Don’t be surprised if Semtech, the California-based silicon provider behind the LoRa internet-of-things technology, extends its reach beyond the Alibaba Cloud deal it announced earlier this month.
Semtech is working with Alibaba Cloud toward getting all kinds of enterprises to adopt LoRa devices and technology in China. That includes things like logistics tracking, air quality, food safety compliance and smoke detecting applications.
China already is a big user of LoRa technology, and Semtech sees the deal with Alibaba as a way to scale to the next phase, according to Marc Pegulu, vice president and general manager of Semtech’s Wireless and Sensing Products Group.
Semtech’s collaboration with Alibaba Cloud strengthens LoRa to become a core technology for the IoT industry, with the expectation that Alibaba will be one of the industry leaders as it strengthens its ecosystem of IoT partners in China, he said.
“What we have in China, we think we can replicate that in other regions in the world in a big way,” he told FierceWirelessTech.
Clearly, for the large-scale cloud providers, one of the biggest challenges around IoT and driving adoption of IoT is not the cloud component. There are ample solutions available in the cloud for what to do with the data, noted Alistair Fulton, VP of IoT product management and marketing at Semtech.
“The challenge is actually connecting devices and getting data into the cloud,” he told FierceWirelessTech. “We’re seeing similar interest from other large-scale cloud providers, in the flexibility of LoRa as a way of connecting the many devices—lots and lots of small sensors sending small amounts of data, which is a pretty big swath of IoT.”
Nobody’s making any announcements, but it’s worth noting that Google Cloud became a sponsor member of the LoRa Alliance earlier this year. Google at the time said the vision of the LoRa Alliance around interoperability and openness aligns with its mission to build the world’s most open cloud and to enable faster innovation and tighter security.
Asked about increased competition from cellular carriers—the window that unlicensed IoT players enjoyed in the U.S. has all but closed with the deployment of Cat M and NB-IoT by the nation’s biggest carriers—Pegulu said: “We have been a strong believer from Day One that LoRa is a complementary solution,” in terms of any kind of cellular technology, and in reality, mobile operators are turning to LoRa.
“We need both,” he said, to serve the entire IoT spectrum.
That said, LoRa is still positioned as a much lower power technology and is cheaper to deploy, and there are going to be areas where cellular coverage won't be available. In addition, some cellular operators are using both their own licensed IoT technologies as well as LoRa. KPN in the Netherlands, Orange in France and SoftBank in Japan are among cellular operators that have invested in LoRa.
In the U.S., U.S. Cellular last month announced that it will team up with a company called IoT America to sell IoT services primarily to agricultural companies across its 23-state coverage area. IoT America’s business relies heavily on the deployment of LoRa network technology for IoT applications in remote areas.
In the cable industry, Comcast has emerged a big supporter of LoRa.
Fulton said the thing about IoT is the need for longevity. They’re building solutions that need to last 20 to 25 years in service, and betting on cellular is risky because there’s no guarantee the operators will still offer that service when it’s needed. “With LoRa, the guarantee is if there’s business there, anyone can become a network operator,” so there’s more business flexibility and less risk of discontinuity, which is a critical factor, he said.
Going forward, the challenge is making LoRa more accessible to a broader pool of developers. The developers today are principally engaged in mobile application development and cloud service development. The goal is to provide building blocks to the development community so that they can create end-to-end LoRa solutions dramatically faster than they’re doing today.
The development timeline for all IoT solutions is still way too long—12 to 18 months—"so our focus is how do we deliver tools that shorten that timeline and help partners build solutions more quickly and effectively” than with any other technology, Fulton said.