Here are a few of my takeaways in case you care about what is happening in the Internet of Things and weren’t at the show in Las Vegas last week.
- The IoT (and M2M) is still a hot topic and growing – The show attendance was up significantly over last year, showing that more people are interested in this sector. This show is a good ecosystem show where you can meet a lot of the major players in this space. Note that you don’t find a lot of customers at this show, maybe 15%-20% of attendees would be my guess. Shows like the Senosr Show are more customer centric. I jokingly said that they should rename the show the LPWAN Show( Low Power Wide Area Network) because most of the people here talking about IoT and IoT networks were talking about the competing wireless technologies that are now being called LPWAN.
- LPWAN is the wireless IoT. All of the major IOT network players were there: Ingenu, Sigfox, Senet, as well as IOT hardware suppliers, LoRa providers, Cat-M providers, and NB-IoT proponents. They were all showing off or talking about their solutions and explaining why their technology will rule.
- Sigfox needs to get busy and build out a network in the US quickly or Cat-M and NB-IoT players will make them a lot less relevant. They keep talking about the need to build the network cheaply so as to not break their model, but if I were in their shoes, I would be more afraid that if I didn’t get the network built quickly, it won’t matter what it costs. They’ve raised a bunch of money (100 million Euros) and are purported to be raising a bunch more; and they have over 7 million units on their networks in Europe (mostly in France), so I don’t think they are going to dry up and blow away, but the window is closing – especially in the US.
- Ingenu is a serious contender to Cat-M. I’ve always liked the RPMA network architecture. I think they have done a lot of things right in their design, and now that John Horn, their new CEO, is busy creating reality distortion fields around what they can do, I think other players should be worried. While Ingenu can cover 30 square miles with a single base station (if you are up at 200 meters on a tower) and their batteries can last 20 years (if you have a very big battery), the real story is not this hyperbole, but the very real innovations that have always defined RPMA as a network: long range architecture, higher speeds than anyone else, true two-way communications, over-the-air firmware upgrades, etc. They too need to get busy on installing, but they seem to be doing this, and they already have built-in customers in the AMR and oil and gas space that are ready to follow them in every market.
- LoRa is really competing with ZigBee for the in-building IoT wireless market. The obvious exception to this is Senet who is rolling out their oil and propane tank monitoring application and morphing into a public network as they go. Everynet is a dark horse here. More on this in a few weeks. LoRa will never compete as a broad-based network technology against LTE-M and NB-IoT players, but it can do a great job for smart building and smart ag application, where they are only trying to cover a limited area (1-3 mile radius) with single-purpose networks.
- Cat-M and NB-IoT are here. Sequans is rolling out their Cat-M chip sets, and Gemalto and others are set to bring out modules for both Cat-M and NB-IoT. We will see Cat–M this fall and NB-IoT products mid-next year. The prices they are talking about are sub $10 and network prices are rumored to be competitive with other LPWAN pricing. Ignoring CAT-M and NB-IoT is like being a climate change denier. Time is going to prove you wrong.
- It’s all about the application – Regardless of the network you choose, applications are still king and will ultimately control which networks succeed. Their requirements (technology and price) will dictate network offerings, not the other way around. This is why Senet and Ingenu are growing; they have well-defined vertical market offerings with a proven ROI.
- In-building IoT applications need installation help – One big hole that is fairly evident is that major players who are rolling out smart building applications will need help with LoRa and other technology rollouts. Customers are not RF experts, and sadly they need to be in order to make these networks work. Installation is not complicated, but you have to get it right for it to deliver the link margin you need. Most customers rolling out IoT networks are doing this by the seat of their pants, and when something goes wrong, they blame the technology instead of the installation. This will be the subject of my next post.