Which LPWA Technology Will Win?

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4Q 2016 | IN-4277

There are many technologies available which can be used to create an LPWAN, and these can be classed into licensed/standardized or unlicensed/proprietary types. In the run up to 3GPP Release 13 LPWANs, we believe it is the use case or application which determines the best technology choice for the LPWAN. The sheer scale of the LPWAN market and number of applications is such that there is room for both licensed and unlicensed LPWAN technologies. The evolution to NB-5G in Release 14 and Release 15 will serve to open up additional use cases, such as mMTC and URLLC, which the proprietary schemes may not be able to tackle. There will be no “winner” in the LPWA technology ecosystem. Each technology will find its niche according to the application or use case for which it is deployed.

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Many Technologies/Many Trade-Offs


Many technologies are vying for a share Low Power Wide Area Networks market, and each of them offers tradeoffs between characteristics which include transmit range, data rate, frequency, channel bandwidth, and power consumption, among others. Each of these technologies offer performance advantages often with conflicting claims which can be complex to evaluate.

There are two main classes of LPWA technology which can be distinguished by whether they operate on unlicensed or licensed frequencies. The unlicensed technologies are proprietary and include technologies such as SIGFOX, RPMA (from Ingenu) or LoRa based. The licensed technologies operate on cellular frequencies and are specified as versions of LTE by the 3GPP. Release 13 created Mobile IoT (also called LTE IoT) technologies LTE Cat-M1 (also known as eMTC), NB-IoT (also known as LTE Cat-NB1), and EC-GSM-IoT.

The “Best Fit Use Case” Determines the Technology


Is there one technology which stands out with all the performance characteristics necessary to tackle any use case?

Since the potential applications for an LPWAN probably run into the tens of thousands with the requirements such as bandwidth, coverage, capacity, battery life, security, two-way data, low cost, mobility support, and location support all assuming a greater or lesser degree of importance depending on the use case and application, we do not believe that one technology will dominate.

Rather the enormous scale and breadth of the IoT and its use cases mean 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 our recent Insight.

An in-depth discussion and illustration of these “best fits” can be found in our recent whitepaper here.

A Foundation the 5G IoT Future


Although the specifications for LTE IoT have been finalized in 3GPP Release 13 and the industry is performing trials on pilot networks now and through 4Q 2016 (many of which we outlined in this recent Insight) we note that cellular LPWA will continue to evolve to form the foundation for 5G. Work has already started within 3GPP on defining what features the LPWA roadmap will include on the run-up to 5G and its concepts of mMTC or massive machine type communications and URLLC or ultra-reliable and low latency communications. In NB-5G (Narrow Band 5G) for Release 14, there are proposals under consideration to add features including voice, location, and broadcast enhancements to NB-IoT.

Release 15 may add grant-free uplink using non-orthogonal RSMA (Resource Spread Multiple Access) and multi-hop uplink mesh networking, according to Qualcomm. These features are designed to eliminate signaling overhead for small bursts of data and allow the end-point to transmit asynchronously thus reducing latency. The multi-hop uplink mesh aims to extend the range of NB-5G using relaying techniques.