Mobile network equipment vendor Ericsson is naturally supporting the three main cellular-based technologies that will help power the LPWA (low power wide area) IoT market, but it is also keeping a very close eye on ‘rival’ tech LoRa.
Indeed, Mobile World Live has learnt that Ericsson is in discussions with the LoRa Alliance to join as a member.
LoRa is one of several non-cellular technology options, operating in unlicensed spectrum, that is battling with 3GPP-backed cellular standards (EC-GSM, NB-IoT and LTE-MTC/CatM1) in an effort to enable service providers to connect billions of objects through low power, cost effectively, and in difficult to reach locations. Touted use cases for LPWA technologies include smoke and fire alarms, ‘smart bins’ and gas and water metering.
While the vast majority of mobile operators – Ericsson’s core customer base – are expected to deploy either NB-IoT or LTE-MTC for LPWA deployments once the technologies become commercially available in 2017, LoRa has scored some early success with a number of major mobile operators. The technology has already been rolled out by Bouygues, KPN, Orange and SK Telecom, among others.
While Ericsson wouldn’t comment on exactly what level of commitment it will give to LoRa and its membership of the alliance, it has recognised the need to be able to support customers interested in the technology.
Sara Landström, strategic product manager – 4G/5G, Ericsson, told Mobile World Live that some of its customers in various vertical markets use non-3GPP access technologies such as LoRa, while noting that some of its long-standing mobile operator customers are also deploying LoRa.
“We need to understand the technology,” she commented. “Without joining the alliance we haven’t been able to really have access to the specifications, so that has been one of our initial starting points from engaging in that ecosystem. We are seeing that it has traction, it will be in some markets, it has potential to be used in some vertical solutions, so we are also looking at it.”
Cellular trials and launches
Despite Ericsson’s review of the LoRa market, it’s the 3GPP-based technology camp that will undoubtedly receive most attention from the Swedish giant. Landström said NB-IoT and LTE-MTC trials will take place this year, while EC-GSM trials will follow in 2017. And commercial deployment of NB-IoT and LTE-MTC technology will happen “early next year” from the strongest supporters (such as Vodafone), with other operators rolling out in the second half of 2017.
The cellular camp is waiting for chipsets and modules to be in plentiful supply before commercial deployment can occur, but Ericsson’s Landström says she’s seen “promising signs” on this front.