Waiting for a tidal wave in low power wireless wide area networks

(BLOG) — You wait ages for one low-power wireless WAN technology and then like buses three come along at once. On-Ramp Wireless, SIGFOX and Weightless have all entered this market with different technologies, writes Steve Rogerson, and the likelihood is that there will be more before any sort of consolidation starts to happen.

The reason is understandable. If the machine-to-machine (M2M) communications goal of millions of connected devices is ever going to become a reality, this type of technology is needed. Cellular is too expensive for most connected-things applications and the likes of Bluetooth and ZigBee just don’t have the range. True, a ZigBee mesh network can extend the range but this is too complex in many instances.

I was talking with Jim Morrish, director of Machina Research, about how this situation was going to pan out and whether some consolidationwas on the cards. He thought that the opposite was more likely to be true and that there would be more competing technologies, purely because the need was there. But he felt this would not necessarily be a bad thing.

 

Jim_Morrish,Machina_Research
Jim Morrish: More competing technologies may follow

“I think they will all find their own niche,” said Morrish, “and new entrants will also find a niche. But I think one will eventually win big.”

Asked if he had to put money on which one, he said he wouldn’t put money on any of them but thought SIGFOX was looking the strongest because it already had an installed base and claimed to have a couple of hundred operators in the pipeline. On-Ramp, he felt, did not have the ambition to be the major player and was quite happy with the odd utility contract here and there.

As to Weightless, he felt they had a difficulty with timing. Their desire to use white space was OK in the UK but had problems in other countries, where it was not yet available, which is why they were scurrying around looking for other bits of spectrum. This makes it difficult to make a pan-European offering.

I put this to Professor William Webb, CEO of the Weightless SIG. He naturally felt that Weightless had its own advantages, the main one being that it was an open standard whereas the other two were proprietary. He said Weightless had spent a lot of time getting it right, which is why they were behind the other two. However, deployments were planned for early next year in the UK.

He, too, though thinks there will only be one main winner, and that will happen within three years.

“It will all come down to market perception,” said Webb (pictured below). “If a particular technology gets a head of steam, that will become the winning technology and people will turn away from the others. It will be like a tidal wave when that happens.”

Prof_William_Webb
William Webb

So, we could have yet another Betamax versus VHS situation, with people nervous about backing the wrong horse. The market though is growing at a fast rate and, at least in the short term, there is ample room for all three players.

Steve_Rogerson
Steve Rogerson

The author, Steve Rogerson, is a freelance journalist
and a regular contributor to M2M Now.

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