Comcast to trial LoRa technology in 'machineQ' for the IoT

Image: Flickr user Mike Mozart

Comcast is looking to elbow its way into the burgeoning IoT market.

The nation’s second-largest multi-system operator (MSO) announced plans to partner with Semtech on a trial of LoRa technology in an effort to provide IoT offerings to businesses. The trials will launch in Philadelphia and San Francisco later this year and will focus on uses such as utility metering, environmental monitoring and asset tracking.

“We believe the business-to-business segment of the Internet of Things market is going to expand rapidly over the next decade as businesses look to IoT-based technology to manage their businesses in a more effective and sophisticated manner,” said Sam Schwartz, chief business development officer for Comcast Cable, in a press release. “Technologies such as LoRa are setting the stage for the era of connected devices, and we think our network potentially has a role to play in connecting the millions of internet-enabled devices deployed within enterprises.”

Like technologies offered by Sigfox, Ingenu and some others, LoRa is a low-power, wide-area network (LPWAN) technology designed specifically for IoT scenarios. Such offerings are beginning to gain traction in the IoT as traditional carriers and their partners hammer out standards for LTE-based technologies.

Comcast said that if the trials are successful, it plans to commercially deploy LoRa networks and services across its markets under the brand name machineQ, with the goal of completing those buildouts within 18 to 30 months. 

“Semtech is committed to working with Comcast to make LPWAN networks broadly available in the United States,” Semtech CEO Mohan Maheswaran said in a prepared statement. “We believe this will foster innovation by enterprises for new IoT solutions that allow us all to benefit from the advantages of our emerging connected world.”

The announcement marks yet another ambitious step into wireless for Comcast, which recently outlined plans to launch services leveraging its 5-year-old MVNO agreement with Verizon as well as its network of 15 million Wi-Fi hotspots. The company plans to market mobile services to its existing footprint of 28 million fixed-line customers.

Like a few other MSOs, Comcast is poised to use wireless to expand on its existing offerings, increasing revenues from existing customers and creating compelling new services to both consumers and businesses.

“Comcast is in a good position to offer security and home automation IoT services to consumers,” Joe Madden of Mobile Experts told FierceWireless via email. “They already control the broadband connection to the home, and they have a gateway (in the cable box) in the home as a starting point. The company will have a more difficult time breaking out into other markets, but in the Home Automation area they should be a solid contender.”

The move is a clear threat to mobile network operators looking to tap the smart home market. AT&T continues to pursue that space aggressively both in the U.S. and abroad – last month it partnered with the U.K. operator O2 to launch a smart home offering based on AT&T’s Digital Life platform.

Meanwhile, carriers continue to develop cellular-based technologies and standards as they scramble to tap demand for IoT services. Verizon recently vowed to deploy LTE Cat M1 by the end of the year in an effort to connect sensor applications and devices requiring lower throughput. And AT&T this week announced plans to launch a pilot of LTE-M technology in San Francisco by the end of the year.

And LoRa could be particularly well suited for such uses, Madden said.

“LoRa technology will extend the range of possibilities for Comcast beyond the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and 802.15.4 options that are normally considered for home automation,” according to Madden. “They may be able to use LoRa technology in cable boxes to achieve better coverage than other unlicensed formats.”

For more:
- see Comcast’s press release

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