3Q 2016 | IN-4215

The enormous scale and breadth of the IoT and its use cases means that HetNets will form part of the future IoT. Whether HetNets are formed from single-technology, multi-operator “roaming” agreements, multi-technology, single-operator LPWANs, multi-radio LPWANs, or “core-integrated LPWANs,” remains to be seen. We suspect that “all of the above” is the answer and offer emerging examples of each in this Insight.

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Multiple HetNets for IoT's Massive Scale


The staggering scale and breadth of the IoT and its use cases almost certainly means that heterogeneous networks (HetNets) will be deployed in some form or another as a way to best meet LPWAN performance or cost goals.

This set us to wondering what form these HetNets would take. Would they be single-technology, multi-operator “roaming” agreements, multi-technology, single-operator LPWANs, multi-radio LPWANs, or what we are calling “core-integrated LPWANs”?

In this Insight we discuss the signposts for each of these types of HetNets and predict that LPWA HetNets are inevitably part of the future of the IoT.

Roaming versus Multi-technology versus Multi-radio versus Core-integrated HetNets


In the cellular world, a HetNet is a single network combining a variety of different radio technologies in such a way that access to the network appears seamless to the user or subscriber. Technologies including macrocells and small cells operating in different spectra, or LTE and Wi-Fi combined, are popular. In the context of a LPWAN we can see emerging examples of several different ways of combing disparate LPWA technologies.

An example of theSingle Technology Multi-Operator roaming agreement was the June 7 announcement by Senet, a US nationwide LoRaWAN operator, and Objenious, a French Bouygues Telecom subsidiary and also a nationwide LoRaWAN operator, that the two companies will collaborate to enable LoRa-based solutions to seamlessly deploy across national borders. The companies claim that this is the first global LPWAN roaming partnership. The US plus France is hardly global but we believe that this is a first and a good example of the types of HetNets we might see in the future.

One of the most visible Multi-Technology Single Operator HetNets comes from SK Telecom in South Korea, which operates a commercial nationwide LoRa LPWAN and is planning, according to reports in the press, a Cat-M1 network. SK Telecom plans to have four million connections on its IoST (Internet of Small Things Network) by the end of 2017. Also in South Korea, KT operates a nationwide M2M (Machine to Machine) Cat-1 network and is building a nationwide NB-IoT LPWA network. In France, Numericable-SFR, which operates a SIGFOX LPWAN, has announced a plan to experiment with Cat-M1 and NB-IoT, and Orange is focusing on EC-GSM-IoT for Western and Central Europe and LoRa in France. From the point of view of being true HetNets the situation is not so clear. MNOs like Orange operate in different countries and so are obliged to adopt the most cost-effective technology for the LPWAN – such as EC-GSM-IoT for operation on the GSM frequency bands, which are not due to sunset. Others like Numericable-SFR may just be trialing alternatives for backup to their existing SIGFOX LPWAN and will adopt the most effective technology for their business when the trials complete. We believe the closest to a true HetNet may be the SKT LoRa/Cat-M1, which we expect will fully integrate both technologies in the MNO’s connectivity management platform.

We found more IoT HetNet signposts in Multi-Radio LPWANs. One of the first to catch our attention was the announcement by chip supplier Sequans of their “Monarch” single chip LTE Cat-M1/NB-IoT platform. During their July 28 earnings call, CEO Georges Karam said that the company had already sampled Monarch and started interoperability testing with eNodeB vendors and that he expects Monarch to contribute to revenue by the middle of next year. Another multi-radio announcement came from Altair who 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. Although these are multi-radio chips, we do not believe that both Cat-M1 and NB-IoT will operate simultaneously in this platform. Rather, the operator can choose by software or firmware which radio technology to deploy, giving the operator the flexibility to adapt its LPWAN as needs change without redeploying additional end nodes.

Another multi-radio announcement which started us thinking about IoT HetNets was the recent announcement by distributor Alpha-Micro Components of their LoRa/Bluetooth module built by Laird Technologies. The RM1xx series of modules combines short range Bluetooth v4.0 with LoRa technology. These modules can enable short-range sensor data uplinked over Bluetooth to be “backhauled” over the long-range LoRa network to be shared with central servers or gateways. This module does operate both radios simultaneously, and when deployed in a network, comes close to our definition of a HetNet

Singapore’s M1 announced plans for what is a Core Integrated LPWAN. Working with Nokia, the MNO plans a nationwide HetNet combining LTE, Wi-Fi and NB-IoT. The NB-IoT part of M1’s network will be ready during the first half of 2017 and will share the operator’s existing infrastructure integrating with its core at the OSS/BSS level.

There are HetNets in Future LPWANS


We believe that future LPWANs will involve HetNet architectures of one or several of the types we have discussed. This is almost inevitable as the sheer number of use cases will drive the choice of an LPWA technology. As we said in our last Insight “LPWA Technology and the IoT,” 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.

We discuss this match between use case and LPWA technology in our recent “Best Fit Use Cases for LPWANs” whitepaper. Also, our “IoT Wide Area Networks” report discusses 15 unlicensed LPWA technologies along with the licensed cellular technologies.