France’s Orange is keeping its options open when it comes to choice of technology for the Internet of Things (IoT), with the operator today naming the 17 cities that will see the first launch of IoT services based on proprietary LoRa technology before the arrival of future standardised cellular technology.

Building on an announcement in September which saw the company proclaim ambitions to become “the number one operator for the Internet of Things”, Orange plans to rollout its LoRa-powered IoT network in the following 17 urban areas from the first quarter of 2016, before a nationwide launch: Angers, Avignon, Bordeaux, Douai and Lens, Grenoble, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier, Nantes, Nice, Paris, Rennes, Rouen, Toulon, Toulouse and Strasbourg.

LoRa is one of at least six technology options open to companies wishing to deploy IoT networks serving low-bandwidth, low-power IoT applications such as utility meters and vending machines. This market has been dubbed ‘Low Power Wide Area,’ or LPWA.

LoRa technology was developed by semiconductor company Semtech, with the LoRa Alliance later established to develop and promote the solution. Amongst the founding members are Actility (which earlier this year received a €3 million cash injection from Orange, as well as investment stakes from KPN and Swisscom), Cisco, Bouygues Telecom and Proximus.

Although this group of players are attempting to drive support for a global standard for LPWA, question marks remain over the long-term viability of the technology. It has a headstart over future cellular IoT offerings but, like rival Sigfox technology, LoRa only operates in unlicensed spectrum and is unlikely to benefit from the economies of scale that cellular IoT technology will enjoy.

To that end, Orange was keen to point out that it is “continuing standardisation work on future cellular networks (2G/4G), optimised for the Internet of Things”.

By the end of the year Orange and Ericsson will perform “the first usage trial of 2G/4G networks”. The technical tests will focus primarily on coverage in difficult areas such as basements and on sensor life.

The operator is working with the Swedish vendor on a number of trials, including a “world-first” Extended Coverage-GSM (EC-GSM) deployment using the licenced 900 MHz band. Specifications for EC-GSM are expected to be completed and ratified by the 3GPP in Q1 2016.

Meanwhile Ericsson and Orange are also working on another “world-first” LTE IoT trial in partnership with chipset manufacturer Sequans.

Cellular networks optimised for IoT are likely to become operational in 2017. Also vying for a slice of this pie are technologies known as NarrowBand LTE and LTE-Machine (LTE-M).

Reflecting on Orange’s multi-technology approach, Alain Maloberti, SVP of Orange Labs Networks, said: “IoT is a key area in Orange’s Essentials2020 strategic plan, and France should play a key role in IoT takeoff in Europe. In order to extend our connectivity offer, we are currently deploying a LoRa network. At the same time, we are preparing the future of cellular networks and we are happy to collaborate with Ericsson to be the first operator to demonstrate IoT over GSM and LTE in order to roll it out ahead of 5G availability in the market.”

Orange has revealed it aims to generate €600 million in revenues from IoT by 2018.