Which LPWAN technologies and operators for the long term?

Which LPWAN technologies and operators for the long term?

Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technologies, such as Sigfox, Lora or LTE-M, have recently attracted a lot of attention. They also bring us, as IoT experts, a bit of novelty and excitement in a market where IoT connectivity has traditionally been considered a side product of smartphone connectivity, with little commercial propositions based on true IoT needs.

LPWAN advantages

Technical
On the technical side those wireless technologies are optimized to use very little power and therefore make new IoT applications business cases possible, by removing the need for expensive battery packs and roll-out.
They also enable operators to build positive network roll-out business cases, as they reach “long distance” in terms of coverage. Less sites and wireless base-stations needed.

Business model
On the business side, a lot of operators which have started to deploy these dedicated LPWAN networks, take a fresh look at IoT and propose innovative and dedicated commercial propositions. They focus 100% on IoT and understand their customer needs.

Making a choice for the long term

Although LPWAN’s networks bring new opportunities to IoT customers and system integrators, they also come with questions and challenges: which technologies and operators should I select? Will this solution still be alive in 10 or 15 years?
To give an answer to those questions, a few aspects should be considered:

Spectrum
A lot of the current LPWAN networks make use of unlicensed spectrum.
How can service quality be guaranteed for the long-term?
Look for example at what happened to WiFi: the 2.4 GHz unlicensed ISM band was fine for years but became so crowded that routers now often have to migrate to the ISM 5.8 GHz band. Will the same happen to IoT? In this case migration would be more complex or financially not viable.
Traditional cellular operators usually own licensed spectrum and have the opportunity to allocate part of it to their LPWAN IoT networks.

Standardization
A lot of the current LPWAN technologies and operators represent not only a technical lock-in (proprietary technology) but also a business lock-in (no other similar LPWAN operator in the country or not possible to change operators without having to exchange modems).
Worldwide companies with worldwide products do not want to have to adapt their products per country.
Worldwide standards and roll-out such as 4G are available all over the world and by multiple operators per country.
Will all those different LPWAN technologies also be deployed worldwide and will their operators be able to establish worldwide roaming agreements?
Will LPWAN devices work in standardized frequency bands over the world and will their modems support those different bands?

Ecosystem
The number of vendors supplying particular LPWAN technologies should remain sufficient over the long term to guarantee an healthy competition, higher quality and lower prices.

Assets Management
A critical functionality for IoT customers, over periods of time of 10-15 years, is the ability to monitor and adapt their assets functionalities. Mechanisms like remote asset firmware update are a must have and need to be supported by LPWAN networks. Management platforms need to be available and delivered by LPWAN operators.

And even more…
A few more criteria such as long-term security, costs stability, resilience, application continuity etc. could be named and should be carefully looked at for making a selection.

Conclusion
New LPWAN techniques and operators will help to create and roll-out more IoT solutions and assets.
In front of the variety of such dedicated networks and operators, customers have to make well-thought choices for the long-term, where aspects such as standardization, ecosystem or asset management capabilities play a bigger role than technical performance.
Which LPWAN technologies and operators will be available to offer those?