The global expansion of low power wide area networks (LPWAN) is picking up pace and for good reasons. Demand is there, with plenty of low hanging fruit to reward investments. Pick a market application and you’ll easily be able to list ways that LPWA technologies can be used to automate processes, track assets, monitor infrastructure, and, ultimately, save costs. From fleet management to asset and personnel tracking, from enabling predictive maintenance for industrial machines to making homes, buildings, utilities, and vehicles smart, their potential is huge.
The technologies are market ready too. Mobile network operators (MNOs) and solution providers have a strong and diverse offering on their shelves. MNOs are accelerating their deployments of licensed cellular LPWA networks, such as NB-IoT (LTE Cat NB1) and LTE Cat M1, and the required hardware is following suit. By the end of 2018, licensed LPWA networks are likely to service most of the U.S., Europe, and the Asia Pacific markets.
Because they are standardized, licensed LPWA technologies offer the most reliable communication solution for global IoT applications. The widespread availability of NB-IoT, for instance, means that you can use the same underlying technology for applications targeting markets in all four corners of the globe. The introduction of roaming agreements across operators and regions will simplify deployments for applications that cross national or even continental borders. And because operators are required to meet service level agreements, they have a strong incentive to ensure that networks are reliable.
Fragmentation in the ecosystem
But start developing a global application and before you know it, you’ll find yourself struggling to deal with a highly fragmented technological, commercial, and regulatory landscape. It begins with differing regional priorities for the initial roll outs of LPWA technology. North America placed their first bets on LTE Cat M1 with NB-IoT fast following, while Asia and Europe have shown a preference for NB-IoT with LTE Cat M1 drafting behind.
Moreover, the way spectrum is allocated within a country or region is highly fragmented across dozens of frequency bands. One way to work around this involves managing multiple product variants around the globe. While this may address network fragmentation from a regional viewpoint, it falls short of the enormous efficiencies offered by a global solution that delivers connectivity essentially everywhere, all the time, and for prolonged lifetimes.
And all that comes even before you embark on the marathon of getting your device certified for local markets.
Streamline and simplify
At u‑blox, we are doing our part to make your work easier by developing cellular modules that take the giant leap toward realizing the vision of: one world, one device. The u‑blox SARA-R4/N4 Series of ultra-compact LTE Cat M1, NB-IoT, and EGPRS modules will let you defer device configuration to zero hour. Zero hour means that configuration decisions are postponable until the last moment or are available to be made perpetually into the future. Enable or disable LTE bands, select the Radio Access Technology as either a single or preferred mode, select from an available catalog of pre-approved MNO profiles, add new MNO profiles without changing the host software, or make critical updates using uFOTA.
Developing successful LPWA solutions for global markets calls for a flexible hardware and software solution that you know you can rely on wherever your devices are deployed. As the global coverage map evolves from month to month, and MNOs compete with more and more advantageous offerings, the possibility to adapt in real time will make it easier to transform your idea into a device that works in all four corners of the globe.