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LoPy triple-PHY board boosts funds – is a unified IoT radio chipset in the offing?

Dutch start-up Pycom has secured another investment round for its low energy triple-bearer IoT development boards, LoPy and WiPy – this time from Hong Kong based In-Tech Electronics.

WiPy launched last year, and now the LoPy board has been causing quite a stir in the industry by combining three important connectivity options for the Internet of Things – LoRa for low power wide area (LPWA) networks; WiFi for LAN and Bluetooth LE for short range links. WiPy managed to hit its Kickstarter target in just five days, raising over $136,000.

The term disruptive has become almost throwaway in the IoT, but products like the LoPy have the potential to cause genuine seismic shifts in the market by combining chipsets. But is this a step towards a single IoT radio chipset solution?

That would certainly be no easy feat, particularly with licensing issues and the need to observe Frand (fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) patent regulations, and of course the need to achieve economies of scale. Fewer chips equal lower per-device royalties, but potentially far more volume.

A major issue is that a lot of IoT protocols, including LoRa, work in sub-GHz unlicensed ISM bands (915 MHz or 868 MHz), which are close to the licensed spectrum to be used for the narrowband LTE standards, NB-IoT and the Cat M1 and M2 modems. These will challenge LPWA technologies like LoRa and Sigfox, because of the MNOs’ brand recognition and established customer bases. Tight integration with the dominant home wireless networks, and lower cost, lower power devices as a result, could be a way to fight back.

Pycom says it opted for LoRa as the LPWA protocol because it “loves the openness of the standard” – allowing developer communities to quickly build and share IoT applications using MicroPython.

LoPy will beginning shipping to around 50 countries upon launch (date to be confirmed) and Pycom already supplies over 3,000 developers and almost 1,000 enterprises –a base it has accumulated in just five months. The product can perform as a LoRa nano-gateway and a multi-bearer development platform, encompassing LoRa, WiFi and BLE with the latest Espressif chipset, and programmable with MicroPython and the Pymakr IDE (Integrated Development Environment).

WiPy is powered by a CC3200 ARM Cortex-M4 MCU from Texas Instruments, combined with a WiFi network processor, with features such as secure sockets layer (SSL) and transport layer security (TLS) for cloud security. Both boards consume just 850uA (microamps), maintaining the WiFi connection when in suspended mode.

Pycom claims this is the first low energy triple-bearer board in the world – while there are other triple bearer boards out there, this is definitely the first to incorporate LoRa.

“Since launching in January, Pycom focused on producing a series of fast deployment, multi-network, edge-of-network modules at a price point that finally makes connecting lots of individual sensors an economic reality,” said CEO and co-founder Fred de Haro. “It’s just been far too expensive and long-winded for many enterprises to make their IoT strategy a reality until now. Our LoPy Kickstarter campaign demonstrated that our pricing works for development boards that support Bluetooth, WiFi and LoRa – in fact the campaign was oversubscribed by almost three times such is the demand for this innovation in IoT.”

New investor In-Tech Electronics sees its funding as a way to boost China’s progress in the IoT. CEO Albert Ho said in a statement: “The benefits of IoT are evident for Chinese manufacturers. The government has launched a ‘Made in China 2025’ initiative, modelled on Germany’s ‘Industrie 4.0’ scheme, to improve our country’s manufacturing competitiveness and according to Accenture, the economic value from the IoT could jump from $196bn to $736bn – a 276% increase.”

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