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LoRa, NB-IoT, LTE-M, 5G? Yes

Telephone pole with tangled wires in Nepal
Telpehone poll with tangled wires
Telephone pole with tangled wires
July 7, 2016


Sanjay Khatri

Driving through the streets of Kathmandu, an ancient and rapidly modernizing city of nearly 2 million, I can’t help but notice the spiderweb of wires and cables above. Simultaneously, Nepal, the country for which Kathmandu is the capital city, has more than 90 percent cellular penetration.

Many developing countries like Nepal have seized on wireless technologies to overcome the tangle and obstacles of wired connectivity. And this is even more true as they plan to leverage connectivity for newer solutions like IoT-enabled applications.

LPWA to the rescue

The good news is that the choice of wireless wide area access is increasing for everyone. Having just attended MWC Shanghai, the excitement around the newly finalized 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) specifications for NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT) technology was palpable.

Companies like Philips Lighting view this as a milestone in their ambitions to provide smart city services around lighting and security. Imagine the challenge of wiring up a street light on one of those poles in Kathmandu!

But 3GPP’s NB-IoT isn’t the only game in town. In addition to the evolution of licensed LTE technologies like NB-IoT, LTE-M and 5G, unlicensed technologies like LoRa, Ingenu and Sigfox are aiming to fulfill the needs of wide array of connected device applications that require low bandwidth, low power and long range coverage. This is the so-called low-power wide-area (LPWA) technologies that promise to connect tens of billions of devices in the coming years.

Smart meters to smart homes

Each of these technologies has its own set of advantages and limitations. Combined, they offer a portfolio of solutions for enterprises and organizations looking to deploy smart, connected devices. Smart meters for gas, water and energy management, traffic monitoring, parking, environmental monitoring are only a few of the applications where LPWA access will be essential.

And the utility of “out-of-the-box” remote connectivity goes beyond industrial applications. Access to secure in-home Wi-Fi or the need for a gateway to connect appliances like remote wellness monitoring devices has been a barrier to adoption of such services. LPWA technologies like NB-IoT or LoRa are a boon to such applications as well.

All together now

It is entirely possible that enterprises use a mix of these LPWA technologies even within a single IoT application. The challenge will be to have a common visibility and control over them all. Platform solutions will have to evolve to manage this heterogeneous mix of connectivity and device data to give enterprises a harmonized view of their connected assets. Luckily they won’t have to climb up lighting poles to untangle the wires to make it all work.

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