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IoT network debate hits floor of Embedded World

Steve Rogerson
March 21, 2017

The debate about which wireless technology will end up being dominant in the IoT market reached the floors of last week’s Embedded World show in Nuremberg, with most predicting no overall winner in the short term.
“The likes of LoRa, Sigfox and cellular will live side by side,” predicted Pelle Svensson, product marketing manager at new IoT M2M Council (IMC) member U-Blox. “Eventually, one or two will go away. Some are better for different applications.”
But Svensson (pictured above) said the industry should remember the video cassette market where the worst of three technologies ended up being widely adopted.
“It is not necessarily the best technology that wins, as we know from the video industry,” he said.
He said many applications would use a combination of technologies. For example, cellular would not be put into every device but could power a gateway from which smaller devices were connected by, say, Bluetooth.
Sigfox also believes there will be room enough for many players in the market.
“The market is so big,” said Susann Heinze (above), Sigfox marketing manager for Germany. “We don’t fear the cellular guys. We both have advantages. We have lower cost, low power and a wide range. We have no roaming costs. If you register in our network, it is always on from one country to another.”
Carolin Lehner, Sigfox back office manager, added: “The cellular people will not blow us away. We have different customers with different needs.”
Heinze also said the Sigfox network worked deep inside buildings, including in cellars, making it useful for applications such as meter readings.
“By the end of 2018, we will be in 60 countries,” she said. “We are in 32 at the moment. We are enabling about one country a month.”
One of the most recent unusual applications for the network, she said, was protecting rhinoceroses from poachers. A geo-location module is embedded into the horn for tracking them in Africa. If the rhino is killed and the poachers take the horn, officials can still track them.

Colin Newman (above), CEO of UK antenna company Antenova, thinks the LoRa and Sigfox networks should narrow their focus.
“People don’t know which is the best technology,” he said, “and the low-power WAN markets are trying to cover too much. They should focus on their specialities. They are going for every LPWAN market application.”
He said they should look at factors such as bandwidth, data throughput and distance, and work out their distinct advantages and trade-offs.
“Otherwise it all gets a bit difficult for the customers,” he said. “And cellular will bring in a lot of competition because the infrastructure is already there but they have to get the power lower, and they have started to do that; there are low-power modules. With that sorted out, they have an advantage because the infrastructure is there. It will be interesting to see how it works out.”
Antenova launched two antennas at the show. The Latona SR4C033 supports cellular, LoRa and Sigfox and U-Blox has embedded this into its NB-IoT development platform. The second one is called Reflector.
Reflector is interesting because it solves the problem of attaching an antenna to a device with a metal enclosure. If the antenna is put inside the metal enclosure, it will not work, and if it is attached to the outside it can be difficult to tune because of the metal surface.
What Antenova has done is develop a proprietary technology that puts an insulating layer between the antenna and the surface of the enclosure.
As well as metal enclosures, it can also be used for tracking bicycles.
The GPS electronics would go inside the frame. If riders put a normal antenna on the outside of the frame, it is visible because it has to be large enough so it is not in direct contact with the frame, and thus thieves can see it and remove it. As this antenna sits almost flush, it can be painted or covered and therefore not as visible, allowing the bike to be tracked after it has been stolen.