MultiTech Systems, a founding member of the LoRa Alliance – and which will be exhibiting on the Alliance stand at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona – has been active in advancing a number of aspects of the LoRa technology, as well as developing new applications and business models. IoT Now contributor, Peter Dykes, spoke to Daniel Quant, VP Product Management & Strategic Marketing, at MultiTech to find out more about the company’s activities in the LoRa space.
IoT Now: How is MultiTech engaged with the LoRa Alliance?
DQ: Deeply. We have Dave Smith, MultiTech’s Senior VP, Engineering and Innovation, serving as vice-chair of the Certification Group; Derek Wallace, Director of Product Management is a member of the Marketing Work Group; while Mike Lynch, QA team manager, is a member of the Certification Work Group. I’m actively participating within the Strategy Group, more specifically the LoRaWAN Roadmap definition, where I’m able to leverage my experience in portfolio management; and the Application Protocol task group, which is addressing the integration of existing application protocols over LoRaWAN. I also act as a liaison between the Strategy Group and the Certification Group. I can use MultiTech’s position in the market, our skills set and our knowledge to help move the Alliance in what we collectively feel is the most effective direction.
IoT Now: What other Alliance work has Multitech been involved in?
DQ: We participated heavily in the development of the LoRaWAN specifications version 1.0 through to 1.1 – soon to be published – and we are already working on content for version 1.2. We have also co-authored the channel plans for Australia, Brazil, Brunei, South Korea, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Singapore. In addition, MultiTech has worked on MAC proposals in various areas, contributed to the development of the Join Request/Accept protocol, end device International roaming support, and we have defined priorities for industry application protocols that can run over LoRaWAN to address key verticals such as lighting and industrial control Another contribution we’ve made to the Alliance’s work is within Adaptive Data Rate (ADR) — a scheme designed to improve efficiency and achieve a better return on investment for enterprises and operators alike, who can efficiently accommodate more LoRaWAN end points in a geographic region by spreading out what are known as spreading factors, which dictate the data rate versus the protection on each one of those points. On the edge, where Received Signal Strength is poor, there’s lots of protection and not so much payload, but importantly there is a measure of connectivity even in harsh industrial environments or an underground smart car park. Very close to the gateway, on the other hand, there is lots of payload and not very much protection, which offers the ability to go on and off channel very quickly, meaning the next device can connect and therefore end point density is maximised with less infrastructure.
IoT Now: Compared to other Alliance members who are, for example, producing hardware, how would you differentiate MultiTech from some of the other players in the ecosystem?
DQ: We are in a good position as MultiTech is a Contributor Member, along with 20 or so other companies such as MicroChip. This means we can contribute to the overall effort and create this journey that LoRaWAN and the LoRa Alliance is on. We are limited in some ways, such as we are unable to invent a new working group and we don’t sit on the board of directors as Sponsor members can and do. However, critically, we have a vote and are able to participate in all and any working or task groups, which provides us a front row seat in the evolution of LoRaWAN and the ability to be one of the first to market with LoRaWAN module and gateway enhancements.
IoT Now: How do you see LoRa deployments going forward? Do you think there is much of a market for private networks?
DQ: The LoRa Alliance has defined a standard that serves well both the public and private deployment models. Of course, public deployment is very appealing. Imagine lighting up the whole of North America, Europe and Asia with LoRa public networks. This would have a huge impact on the number of LoRaWAN end product deployments out there and it would be like the mobile phone boom of the 1990s.
While we are supporting a lot of operators who are deploying nationwide networks, private deployments are an area that, perhaps due to the nature of the transformational impact LoRaWAN will have on enterprises and OEMs and the competitive advantage it will bring to their industry, is less talked about currently. This is where LoRa has a competitive advantage over the cellular licensed band technologies that will outlast any war over who will win the battle in the public LPWAN deployment arena. A battle that in my opinion both licensed and unlicensed technologies will win due to the broad nature of use cases to be connected.
In the enterprise space, LoRa has a really great story. It’s deployed on ISM band technology, you don’t need to buy any costly licenses, and there aren’t nearly as many different ISM bands around the world as LTE, so it can be deployed anywhere where an enterprise, operator or its customers do business, but without the bureaucracy of who owns the spectrum, having to establish roaming partners and so forth.
It’s also possible to deploy LoRa in a way which gives very secure control of private data moving around in the enterprise. A lot of the large multinational companies really like the sound of that. For example, an airline could deploy a network in every airport hub around the world that it serves, which could be managed internally by the airline’s own IT department. There would be no requirement for roaming partners, nor would there be any intermediaries between the airline and its data. Such a network could be used for things like baggage, crew and aircraft tracking and would offer a degree of security and control of data that may not be available using a public network.
Shipping companies are a good example of a possible hybrid network scenario. They can have a completely private LoRa deployment in their home port which monitors shipping containers, the location of tugboats, environmental pollution and a host of other metrics. The questions are, why would such companies want to pay a subscription every month for every one of those assets when most assets don’t move out of the port area, and why would they want to risk that data being accessed from outside of a network that is beyond their control? The fact is that while a shipping company could deploy private LoRa networks into its larger ports, it would be more economical in the smaller ports to roam onto a public network. This would still retain a degree of asset tracking, but without compromising the data that would be coming from the more important locations. The ability to operate this hybrid model is also very attractive to the oil and gas industries which similarly need to protect data from their drilling installation.
IoT Now: You mentioned ISM bands earlier. Are they really that similar around the world or are there different restrictions on usage from country to country?
DQ: There are differences for sure, and that’s why we are involved in the process of defining LoRaWAN channel plans. While every country has its own ISM band, overall, ISM globally is not as fractured as cellular licensed spectrum as there are only four or five major ISM bands around the world which cover most countries. The European Union has an 868MHz and a 433MHz ISM band. The LoRa Alliance has been more focussed around 868MHz, however in America it’s in the 915MHz range. This is a bigger band and the channel sharing restrictions are completely different and so we need channel plans to address ways of implementing LoRa deployments in different countries, knowing that in some places, you can’t be on channel all the time and once you’re off channel you can’t get back on again if you’ve been using it in certain situations. Essentially, the channel plan is about how the edge interacts with the gateway in accordance with all these rules imposed by the local country or region. Every country has its own set of rules and while a small number have very few rules, some countries, such as Japan, are very restrictive in the ways the ISM band can be used and so defining the channel plan is not an easy task. Until the channel plan is defined however, you can’t deploy LoRaWAN because, by definition, LoRaWAN is the specification of how you deploy LoRa in those given geographical markets, and as I mentioned earlier, MultiTech has done an enormous amount of work to define those channel plans.
IoT Now: Security is a very important issue for potential and existing LoRa users. What is MultiTech doing in that area?
DQ: We have a very well-defined strategy for how we are going to bring further security to our products, which include LoRaWAN mDot modules. Indeed, we are working with one of the big security companies in order to achieve just that. At present, the LoRa Alliance uses AES128 and key for both the network and application which is sufficient for a number of use cases. The LoRa Alliance has issued a call for papers from security firms and experts out there in order to consult experts further. Of course, MultiTech backs that because we believe it is vital to listen to what the professionals in this area are saying because we know this is an important issue, particularly for enterprises. MultiTech has in fact gone a step further and implemented an approach that uses a secure element. We’ll probably reveal more details in Q2, but suffice to say we are taking a leadership position. I think therefore that we’re adding a lot of value to the direction in which LoRaWAN is going to be moving.
IoT Now: What will MultiTech be doing at MWC this year?
DQ: Our main demo will feature Bob, who is a life-sized manikin construction worker. He wears a helmet which has an in-built accelerometer that measures the force and direction of an impact and sends this formatted data using our LoRaWAN-ready mDot and Conduit gateway to IBM Bluemix. In concert with IBM’s work on IoT analytics and a dashboard, we have developed an end-to-end IoT health and safety application for insurance compliance, to provide a safer working environment and to be alerted to any injuries occurring in the workforce. Attendees will be invited to hit Bob around the head as hard as they can with a baseball bat and generate the kind of analytics in the cloud that would warn an employer that an injury has occurred. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also a very serious and focussed demo which shows how sensor harvesting and data insight, no matter what vertical or use case, can be easily achieved over long distances using LoRaWAN and cloud-based analytics today.
MultiTech also will have a number of other engaging IoT demonstrations on partner and customer stands, so please watch this space!
IoT Now: What’s your view of market development in terms of players and products. Will it be like any other emerging technology? Is LoRa at a critical point and about to take off or is there still a lot of work to do?
DQ: We are definitely at a turning point in 2016. The LoRa Alliance has been in existence for a year or so now, the LoRaWAN standard has now moved to version 1.0.1, with version 1.1 by the end of 1Q16 and 1.2 scheduled for later in the year. This enhancement phase is well under way now in order to add a number of different features such as roaming and geolocation. Operators have begun commercial deployments. LoRaWAN is real, it is here today, and it has a lengthy head start on licensed cellular technologies that are unlikely to be deployed for some years yet. This is the year to take those public and private LoRa deployments and move ahead, waiting years is not an option in a world where realising efficiency and the overwhelming need to remain competitive is being driven from connecting almost everything, even if it is only a few bytes at a time!