IoT and LPWA: the latest battleground in the ICT world

From the perspective of someone who has been following the telecoms industry for a number of years, some of the most interesting stories have related to the "technology" battles between different players that have their own interests to protect.

Many will still remember the "holy war" between GSM and CDMA, for example, and the attempts by certain U.S. companies (ok, Qualcomm) to halt the growing preference for GSM, GPRS and WCDMA over cdma2000. More recently, WiMAX proponents foundered in the face of strong momentum behind LTE and LTE Advanced networks.

Now, a new battle has emerged in the era of the Internet of Things as companies seek a slice of what many expect to be a huge market with many different facets. The IoT will bring connectivity both to new types of devices such as wearables as well as existing gadgets and machines that never previously aspired to such heights. It includes smart cities, smart energy, connected cars -- anything you can stick a sensor on or transfer data between without human intervention.

Getting all of this connected is the challenge, and it is here that the mud slinging has already started. Low power wide area (LPWA) networks are being developed to deal with the demands of connecting millions and then billions of devices. Sigfox, Ingenu and the LoRa Alliance are just some of the proprietary options in this field, but more are out there and no doubt more will come. They will also compete with the likes of narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), which falls under the 3GPP standardisation process.

While some operators such as Orange are playing the field a little and keeping their options open, others such as Vodafone already seem to have made their choice. Indeed, Vodafone is now aggressively touting the benefits of NB-IoT and is clearly planning to roll out services in 2017, with a number of trials already under way.

Deciding which technology to back is no easy matter; certain operators are choosing to roll out proprietary technologies ahead of the standardised approach in order to test the water.

Providing the basis for a global IoT connectivity network is unlikely to be suitable for all of the options available, no matter what they claim. Some might be better off sticking to the niche areas that their technology was originally designed for.

Peter Jarich, vice president for Current Analysis consumer and infrastructure services, commented that "it's a question of 'horses for courses' when you consider the needs of different use cases -- not every IoT sensor needs a capable downlink, for example."

A shakedown of the different options is likely in future. As things stand, IoT market share is there for the taking, and the battle is well under way.--Anne

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