April 28, 2016 — As General Packet Radio Services (GPRS) packet-based data services fade along with 2G and 3G cellular networks, the competition for a new network to carry Internet of Things traffic is heating up. This will be a break out year for narrowband wide area network IoT providers as they shift into high gear building out in the United States and around the world, panelists said during the Wireless West Conference, last week, in Anaheim.
SIGFOX USA built out coverage in the top ten cities in the United States in the first quarter of this year. The company built out San Francisco, its first market, with only two dozen sites because of the propagation characteristics of its ultra-narrowband technology. The city gave it access to as many roof tops on as many libraries and city facilities as it wanted, according to Allen Proithis, president, SIGFOX USA. New York City, which is almost built out, will take many more sites, but it is still a fraction of what is needed for cellular, he added.
“I need you help to spend my money faster to build out faster, because the demand is that strong. This is the year that IoT goes from hype to deployment around the world,” Proithis, told the audience at the opening plenary session, entitled “Internet of Things / M2M: The New Frontier.”
SIGFOX’s ultra-narrow band modulation provides a long-range, high-capacity network with a 162dB link budget, which operates at 868 MHz in Europe and 902 MHz (Industrial Scientific and Medical band) in the United States.
The buildout is being prioritized by customer demand, but it is not a static process, according to Proithis. “As well as the top markets, we have built out in third-tier cities simultaneously, because someone wanted a tracking network,” he said.
While SIGFOX USA will own and operate its network in the United States, its France-based parent will partner with other companies internationally. Earlier this month, SIGFOX vendor Thinxtra began deployment in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia. SIGFOX’s partner Omantel, a major telecom operator in Oman, plans to provide IoT coverage to 85 percent of the population within 18 months. The largest tower company in Italy announced last Fall it will roll out the SIGFOX IoT network across Italy.
“On the international side, we have been busy putting agreements into place. By the end of this year, we will be in 30 countries, through partners in each country,” Proithis said. “I have agreements in place for 200,000 sites so far. A lot of those sites will fall out in the scrubbing process, as we look for a particular set of technical characteristics.”
The Key to IoT Communications is Network Cost
When a cellular carrier puts up a base station, it’s expensive, but when a narrowband IoT provider adds a base station to a cellular tower, it is the size of a brief case with a 30-inch omnidirectional antenna. It uses either satellite or DSL for backhaul to the network. No fiber. Proithis said hosting IoT base stations can be a fairly lucrative play for tower companies.
“This is found money for you. It really doesn’t take up space on your tower sites or add stress. But it is stacking nickels. You need a lot of them; however, it can be a big revenue opportunity,” he said. “I have to be very aware of the costs or it blows up my business model. For partners that are willing to be flexible, it is a great opportunity for the long term.”
Low-power WAN is a complementary technology to cellular, according to Proithis, whose company has three of the biggest telcos in the world, Telefonica, SK Telecom, NTT DoCoMo, as investors.
“IoT is a different technology and it’s a different business case that drives deployment,” Proithis said. “At volume, we are providing connectivity at one dollar a year,” Proithis said. “We are giving a voice to all the things that want to participate in the IoT revolution. Existing technologies, which are made for people and not things, are too expensive or the battery life is too low.”
Ingenu Nationwide Build Out Begins in Dallas
Ingenu plans to have 30 top markets built out in the United States this year, beginning with Dallas, Phoenix, Austin, San Antonio and Houston. On April 13, Ingenu began delivering connectivity to machines in the Dallas/Fort Worth area with the deployment of its Machine Network, covering 2,116 square miles and a population of more than 4.4 million people with only 17 base stations. Application development for the Machine Network is currently underway with Dallas-based Plasma, which will create smart cities initiatives using Plasma’s C2M enterprise-grade IoT platform.
Like SIGFOX USA, Ingenu Networks enjoys the flexibility of deploying a low-cost, low-power network that operates in the unlicensed 2.4 GHz Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) band, according to Derrick Calderon, VP Business Development, Ingenu Networks.
“In regard to which markets we go to first and how are we going to deploy there, if a customer wants us in a certain market we will take it under advisement depending on the volume of the business,” Calderon said. “Given that it is unlicensed spectrum, it is easy for us to pivot from the plan that we have in place. We don’t need to have a customer lined up in a city before we deploy there, because of the minimal capital expenditure needed to build out a market.”
Ingenu’s low-power WAN is enjoying popularity in both rural and urban buildouts. On April 27, the City of Riverside, California, selected Ingenu’s Machine Network to provide network connectivity for the city’s electricity distribution infrastructure, which serves 108,000 customers. The network will enable comprehensive monitoring of the electrical grid, reducing the time it takes to isolate and repair outages.
Late in March, Ingenu teamed with KONČAR INEM, a Croatia-based industrial electronics and power electronics OEM, to provide IoT connectivity to the oilfields operated by Shell Nigeria. The solution provides pipeline surveillance and wellhead monitoring capabilities to remote infrastructure in the Niger Delta.