On May 24 the news came out that Samsung plans to build a LoRa-based low-power wide area (LPWA) IoT network for SK Telecom in South Korea. Samsung has been working on building up its mobile operator infrastructure presence with LTE and has come out in support of 3GPP-backed LPWA standards Cat M and NB-IoT. While some operators have hedged their LPWA bets with a foot in both the LoRa and NB-IoT camps, Samsung appears to be the first base station infrastructure vendor willing to support the two options.
LoRa gives Samsung Networks both a hedge against NB-IoT and early knowledge of LPWA IoT
The world of wireless has always had competing camps; CDMA versus GSM and WiMAX versus LTE are just two examples. The world of low-power wide area IoT networks now has several camps vying for recognition, including the LoRa Alliance, Sigfox, and 3GPP’s Cat M and NB-IoT.
LPWA networks are still in their early development stages, so no option has enough scale to be declared a clear winner. However, Sigfox and LoRa certainly have a head start on NB-IoT. The standard for NB-IoT won’t be finalized until this summer. Ovum doesn’t expect to see commercial NB-IoT networks until at least mid-2017, with early 2018 being more likely. Sigfox and LoRa commercial deployments, on the other hand, are already under way.
Samsung’s choice to help build a LoRa network while still supporting 3GPP LPWA options brings the vendor two benefits. First, working on LoRa gives Samsung a hedge against NB-IoT. Despite all of the vendor and operator backing, there is no guarantee NB-IoT will be a success. Business models still need to be worked out. Devices need to be developed. Networks need to be deployed. None of these things is a certainty.
By not waiting on NB-IoT and starting now with LoRa, Samsung Networks gets early experience with deploying LPWA networks and helping operators build business cases for IoT. IoT business cases, especially as mobile operators move into services that generate just a few dollars per month per connection, will be challenging. The action will also help further expose Samsung Networks to developers looking to capitalize on new types of IoT networks while giving the vendor experience in this area.
The downside for Samsung Networks in this strategy is the allocation of resources. Back during the WiMAX-versus-LTE days, some vendors tried to play on both sides but eventually had to make a choice and concentrate resources on one or the other. Samsung Networks may very well be on the same path when it comes to LoRa versus NB-IoT: as the two technologies mature, trying to maintain influence with both camps could become unsustainable for Samsung, but that decision is still a few years away.
LTE for Cellular IoT, TE0006-001162 (January 2016)
Daryl Schoolar, Principal Analyst, Intelligent Networks