How to make use of the different flavours of LPWAN
David Smith, the senior vice president of Engineering and Innovation at MultiTech Systems, talked to Ahmed Ali, a senior analyst at Analysys Mason, about MultiTech’s IoT vision, vertical opportunities, security approach and partnership strategy
Ahmed Ali: Can you provide an overview of your activities in the IoT market?
David Smith: We play in the industrial IoT world; both in the licensed and the unlicensed space. We have been serving the carriers’ 2G and 3G networks which are becoming less relevant in the United States but are still relevant in Europe. We also have 4G LTE products including LTE CAT-M1 and narrowband IoT (NB-IoT). Our products can either be in the form of separate boxes that connect to other network nodes or they can be embedded within the customer’s devices. These products are fully certified for carrier networks. In fact, our LTE Cat-M1 devices were the first to be approved by AT&T in the United States.
On the unlicensed side, we support LoRa. After a careful evaluation of all the low power wide area network (LPWAN) technologies, we decided that LoRa is the most promising one. It is the only open standard that addresses the different market segments we target which are private, public and enterprise networks.
AA: What is the difference between private and enterprise networks?
DS: We define enterprise networks as the middle section between the small and geographically concentrated private networks and the public wide-area cellular networks like AT&T and Verizon. An example of a private network would be a farm that is served by a single gateway and where data is consumed locally. An example of an enterprise network would be a network of a thousand gas stations distributed across the region with each station having its own gateway to monitor local operations and report back to a single location for central management and control.
AA: The fragmented LPWAN space was a concern for some players as they were not sure which technology to adopt. Do you think this is still the case?
DS: Companies will be deploying and providing multiple technologies. What we see from real customer deployments, is that it is almost always a combination of technologies for a given solution. For example, LoRa endpoints will be connected to a gateway that has a cellular backhaul in addition to Bluetooth or Wi-Fi for local configuration or higher speed transmission. Carriers will probably broaden their technology base with LoRa gateways and cellular NB-IoT small cells so they can support different applications.
AA: You support many industries including manufacturing, agriculture, medical and energy. How do you see the adoption of the licensed and unlicensed technologies across all these verticals?
DS: Agriculture and manufacturing locations, in many cases, are at the edge of the cellular coverage. As a consequence of that, I think such verticals will be predominantly covered by unlicensed LPWAN technologies. In addition, big manufacturing companies would not want their operational data to leave their facilities.
The medical space is still a battleground. Cellular small cells are needed to provide indoor consumer services. However, data privacy concerns make a compelling case against cellular as medical enterprises might also want to keep their data local.
Smart cities and smart grid applications are areas where the cellular network would have a stronger play.
AA: Security is still a major concern for many companies. So, what is your approach to security?
DS: On the licensed side, we are fully compliant with what the carriers want. We are onboard with technologies like embedded universal integrated circuit cards (eUICC) which are slowly being adopted by carriers.
On the LoRa side, there are several layers of security that we build into our products. For the hardware, we have a secure element that is made by Gemalto and it is similar to a SIM in providing security functions including key generation, encryption and decryption. On our roadmap, we are adding more security features like secure booting and trusted execution environment. We operate as part of the LoRa Alliance. We are an active member and I am on both its strategy and the technical committees. The Alliance released LoRaWAN 1.1 which has been evaluated by major security firms such as Deloitte and Giesecke & Devrient. It has concluded that LoRaWAN benefits from world-class security that could be better than that of cellular networks.
AA: Your solution covers different IoT technologies and that means it is important to have a wide range of partners. What is your strategy for selecting and expanding your partner ecosystem?
DS: Part of our strategy involves the LoRa Alliance which is rapidly growing, approaching 600 members including big companies like Cisco and Comcast and start-ups of different flavours. We collaborate with public network operators to provide network equipment and help them understand the LoRa technology. Moreover, we support device manufacturers in integrating our endpoint modules. Also, we helped to start the certification committee which supports devices and networks interoperability. We are an agnostic company and we work with everybody across the board even with our competitors which is interesting.
AA: Finally, what is on your roadmap for 2018?
DS: We break our roadmap down into three sections; the endpoints, the gateways and the cloud platforms. For cloud platforms, all I can say that in 2018, we will be addressing the needs of the enterprise in a strong way. So, look for a big announcement from MultiTech in this space. For gateways, we are diversifying our products in different areas. First, we are releasing a series of geolocation gateways and we will continue to develop their accuracy to bring it closer to global positioning system (GPS) accuracy. Second, we are improving the capacity, the security, and the ease of deployment of our regular gateways. For endpoints, we see them moving away from being general purpose to being more tightly integrated with the specific functionalities of the devices. We are working with partners to add a range of capabilities in areas like security and positioning. For example, our partner; Combain provides indoor location services based on a mix of technologies such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. We are collaborating with them to add LoRa to the mix.