Growing out the ‘smart bubbles’ of LPWA connectivity

Brian Ray, CEO, Link Labs

Any observer of the relationships between business and technology over the years will recognise those slightly awkward periods between the first emergence of a new technological concept and its eventual acceptance as a part of everyday life.

During that phase, disinformation from various players, each keen to promote their particular angle, is often rife.

On the other side, potential users and customers of the technology are acutely aware of how critical their time to market can be for their longer term futures. They recognise all too clearly the importance of placing a stake in the ground to signal their longer term ambitions to their own particular communities and markets – and start generating some real revenue.- quickly 

This, to a large extent, is where Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) network technologies sit at the moment.

IOT Now’s editor, Alun Lewis, recently spoke with the CEO of LPWA pioneer Link Labs, Brian Ray, to get his take on where LPWA currently was, both in terms of its commercial and technological maturity and also how the demands and needs of his customers were being met.

IoT Now: Brian – we first spoke at the start of this year when LPWA was still, to a certain extent, breaking surface amongst the wider M2M/IoT user community. With your Symphony Link solution, you’ve added your own software to the basic LoRa technology to provide more functionality. Where are we now?

Brian Ray (BR): In an interesting place for sure. For our customers – both current and those we’re currently developing for – they emphasise that they need solutions today. Their reasons vary according to their business models, historic investments and technology strategies, but balancing both time to market and longer term flexibility issues are critical to them. They understand the advantages of LPWA concepts to themselves in terms of lower cost, long battery life, better indoor coverage and so on – but they also don’t want to become locked into either closed and potentially monopolistic LPWA networks – or hampered by the sometimes glacial speed of industry-wide standardisation processes where the vendor giants battle for strategic advantage. The right tactical move early on can undermine even the cleverest ‘big picture’ strategist.

For them, the issue isn’t around achieving global domination by one particular standard or network – they’re much more focused on creating what you might term ‘smart bubbles’ around their particular targets. These might involve connecting an urban block for smart parking or lighting; an individual factory, office block or mall; or a specific application such as RFID that needs an economic backhaul solution.

We’re also finding some other very interesting drivers as well from unexpected directions. One of our customers already had a large scale deployment of around 200,000 connected devices that historically had used WiFi. Because of growing security concerns in the enterprises they support surrounding that technology, they’re now switching to what they see as being a much safer and easier to deploy end-to-end environment – our Symphony Link solution.

IoT Now: So what are business ‘sweet spots’ that you see early LPWA deployments as supporting? 

BR: LPWA is particularly attractive to those customers of ours who are transitioning their own business models from being focused on the supply of discrete products or single services into much wider portfolio offerings. One customer is a lock manufacturer who has traditionally not had a connected device portfolio. Our technology has helped them develop a whole suite of connected products and services aimed at battery-powered retrofit installations. Symphony Link was able to solve the system’s wireless connectivity and cloud data problem in a way that no other technology they evaluated was able to. With the competing requirements of low latency required for real time control and long battery life, it was a challenge that Symphony Link was uniquely able to solve. In fact, we wrapped some of the strategies we used to solve these latency issues into a recent Symphony Link software release.

Similarly, we have a smart agriculture provider who is creating value through long life soil sensors, and creating a robust and secure way to connect these sensors to the cloud has been a perennial challenge for them. Symphony Link created a 2x cost savings in terms of infrastructure and now the system can be installed by farmers without radio planning.

IoT Now: What is your prediction for 2016 in LPWA? 

BR: The LTE-M and NB-IoT movement will start to solidify, which might give mobile carriers more to consider when thinking about adopting an existing LPWAN standard like SIGFOX or LoRaWAN. Either way, Link Labs is in a strong position with our private network offering because we’ve taken the power of LPWA technology and created a system where integrators and OEMs can sell solutions today. This is a very exciting time for the industry and we are thrilled to be a part of it.

Brian Ray, CEO, Link Labs

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