Interviewing Ronan Le Bras, Orange's Wireless Network Technical Strategy Director
New LPWA technologies catering to the needs of low-power connectivity are driving development of the IoT market. In 2016, the major telcos bet on non-standard solutions, such as SigFox and LoRa, while standardised 3GPP Mobile IoT technologies were arriving on the market.
Why did operators adopt different LPWA equipment strategies, and what are the characteristics of existing solutions?
RLB. Since 2015, operators could choose between two strategies: quickly build a low-power wireless network with alternative technologies, or directly position themselves with new 3GPP Mobile-IoT standards, waiting for 2017 to meet their customers' needs.
Today, operators have mostly chosen the alternative LPWA solution, LoRa. The LoRa Alliance already has 300 members. Supported by an open ecosystem, this technology favours equipment interoperability (terminals, gateway – server). It allows for the deployment of private networks, which makes it more appealing to certain vertical market structures, such as industry. It can be deployed quickly and easily for local or city-wide cover.
Where are we with ‘licensed’ LPWA technologies?
RLB. These solutions proposed by the GSMA under the name ‘Mobile IoT’ include two evolutions of the 4G network (NB-IoT and LTE-M) and one evolution of the 2G network (EC-GSM-IoT). Standarised in June of 2016, they will allow users to address their IoT use from mobile networks starting in 2017 by capitalising on the infrastructure and principles that have given success to cellular networks (QoS, SIM, Security, Roaming). Each one possesses capacities that can be compared in terms of consumption and coverage. However, they can be distinguished through different use cases, such as the volume of exchanged data or the need to relay data while on the go. These Mobile IoT solutions will be available from Orange by the end of 2017.
The first NB-IoT network deployments have already started in Europe. Should we reduce the fierce competition between different technologies, knowing only one will come out on top?
RLB: Early on Vodafone and Huawei pushed for NB-IoT technology in Europe, and competition for IoT communications has clearly begun. Certain stakeholders have chosen to make their customers wait instead of jumping onto alternative rival technologies. Some views even play down other proprietary LPWA solutions by comparing theoretical performance that relies on pre-standarised solutions.
By betting on LoRa to become a stakeholder in IoT, Orange and other mobile operators that are LoRa Alliance members have taken a chance on the solutions' complementarity. This complementarity was tied to uses and the need for coverage: LoRa works for all non-real time sensor uses in B2B; Mobile IoT works for uses demanding high service quality, bidirectionality, security and mobility.
It's important for operators to properly position their connectivity offers and solutions to provide the best technology when it comes to the customers' needs. In this agnostic approach, tools and platforms must adapt to help manage sets of diverse objects and ensure interoperability between existing and future systems. In the end, a wider integration of different LPWA technologies can be planned when the 5G network arrives.