LoRa camp holds high hopes for further U.S. expansion in 2017

ship (Pixabay)
Along with satellite beacons, LoRa sensors can be used to track containers on ships and keep tabs on temperature and location.

Paris-based Actility, one of the companies that had a hand in getting the Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technology known as LoRa off the ground, is optimistic that LoRa will grow in the United States as it has in Europe and Asia.

“There’s a lot of momentum. We think the U.S. is going to be a big part of our story,” said Mike Mulica, CEO of Actility. Without naming names, he said operators in the U.S. are conducting trials, and that’s not limited to just mobile operators. Comcast announced last fall that is was conducting trials of LoRa in at least two cities, and the hope is that two or three other U.S. carriers will adopt it this year.  

While there’s been a lot of talk about non-cellular technologies like Sigfox and Ingenu competing in the U.S. with existing and up-and-coming LTE-based technologies from mobile operators, Actility is touting its ability to provide LoRa-based connectivity but also tie it into cellular. KPN in the Netherlands, Orange in France and SoftBank in Japan are among the operators that are investing in LoRa.

RELATED: KPN claims world first after deploying LoRa throughout the Netherlands

“I think that there’s a common recognition among all operators that the way the market segments from a technology perspective, LoRa has a very, very big advantage in battery life over any other standard just from a pure physics standpoint and cost, so there’s a set of use cases that really can’t be beat from an economic standpoint that LoRa is an excellent fit for and then there’s a set of use cases that LTE is an excellent fit for,” Mulica told FierceWirelessTech.

LoRa is a great for connecting things like a gas meter, but LTE probably would be the solution of choice for electric meters due to the amount of data going back and forth and the presence of power. “I think most of our customers are going to do both, and that’s why we support both.”

“At the end of the day, from a service provider perspective, they’re picking LoRa and Narrowband IoT. From a general market standpoint, unlicensed spectrum is super attractive to enterprises, so it’s different from a cellular IoT,” he said.

The software allows for somebody to go on the Internet, order a solution for smart agriculture or a plantation in Malaysia, for instance, and the base stations and sensors are shipped to them without any human interaction. “It’s a self-organizing mobile network technology, so you don’t need to do any network planning,” he said. “You have your own network” and there’s no need for interaction with a service provider.

Actility is a member of the Cisco Solution Partner Program. Companies like Cisco and its competitors are using their channels to sell IoT networks directly to the enterprise, and that’s a shift from the previous model where the operators were the gatekeepers of the IoT, he said. It’s similar to how anybody can set up their own Wi-Fi hotspot.

LoRa operates in the 900 MHz band in the U.S., but it's designed to be able to be deployed anywhere in the world at various frequencies depending on the country. Devices just need to be tuned to the appropriate frequency.

RELATED: Sprint mum on SoftBank’s embrace of LoRa for low-power IoT service in Japan

The LoRa Alliance debuted at the CES show in Las Vegas in 2015, and in November 2016 it declared itself one of the fastest growing IoT alliances, gaining more than 400 members between March 2015 and November 2016. Actility, with IBM and chip supplier Semtech, was at the core of getting LoRa into the market, Mulica explained. Olivier Hersent, founder of NetCentrex, which was acquired by Comverse, founded Actility in 2010 and now serves as CTO.

Mulica said LoRa, which uses spread spectrum technology, offers a lot of technical advantages, such as the ability to provide location for tracking purposes, scalability and low cost. It can be used to track containers on ships and measure temperature, vibration and location. For example, if fish is being shipped from Iceland to Europe, sensors can track the temperature to make sure it never gets above freezing and provide that information to the merchant. The sensors can also be used for insurance purposes.

While industrial IoT is an obvious use case, the smart home is also a big part of the story and explains a lot about why cable companies are interested, he said.