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LoRa scores two national networks and Cisco support

KPN in Holland and SK Telecom in Korea go nationwide with their LPWANs, while Cisco harnesses LoRa for Industrial IoT expansion

The 3GPP may have finalized its NB-IoT specifications (see separate item), but one of the rival technologies in unlicensed spectrum, LoRa, is already pushing into networks with national, commercial coverage, and has attracted heavyweight support from Cisco.

The fact that large cellular operators – in this case SK Telecom of Korea and KPN of The Netherlands – are deploying LoRa at scale, even with a 3GPP alternative on the horizon, suggests that the unlicensed spectrum LPWANs (low power wide area networks) will play a significant role in the future IoT – and not just for operators which lack access to licensed spectrum. For some services which do not require the security and guaranteed QoS of licensed bands, technologies like LoRa or UltraNarrowBand (as used by Sigfox, Weightless, Telensa and others) can be optimal in terms of power, cost, efficiency and time to deploy.

KPN says The Netherlands is the first country in the world to have a nationwide LoRa coverage, which it has achieved just seven months after switching on its first base stations in Rotterdam and The Hague in November. It has rolled out the network using its existing towers, mounting LoRa gateways and antennas to hundreds of sites.

The operator says 1.5m devices are now connected to the network and it “expects LoRa applications for consumers to become more widely available in the course of this year”.

The carrier’s COO Joost Farwerck commented: “Last year we identified an increasing demand for low power network technology for Internet of Things applications. We are responding to this by choosing LoRa, so millions of devices can be connected to the internet in a cost-effective manner.”

In Korea, SK Telecom says it has deployed the world’s first hybrid nationwide network for IoT services, rolling out LoRa alongside its low power LTE system, based on prototype NB-IoT kit.

The dual network is part of its KRW100bn ($87m) investment in IoT between now and the end of 2017. That spend is targeted at leadership of the firm’s domestic market, but it also says it plans to “enter the global market alongside our partners once we establish an ecosystem in the domestic market,” as EVP Cha In-hyok put it. He added: “The domestic market is only 2% of the entire global market. We will push for our IoT business to focus on the global stage in the long run.”

More immediately, Lee Hyung-hee, president of SK Telecom’s network operations division, said: “The LoRa-based network is expected to dramatically boost the supply and demand of IoT devices and services as it has solved issues in energy efficiency and cost.”

He acknowledged that some of the growth would be at the expense of SK’s existing 2G-based M2M offerings, saying: “Dramatic changes may include a huge sales decrease in our existing machine-to-machine business such as the remote metering service, because the new services will drop prices. But we believe that such self-destructive innovation will lead to opportunities greater than the sales decrease.” The lowest tariff which SK will offer for its new IoT services is KRW350 ($3) a month – less than one-tenth of current M2M service prices.

SK Telecom completed its low power LTE deployment in March, and says that will be software upgradeable to fully standard NB-IoT if necessary. LoRa complements that, it said, in terms of coverage, and its target applications. NB-IoT will be geared to slightly higher data rates, while LoRa will support ultra-low power applications. And by adding LoRa, SK can achieve 99% population coverage and 90% land mass coverage, though it still aims to improve in-building penetration.

To offset the lower ARPUs, SKT needs mass uptake, which it will drive not only with improved coverage but a wide range of services targeted at different user bases. Among these, it said, are an advanced gas metering network and wearable device services designed for the safety of children and the elderly. It will also initiate about 20 new services, such as manhole monitoring and smart parking, in cooperation with regional governments this year.

To extend its services, the operator will issue an application programming interface and software development kit while opening test facilities in Bundang this month. It is also issuing 100,000 LoRa modules to partners to encourage the development of new services.

Meanwhile, Cisco has launched into the LPWAN market with the release of a gateway and adapter module that provides LoRa connectivity as well as WiF and cellular links to Cisco switches.

Connected machinery, especially in the enterprise and industrial IoT sectors, are a huge opportunity for Cisco. In a blog post entitled ‘Cisco Digitizes Industrial Solutions with IoT’, the firms said that 92% of the 64m machines that are deployed today are not connected to a network. The increasing benefits to be gained from making these machines internet-connected, and the improved technology for doing so, will drive corporations to start hooking up their equipment – as long as fears about security and other issues can be addressed.

Customers already using Cisco’s IR809 and IR829 industrial routers will be able to use the new Cisco Integrated Module for LoRaWAN, and the Field Network Director application will automatically manage the device provisioning, certificate management, firmware upgrades, and the LoRaWAN packet forwarder (LRR) software – for getting packets to the network operator’s server.

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