017. Many questions remain on the implementation of LTE IoT, but with significant momentum behind it from MNOs, chip, module, and equipment vendors, time will tell whether LTE IoT will live up to its promise.

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Singapore and South Korea Become IoT "Hot Spots"



Now that the 3GPP has ratified LTE IoT, plans for NB-IoT rollouts seem to be gathering pace with Singapore standing out among the leaders. In February 2016, prior to the 3GPP specs being finalized, Ericsson announced that they had partnered with Singtel to trial NB-IoT (Narrow Band Internet of Things). Then on August 19, M1 and Nokia announced Singapore’s first nationwide NB-IoT deployment planned to be ready by the first half of 2017.

Of course, the Singapore MNOs are not the only ones announcing LTE IoT intentions. AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica, Orange, and Vodafone also have all announced plans to launch commercial networks in the first half of 2017, and all three Chinese MNOs have announced NB-IoT trials. South Korea also stands out with SKT announcing a commercial Cat-M1 network and LG-U+ announcing trials.

LTE IoT Is Not The Only Game in Town


The standards based LTE IoT LPWA technologies are not the only technologies for IoT. Proprietary LPWA technologies from Ingenu, the LoRa Alliance, SIGFOX, and others are already deployed in significant numbers and operate in the unlicensed ISM frequency bands.

Among the leaders is Ingenu, which has already deployed its RPMA technology in 36 U.S. cities and has plans for 77 more in 2017.  It also operates multiple networks in the European and Asia Pacific regions. LoRa is another proprietary LPWA technology which can already be found in several places.   In June 2016 in the Netherlands, KPN announced the first nationwide LoRa network, only to be shortly followed in July by SK Telecom’s nationwide LoRa announcement.  Then in August, we noted Asia Pacific Telecom in Taiwan is planning a nationwide LoRa network scheduled for completion by the end of 2016. Meanwhile, SIGFOX operates its networks in many countries, including Australia, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Luxemburg, Mexico, New Zealand, UK, US, and more.

Each of the LPWA technologies offer a trade-off between factors including transmit range, data rate, frequency, channel bandwidth, and power consumption, among others. In this highly competitive environment, each technology vies for position, often with conflicting claims.

Toolbox or Silver Bullet


The 3GPP has been heavily promoting the LTE IoT from Release 13, which was frozen in July of this year after a record short 9-month approval cycle.  LTE IoT is not ready to go yet, but is getting very close to commercialization. Questions remain on LTE IoT involving module cost and interoperability among the multiple eNodeB manufacturers, actual silicon availability, and performance including battery life, provisioning, and connectivity management. We note that u-blox claims to be the first out of the gate with an NB-IoT module – the SARA-N2 powered by a Huawei/HiSilicon NB-IoT chip scheduled for production in Q4 2016.Chip supplier Sequans introduced its Monarch chip supporting both LTE Cat-M1 and NB-IoT. Altair also introduced a Cat-M1/Cat-1 chip in July. We believe other chip suppliers, including Qualcomm and Intel, will shortly introduce LTE IoT chips and may already be sampling.

ABI Research also notes that since the specifications for LTE IoT have been finalized, the industry is performing trials on pilot networks now and through 4Q 2016. LTE IoT is targeted to launch commercially in the first half of 2017 by MNOs, including AT&T, Orange, and Vodafone. With significant support from MNOs and silicon, module, and equipment vendors, time will tell whether LTE IoT lives up to its promises.

For a description of these LPWA technologies and many more, our IoT Wide Area Networks report discusses 15 unlicensed LPWA technologies, along with the licensed cellular technologies. Also check our July Insight NB-IoT Backed Against the Wall in the LPWAN World.

Given the momentum behind the LPWA technology ecosystem, ABI Research believes that no single LPWA technology will dominate. There is no “silver bullet,” but rather the choice of LPWA technology will depend on the best fit use case and will draw from the toolbox of technologies already existing or about to become available.