Senet, the largest LoRa-based network provider in the U.S., isn’t worried about the new cellular-based internet of things (IoT) technologies that are being offered by Verizon and AT&T. In fact, the company believes it has advantages that will keep it in the driver’s seat for considerable time to come.
In March, Verizon announced the commercial availability of its nationwide footprint of Cat M, and AT&T launched its LTE-M network earlier this month. For a year or so before they launched this IoT network technology, rival operators using unlicensed IoT technologies enjoyed a time-to-market advantage. Besides Cat M, most large U.S. operators are also expected to roll out NB-IoT, although AT&T has said that’s not a sure thing.
Dave Kjendal, CTO and executive vice president of engineering at Senet, told FierceWirelessTech that even with those Cat M deployments, that doesn’t mean the cellular carrier ecosystems are fully baked. “We still see that there is a pretty significant amount of time remaining before commercial solutions really are there taking advantage of it and that there’s a level of comfort with those solution providers that a choice made today for one of the 3GPP solutions is the long-term, correct choice,” he said.
Kjendal was recently on a panel at IoT World with Patrice Slupowski of Orange, which is rolling out a LoRa network in France as well as cellular-based IoT technologies. And while the biggest U.S. operators have pretty much publicly ruled out the need to deploy LoRa themselves, “I would never say never,” Kjendal said.
Comcast threw its hat in the LoRa ring last year and formally joined the LoRa Alliance as a sponsor member earlier this year. It is also hosting the alliance’s eighth all-members meeting, open house and exhibition in Philadelphia in June. Senet is a founding member of the alliance.
In the areas of cost and power, LoRaWAN still has advantages over even future NB-IoT solutions, Kjendal said. “From a pure power perspective and a pure radio module perspective, we still have an advantage over the solutions that are available in the market today and the ones that will be available in the next year or so as well,” he said. Cellular's NB-IoT technology specifically brings the power envelope “closer to where we operate, but it’s still arguably two to three times more power-hungry than an equivalent LoRaWAN solution is.”
That’s very relevant, he added. One of Senet’s customers provides groundwater control solutions and articulated that the price of the module and connectivity are great, but what really matters is how many times he has to dig up the street to replace the sensors. “Doubling that time period has a massive positive impact,” Kjendal said.
It’s all application-dependent, but generally speaking, Senet figures about three times less power is being consumed by a LoRa application than by a NB-IoT application. Senet also believes there are distinct technical advantages for Cat M, NB-IoT and LoRa, Kjendal added, even though some of the marketing engines of the larger U.S. carriers might disagree.
Senet got its start in tank monitoring for heating fuel and about three years ago decided to take its expertise to a wider scale with LoRa. Senet operates in the 900 MHz ISM unlicensed space in the U.S. and has coverage in 14 metro areas; its coverage map is on its website.
Generally, it’s mostly deployed in the Northeast, parts of the Midwest and in California’s Central Valley. The company doesn’t have a preset goal in terms of how many markets it will deploy by a given timeframe, but Kjendal notes Senet can economically deploy in a lot of places where LTE is not—the less populated areas of the country where agriculture and other IoT types of applications reside.