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5 March 2018

MWC 2018: the Networks roundup

Below are Riot’s key takeaways from our MWC meetings, presented in our traditional round-up format – to give you a comprehensive taste of the trends on show. This year, we noticed a lot of concern around the potential use and regulation of the CBRS and C-band spectrum, which has a lot of potential in the IoT – if regulators open it up to other operators besides licensed or satellite.

The following companies are covered here: Dali Wireless, CBNL, Libelium, Cobham Wireless, Cambium Networks, b<>com, Mimosa, Telensa, Ruckus, PoLTE, Thingstream, Zinwave, Cisco Jasper

Dali Wireless – in-building DAS, wireless as the ‘fourth utility’

A provider of in-building wireless connectivity, and wide-area public safety networks, Dali Wireless has been in business since 2006 – with its initial founding focus being digital radio technology, specifically the processing algorithms. Lance Uyehara, Senior Director Product Management, explained that Dali had seen the writing on the wall in the amplifier hardware market – which was rapidly approach commoditization.

As such, Dali looked to doing Virtualized Radio Access Networks (VRAN), using digital Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) – a way of bringing the same cellular connectivity used in the macro-cell network into buildings, provided as a service to building owners (because the MNOs typically never want to spend the money on building out that indoor coverage directly).

Uyehara explained that the Dali offering works best in multi-operator environments, as this can allow the MNOs to share access to the same DAS infrastructure – which is being used to add cellular connectivity offerings in places like stadiums, hotels, and campuses. Using systems integrators (SIs) and Value Added Retailers (VARs) as its main channels, Dali typically works in the background – with Uyehara adding that the market has shifted to enterprises demanded in-building connectivity, and no longer solely from MNOs pulling.

As for the IoT opportunity here, Uyehara says that WiFi alone won’t cut it in buildings, and the millimeter wave 5G proposition won’t thrive indoors. This is where VRAN offerings like Dali’s come into play, providing software base stations and virtualized radio units that an enterprise will eventually be able to host themselves. This will provide the in-building coverage needed for IoT applications.

Uyehara noted that the momentum is already shifting to increased processing at the network edge, inside the venues and buildings. He added that in the past year, there had been a dramatic change in IoT interest levels from customers, with some planning commercial deployments in 2018. However, most DAS customers just want or need the basic cellular connectivity, which can eventually be the basis of more advanced IoT services. Real estate vendors are using such wireless connectivity as the ‘fourth utility,’ to draw customers in.

CBNL – smart city fixed wireless with residential broadband potential

Cambridge Broadband Networks (CBNL) is an 18-year veteran of point-to-multi-point (PMP) fixed wireless, typically in the 10GHz to 40GHz range. At MWC, the company introduced Vector Star Edge, a new unlicensed offering in the 5GHz and 60GHz bands – something that CTO John Naylon says gives it very good reach across applications.

The new service offers Communication Service Providers (CSPs) with an option to use Vector Star Edge to provide residential broadband, linking homes or MDUs using the fixed wireless backhaul options and then bridging to WiFi CPE devices. Also on offer are smart city and security surveillance applications, which can use the high-bandwidth available to transport high-quality video – to be used in analytics applications.

This function is being explored by CBNL in a smart city trial in the Polish city of Rzeszow, using a 26GHz PMP network to provide 500 WiFi hotspots for municipal WiFi, over 1,000 cameras for CCTV and ANPR, as well as 200Mbps broadband links for schools and city buildings. The cameras are being used to control traffic in the city, and the study achieved a 40% increase in the city’s road capacity – leading to reduced travel times. In addition, the project reduced the city’s telecom expenditure by around 60%.

Naylon says that such 26GHz and 28GHz networks are going to be key enablers for 5G, acting as backhaul – and noted that it was intellectually satisfying to see the industry come around to CBNL’s long-held line of thinking. He added that the IoT was traditionally always outside CBNL’s scope, but that applications like real-time video surveillance analytics had brought the trend within the company’s realm. A trial with Dutch Rail to add such video services to its train station network is another promising deployment for the technologies.

Libelium – transition from sensors to services continues apace

Libelium CEO Alicia Asin explained how Libelium was continuing its transformation from sensor network hardware provider to a company more focused on the gateway and software services higher up the network stack – with the high-level message being a shift to becoming a service provider, according to Asin.

With a newly expanded MySignals eHealth monitoring platform on show at MWC, Libelium was keen to promote its IoT Marketplace – a channel open to third-parties that it hopes will become a lucrative option for both Libelium and third-parties that want to sell packaged applications to customers that want a one-stop shop for their particular need.

Asin said that the company now had two main business units – the Cities and Transport wing, and the Agriculture and Water division. Saying that 2018 would be a year of great escalation, Asin noted that the sales cycles for these large projects are typically quite slow. A partnership with street lighting specialist Schreder is also expanding, with the company due to showcase the Libelium tech at lighting conventions this year – for integrated sensing functions.

The CEO added that the Programming Cloud offering, launched in November, was a great step forward, with Libelium planning to really expand that side of the business. In addition, another step in the transformation will be opening up the Meshlium gateway platforms to third-parties – to add non-Libelium sensing hardware to the ecosystems.

The company is focused on meeting with partners, particular in capitalizing on strong interest from Asia – but also reinforcing the company’s strength in Europe and the Americas. Asin said that there was now a strong company sense of this combined strategy, which was now working on converting even more of the leads that come through the IoT Marketplace.

Cobham Wireless – Berlin’s Fan Mile WiFi provider

Our next meeting was with Cobham Wireless’ Rami Hasarchi, VP Coverage Solutions product line, who explained the company’s smart city application in Berlin – providing a WiFi footprint that can be dynamically changed to address different capacity needs across Berlin’s Fan Mile, which can scale to provide coverage for 1m people, across 160 sectors, covering 25km of streets.

The smart city angle here is that you can do other things with that network capacity when you don’t need it for serving WiFi to guests, using Cobham’s wireless portfolio to shift outdoor capacity to indoor when needed – thanks to the remote RF front-end being split from the Baseband Unit (BBU), meaning that the RF unit can be deployed separately from the computationally-intensive BBU.

Hasarchi said this would allow you to keep the BBU back in a hotel, for instance, and rely only on a fiber link to the RF unit, and that switching between those fiber lines lets you change the network footprint as desired. This lets a city deploy municipal WiFi, public safety networks, and IoT coverage, all on a single fiber line to that remote RF box.

These services can be allocated as needed, with public safety coverage becoming an increasingly mandatory requirement for new buildings, particularly in the US. Keeping the BBUs further back in the network has distinct cost advantages, as you need less field engineers to service them.

When asked if the IoT was a strong opportunity for Cobham, Hasarchi said that it absolutely was, but that Cobham simply viewed it as another resource to manage – treating it as just another transport, as Cobham isn’t playing in the application layer. He noted that in-building coverage is going to be incredibly important of the IoT, as the MNO macro-cell coverage is never going to cut it – especially for deep in-building devices.

Cambium Networks – new IoT product launched, potential LoRa expansion

Wireless network equipment provider Cambium, a spin out of Motorola Solutions, was showing off its CN-Reach IoT product line at MWC. Most popular with Industrial IoT buyers, Director of Product Management Matt Mangriotis explained that they typically use sub-GHz licensed spectrum – to connect Oil & Gas, Rail, and Smart Grid devices.

Offering SCADA integrations, and Serial I/O for all those legacy support requirements, Cambium’s largest market is in North America, although its other markets are posting higher growth figures. Mangriotis said that Cambium’s CN-Pilot line is still being pushed, to expand its WiFi networking offerings, and that a new LTE system, called CN-Range, would be officially announced soon.

While Cambium’s bread and butter remains its P2P and PMP wireless (typically 5GHz), it expects the WiFi and IoT offerings to post strong growth – through its VAR and SI channels. Also being pushed is the CN-Maestro management dashboard, as a way to provide network analytics.

As for the IoT philosophy, Mangriotis said that the IoT is just a matter of connecting assets – of being able to provide the extra bandwidth to a customer that might enable new applications. Specifically, it is about connecting the unconnected (Cambium’s motto), and Mangriotis added that Cambium is exploring moving down a level in the stack, to providing sensor gateways and potentially LoRa LPWAN capabilities.

b<>com – non-Semtech LoRa decoding demo, beating commercial gateway

A French public-private-partnership, b<>com had a very interesting LoRa demonstration on show. Set up alongside an unspecified commercial LoRa gateway, b<>com’s software-defined-radio box was going head-to-head in a competition to see who could pick up the most LoRa signals from two end-devices elsewhere in the booth.

When we saw it, the commercial gateway had received 131, while the much smaller b<>com system had found 186. Crucially, the b<>com system was using non-Semtech off-the-shelf silicon, meaning that it had cut Semtech out of the equation – as it could demodulate and decode the messages being sent out by the two sensor units.

Supporting multiple spreading factors and wait times, ways that LoRa differentiates the messages sent, the PoC performs the bulk of the processing in the cloud. Project Manager Rodolphe Legouable said that the system should provide a cheaper gateway, but noted that it will be difficult to get the tech out of its R&D phase – and eventually offer it as part of the Open Air Interface Alliance (OAIA).

Orange is a b<>com member, as is Kerlink. Legouable said that Orange was using the OAIA for LTE-M designs, and so there could be a future design that supports 4 LPWAN options – LoRa, Sigfox, NB-IoT, and LTE-M. Broadly, b<>com’s goal is to provide the IP it develops to its members, which also include Thomson and KDF. It was a very interesting demo, and we will be paying close attention to its progress – particularly if it can compete on price-points with Semtech’s designs, with bidirectional support.

Mimosa – rural and suburban wireless, seizing on slow fiber roll-outs

Wireless broadband network equipment provider Mimosa was at MWC to drum up interest in its point-to-multi-point (PMP) systems – addressing a gap in the market between fiber and DSL that is likely to persist due to the slow pace of full fiber roll-outs. Of course, LTE would like to steal that lunch, but for companies like Mimosa, the ability to blanket a town in PMP wireless means it is an attractive proposition for ISPs.

To this end, CPO and Co-Founder Jaime Fink said that Mimosa had around 5,000 small ISP customers globally, built up through its channel network – with Fink declaring that Mimosa has set the bar for the rest of the industry when it comes to pricing.

That price concern is especially prevalent for MNOs, who would be trying to compete against an ISP that can offer wireless broadband at an order of magnitude less than a comparable LTE deployment. Spectrum usage is of key

Of note was the recent C-band developments, where the FCC is considering monetizing access to the 3.7-4.2GHz band that is currently allocated for fixed satellite services (FSS) – ostensibly for use in 5G applications, to the delight of Intelsat and SES, which currently control about 90% of those C-band licenses in the US.

Currently, Intelsat and SES say they plan to propose a system that would now allow other terrestrial communication services to access the spectrum, but there are major concerns about the viability of this proposal. The Fixed Wireless Communications Coalition (FWCC) has lobbying history here, and Mimosa is a member of the Broadband Access Coalition – another body concerned at the future of the C-band. The topic was brought up a number of times at MWC.

Telensa – connected streetlighting planning new third-party sensor integrations

Keith Day, VP Marketing, walked us through the latest update for Telensa, a connected street lighting specialist that has recently moved its manufacturing operations to the UK from China. Contrary to what many would expect, this has helped reduce manufacturing costs, using the same Sony factory in Wales that churns out the Raspberry Pi.

Connecting around 1.5m devices using its proprietary sub-GHz Ultra Narrow Band (UNB) protocol, Telensa hit £23m in revenues last year, and banking £3m in profit – a notable feat in the IoT, said Day. With recent contract wins in Edinburgh (Scotland) and Wellington (New Zealand), Telensa is fleshing out its footprint – which also includes a cluster in Texas, Pennsylvania, and projects in the Middle East.

Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong are big growth areas for Telensa, according to Day, who added that the company also has some very nice pilots in Brazil, but that they are taking a long time to evolve because of the Brazilian push for smart cities – slowing things down because of worries over dedicated departmental approaches.

The latter is a contrast to what Day says is a very good approach in Australia, which uses government money to fund advisory bodies for the cities to use. India is also adopting LED lighting very quickly, but the low costs of both power and labor in that market make the sales pitch for the connected lighting systems harder – as power savings and lower maintenance costs are not so compelling.

The past year has seen Telensa look to use more partnerships to expand its integrations, shifting from what was apparently an inflexible vertically integrated approach. This has seen Telensa open up its devices through APIs, so that other sensors in the lights can use the UNB data pipe. A collaboration with an unnamed MNO on NB-IoT to UNB integration is also in progress, as is a pretty interesting deployment with InTouch, to use connected silt level sensors to provide gulley cleaning services to prevent flooding – using the sensors to lower the cost envelope by cutting down unnecessary cleaning.

Ruckus – adds BLE, Zigbee, LoRa, to WiFi platform for in-building apps

Now owned by set top box giant Arris, and having swallowed rival Brocade, enterprise WiFi networking provider Ruckus was showing off a new 3.5GHz CBRS band LTE offering, for providing both public and private networks. More interesting, from the IoT perspective at least, was a new announcement that pushed Bluetooth, Zigbee, and LoRa into Ruckus’ portfolio.

Called the IoT Access Network, the project sees Ruckus unveil a plug-in USB module for providing support for those three aforementioned radios, which plugs into Ruckus’ 802.11ac WiFi access points – including its very popular R510 and H510.

Mark Davis (Senior Director Product Marketing) and Juan Santiago (Director of Product Marketing, LTE Small Cells) explained that the project was driven by interest from Ruckus’ very strong hospitality segment, which was collectively trying to do things like connected locks without having to build dedicated networks to support them.

On paper, Ruckus seems to have nailed it – spinning up the IoT Controller software on a server somewhere and designing a plug-in dongle – which can lay the foundation for asset tracking inside buildings, and perhaps in campus-scale deployments using Bluetooth or Zigbee. Should LoRa gain traction here, then there are much wider opportunities to pursue. Ruckus’ Andy Barnes walked us through the demo, and told us that around 30% of hospital assets are in an ‘unknown’ location.

Ruckus says that the typical refresh cycle for its WiFi products is around 3-years, meaning that these capabilities could shortly beginning appearing in the enterprise. Scheduled for general availability in Q2, Ruckus will shortly confirm its dongle pricing. The connectivity layer should allow enterprises to bypass the need for internet gateways to support consumer hardware like Tile or Trackr, and use the IoT Controller to do things like remote unlocks for hotel guests that might have misplaced a key – and eventually forgo the key entirely.

PoLTE – LTE-only light-touch location services

Location service provider PoLTE’s founder, Russ Markhovsky, is a bit annoyed with some of the hype in the industry, arguing that the sheer amount of marketing noise makes it hard to cut through. The IoT is an area that is all too familiar with this habit, but PoLTE aims to leverage the LTE networks deployed around the world to offer location data for applications.

Markhovsky said that PoLTE is only supporting LTE onwards, so no 2G or 3G, and argues that the licensed cellular is the best platform for location services – thanks to that footprint and lower radio frequencies (so it can work indoors, unlike GPS). PoLTE believes that using multiple radios (adding BLE for instance) creates too large a power envelop for many IoT devices.

The PoLTE approach uses a small API on the device itself, and relies on a cloud-side computation to locate devices, based on their network signals. Markhovsky said this could provide a position fix in around 40ms, much quicker than the typical time-to-first-fix (TTFF), using about 1/25th of the power of a GPS system.

Markhovsky said that PoLTE’s typical customers were carriers and SIs, and that as the cost of LTE-M and NB-IoT hardware gets towards the $2-3 price point, it could become a very attractive option for disposable devices. The PoLTE system, with its light-touch device requirements, means that it should be able to address those devices particularly well.

He added that tracking is a huge opportunity, especially for pets and children, and that it was exciting to see the price of LTE modules getting increasingly lower. Partnerships with Sequans and Riot Micro are part of PoLTE’s hardware-agnostic strategy, and Markhovsky said the company was very busy behind the scenes.

Thingstream – USSD gains legs, LTE more cost-effective than 3G

USSD-messaging upstart Thingstream was spun out of Myriad to tackle the IoT with an old element of 2G messaging. The approach has gained traction since Riot first covered it, with CTO Bruce Jackson explaining that a particular challenge was the licensing cost of 3G – which elevates the cost of the hardware substantially, due to the cost of the patents surrounding voice.

Jackson said that a demo due in October will prove the viability of the USSD tech over LTE, and that an ideal solution for solving the problem of 2G sunsetting would be a 2G + 4G chipset – which unfortunately don’t really exist in the market yet.

With commercial customers in water monitoring, and lots of pilots underway, Jackson said that Thingstream’s typical customer was primarily interested in asset tracking – using Thingstream’s USSD tech as a way to wrap around MQTT messages that can take advantage of the myriad of QoS settings in the established industrial protocol.

Thingstream is offering 10,000 monthly messages for $1, powered by a SIM card, which also includes access to the cloud part of the platform – for device management and some straightforward workflow tools. These messages can be chained to send around 1MB in 30 seconds, should the app require such bandwidth. Building out the partner ecosystem is a priority, as only around half of these customers have already selected hardware. Jackson pointed to a heavy-duty crane tracker requiring IP69K rating, as a particular challenge.

In addition to those partnerships, Jackson said that some very precise Google Ad Words were surprisingly effective, as a means of reaching people with very specific requirements. SIs and deals with the likes of Software AG (Cumulocity) and PTC ThingWorx were being used, but around 60% of business was via direct relationships currently.

Zinwave – DAS customers slow in warming to IoT opportunity

Zinwave’s CEO and CTO, Scott Willis and Slavko Djukic respectively, spoke with Riot to update us on progress in its in-building DAS business. We asked about customer demand for IoT applications, and were told that Zinwave’s core customers (that need to bring cellular connectivity into their buildings) are not really asking for anything along those IoT lines.

We asked if there had been a change in the IoT interest in the past year, and were told that while certain verticals had very clear needs for IoT connectivity, such as hospitality, hospitals, universities, or commercial real estate, those sorts of customers weren’t asking for those capabilities from DAS providers. Warehouses are an area that could be a slam dunk, according to Zinwave.

These customers typically already have in-building WiFi, likely from Ruckus or Cisco, and don’t seem to be asking for anything exotic. Djukic pointed out that Zinwave wouldn’t necessarily be able to see what such potential IoT projects would entail, as Zinwave doesn’t have visibility into the traffic itself. Zinwave is just providing the Distributed Antenna Systems that bring the macro-cell coverage indoors – where the enterprise needs the connectivity in locations that are not well served by the outdoor antennas.

Enterprise customers are slowly realizing that they have to capitalize on the IoT opportunity, from what Zinwave can see, and the company says that markets are maturing – with the whole industry collectively struggling on working out how to reach the scale of the IoT.

Willis and Djukic both stressed that there were concerns over the extent of the 5G hype (especially the new VRAN and XRAN elements), which risks freezing the market. As for the future roadmap for Zinwave, the company says that its next-gen products are being well received, especially the Network Management System that tries to ease the management pain points involved in running these deployments. There is also a lot of potential in pushing the Cellular-aaS model, as an opex instead of capex expense, too.

Jasper – 75m devices, China Unicom planning 100m NB-IoT in two years

Cisco’s Sanjay Khatri, Global Head of Platform Product Marketing for Cisco’s Jasper IoT Services Platform, was the bearer of the good news that the Jasper connectivity platform now managed 75m devices. China Unicom is now a customer, and the Chinese MNO expects to add 100m NB-IoT devices to the Jasper platform by 2020.

It’s been another strong year for the company, and that growth is impressive. Khatri said that it was adding around 2m devices per month, and has connectivity partnerships with 57 MNOs (comprising around 550 networks in total). The MWC news saw Cisco Jasper win a contract with Three Group, to provide global services through Jasper Control Center, as well as the launch of the NB-IoT capabilities and a coverage deal with Entel in Peru.

Up from 40m devices last MWC, which was itself up from 17m in 2016 (just after Jasper was acquired by Cisco), Cisco has been dominating this market. The next phase of the strategy will see Cisco look to do more with the data its customers collect, looking to encourage them to maximize the value of the data they are bringing to the cloud – the ‘multiplier effect of data,’ as Khatri put it.

As such, Jasper is just a part of the wider Cisco strategy, with the networking giant looking to expand its Kinetic, Network, and Security divisions. There is a lot of opportunity here for cross pollination, as Cisco Jasper has around 16,000 enterprise customers – adding around 500 per month.

An important shift that Cisco IoT has observed is the change in customer discussions, from conversations primarily about the volume of data consumed, to one focused on business outcomes. Khatri pointed to a new AT&T button that was being designed for providing users with a way to flag that an appliance needed attention from a service technician, which was being sold in a configuration that supported 1,500 clicks for $30. Khatri said that this volume of data would have been worth around $2, but that the complete service is where the extra revenue comes from.