SK Telecom (SKT) selected LoRa technology for its low-power, wide-area (LPWA) network because it was the most mature IoT network technology available two years ago when it was planning its nationwide network.
But South Korea’s largest mobile operator does not rule out a move to cellular-backed NB-IoT in a similar strategy to rival KT.
Ian Huh, SVP of SKT’s IoT business division, told Mobile World Live the operator doesn’t have any preference for LoRa technology over narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT): “There’s no preference – it was simply a timing issue. LoRa was available at the time and more mature.”
SKT is currently monitoring how NB-IoT develops and would consider adopting it in the future, but Huh contends the technology needs quite a few months to mature.
LoRa is a proprietary LPWA technology, while NB-IoT is one of three cellular-based technologies also designed to provide LPWA IoT services.
In December 2015 SKT announced a partnership with Nokia covering joint development of NB-IoT, but is yet to detail any additional plans with the technology.
SKT’s closest rival KT is forging ahead with NB-IoT, and launched a trial in Seoul in April.
Time to market
Huh said there are advantages and disadvantages to using LoRa. With the non-licensed spectrum technology, SKT was able to move quickly and the cost is fairly low.
Surprisingly, the security and control offered by NB-IoT isn’t a big selling point, he said, because its LoRa network will be used mostly for M2M applications, such as data from sensors which aren’t generally sensitive.
Looking at the development of the LoRa ecosystem, Huh said things are “going okay, not excellent”. He noted IoT projects are being rolled out with more than 1,000 devices, which is a good sign.
A bigger issue is there is still no clear idea on how to monetise IoT services, Huh said: “It’s hard to make money from IoT as the monthly fees are small – typically $10 to $20 per month.”
With its LoRa network, monthly fees will be just 10 per cent of those on 3G/4G networks, so he said it will need at least a tenfold increase in the number of connected devices: “This shows the potential destructive nature of a move to LoRa on revenue.”
While he said SKT is moving aggressively on IoT, he wished he had the confidence LoRa would have a 100-times increase to make up the lower revenue, “but we’re not there yet”.
Meanwhile the operator said it will use an LTE-M network (also part of the cellular IoT family) for LPWA applications requiring slightly higher bandwidth and mobility.