MWC: the Networks roundup

Sigfox: 3x revenues in two years, nets Telefonica deal, passes 13m (ish) subs

Our first appointment at MWC was with Sigfox, the French LPWAN startup that is fresh from news of a significant channel deal with Telefonica, that sees the MNO purchasing Sigfox device subscriptions in rather large numbers – in a channel deal that is quite similar to the one Sigfox signed with Altice.

Sigfox notes that Telefonica’s backing of Sigfox is a strong endorsement of its technology, especially as the industry gears up to LTE Cat-M1 and NB-IoT (collectively under the umbrella term of LTE-M), with Sigfox benefiting from only requiring one hardware skew to function globally – with the limiting factor being whether there is a Sigfox network in the country.

Another big factor in the decision to choose Sigfox was its power predictability, according to Nicholls, who said that the protocol was very stable when it came to battery life forecasting – something that the big customers place a very high value on. He noted, with mirth, that the LTE spec can allow for up to 2048 message repetitions, which is truly an absurd number of sends for a low-power IoT application.

Schact added that the protocol also benefits from not having the overheads associated with adaptive bit-rate protocols too, relying on repetitions without acknowledgement to provide longer deployment times.

While Sigfox doesn’t disclose the total number of connected devices, it did confirm that it was sitting at more than 10m subscriptions before the Telefonica deal, and that the deal would add a few more million – at least to begin with.

As for growth, we asked if Sigfox was beginning to see the beginning of the hockey-stick curve, as many of its deployments have been early-stage or pilot projects – that threaten to significantly scale if the small trial is successful. Sigfox pointed to its Traquer deal, which saw the subsidiary of Cal-Amp / LoJack deploy its new Nano tracker.

Connected by Sigfox, the Nano tracker was used to track and recover motorbikes. Of an initial deployment of 25,000 units, 16 of the bikes were stolen. Some 15 of those bikes were recovered intact, with only one making it to a breakers yard before it could be located. Sigfox says this success rate has led to Traquer scaling the deployment to “above 100,000.”

Should that 4x improvement be typical for Sigfox’s current footprint, one can see the potential rate of growth that the company could enjoy – ahead of an IPO that is likely to take place in 2018.  Nicholls said that 2017 was the ramp-up year for Sigfox, and that revenue performance was above what its investors were hoping for – tripling revenue in two years.

Ranplan: indoor-outdoor network mapping startup claims big lead

We sat down with Alistair Williamson, CEO of Ranplan, to find out what was what with the Wireless Network Simulator (WNS) software startup. Born out of a rather academic research project in 2006, the company took a leap of faith in 2012 – moving into developing a product based on its findings.

This gave birth to iBuildNet, a software offering that lets customers plan their network deployments, comprised of a tool and database that lists devices and infrastructure parameters. With support for cellular and LPWAN, Williamson said that 5G and IoT technologies are going to complicate planning – as operators deal with interference between their macro-cell and micro-cell infrastructure in cities and buildings.

We sussed that Ranplan was being used in the LinkNYC project, mapping the municipal WiFi project in the Five Boroughs of New York. Williamson said that there were other similar customers in NY, as well as in the UK and Colombia. The Ranplan CEO stressed that the platform’s combination of indoor and outdoor simulation capabilities was the special sauce – and a unique feature, with Williamson saying that no one else was doing a planning tool that combined inside with outside.

With MNOs as customers, and with its own customers using the system as a basis for other service offerings, Williamson said that the next phase for the project, which has grown to £2.7m in annual revenue, was to use self-learning algorithms to spot potential problems in the networks as they are planned.

Demos at the booth showed that the platform was able to drill down in great depth, to show what network conditions individual users or devices would experience in both building floorplans and 3D outdoor maps. Williamson said that the system was accurate to around 3dB – which is around 95%. He believes this is industry leading.

Telensa: 120k lights, 1.1m people covered in 2-weeks, with 22 base stations

Our next Networks-themed stop was with Telensa, the connected streetlighting specialist, where CEO Will Franks and Chairman Martin McNair told us of Telensa’s 50% annual growth and a recent deal with Georgia Power in the US to connect some 400,000 streetlights in the state.

We asked if Telensa was interested in using its lighting networks, which use the company’s ultra-narrowband (UNB) protocol to connect the lights to its cloud platforms, to enter the smart metering market. We were told that this wasn’t much of an ambition, due to the cut throat nature of the AMI market, but that there were opportunities in other areas such as smart city projects, road traffic monitoring and waste management.

In the UK, the company has achieved around 15% population coverage, thanks to its lighting installations, with Franks noting that its Birmingham installation managed to cover 120,000 lights in 2-weeks, using 22 base stations, installed by 2 engineers. That’s a population coverage of around 1m peoples, and a pace that can only be described as pretty rapid.

As for other communication technology options, Telensa isn’t much interested in other LPWAN offerings, but did note that NB-IoT was on the cards, and that there were some uses for WiFi too – using the two where it makes business sense to do so, typically filling in gaps in coverage from the base stations that would be better served by a smaller gateway rather than trying to build-out UNB coverage to the isolated cluster.

We were disappointed to hear that our vision of streetlights with fiber backhaul was rather far from the mark – dismayed to find out that such a system was extremely rare. Riot still believes that such projects would open up huge smart city and IoT network opportunities, but now understands that such installations are unicorns.

Libelium: NB-IoT hype damaging IoT, Marketplace growth continues

Noting that the past 18-months had been rather busy, Libelium CEO Alicia Asin told us that the Spanish gateway and sensor provider was now over half way through its business plan to push growth in its IoT Marketplace and expand its partner ecosystem – as well as restructuring its cloud partnership program to accommodate a growing number of platform integrations.

Looking to expand beyond just selling its Meshlium gateways and Plug & Sense Waspmote sensor hubs, that cater to a rather large array of sensors and offering a big range of wireless backhaul options (via cellular and LPWAN), Libelium has been busy adding kits to the IoT Marketplace online store, and growing the presence of third-party products and software integrations.

Asin said that at launch, many analysts were skeptical of the strategy, which sees customers choosing a kit that caters to a complete application from the store. Adding 8 new kits at MWC, including golf course irrigation and water monitoring, Asin said that Libelium would like the IoT Marketplace to become the Amazon for IoT – with Libelium seeing a slice of the revenue from the store, of course, and the IoT Marketplace becoming independent of Libelium.

As a lead-generating tool, Asin is optimistic about the future for the platform, but warned that the hype surrounding NB-IoT was damaging the progress of the IoT. Asin believes that companies considering an IoT deployment should begin now, using one of the established LPWAN protocols, rather than wait for the as-yet-unproven GSMA equivalent.

The CEO also warned that there is a lot of dishonesty in the industry regarding LTE-M, regardless of what the telcos might be saying. She added that there was demand for satellite too, because cellular coverage in remote locations was still not reliable or available enough for IoT deployments.

Jasper: one year into Cisco acquisition, grown from 17m to 40m devices

We sat down with Jasper’s Sanjay Khatri, Head of Platform Product Marketing, to get an update on progress since the last time we met – where the IoT-focused communications platform had just announced its acquisition by Cisco. One year on, Khatri said that business was booming, with Jasper’s Control Center platform growing from 17m subscriptions to over 40m.

In addition to the customer growth, Jasper added 15 new service provider partnerships, bringing it to 50 partners that fuel its global footprint – currently comprised of 550 mobile networks. Adding around 1.5m devices per month, Jasper used MWC to announce the addition of NB-IoT support, a deal with Jupl and Samsung to provide an elderly-monitoring smartwatch, its selection by Honda to power the automakers myHonda connected car platform, and a contract to provide Control Center to Korea Telecom.

Khatri explained that Cisco was still letting Jasper operate pretty independently, but did note that the sales channels have helped. The coming year will see Jasper focus on fleshing out its NB-IoT service, and Khatri noted that the protocol is going to dramatically increase the number of potentially addressable devices. Long-term, he added that Jasper has looked at integrating LoRa into the platform.

In terms of new network coverage, via deals with local carriers, Jasper is looking to expand into South Africa, Poland, and Turkey, as well as aiming for Malaysia. Khatri hinted at a major release for the platform in June, so we will keep our eyes peeled.

As for threats or risks, Khatri said that the wider IoT networking industry had to be wary of the erosion of the amount of revenue per connection, and that operators needed help to avoid becoming simply bit-pipes for IoT traffic. Commoditization of services was another risk cited.

Orange: still building out LoRa networks, 60 customers so far

We had heard rumblings that Orange was cooling its LoRa deployments in France, but were assured that this was not the case by Arnaud Vamparys, VP RAN and Microwaves. Saying that its LoRa network now has 60 operational customers, Orange is upbeat on the IoT.

Orange used the show to announce that it would be firing up LTE Cat-M1 coverage in Spain and Belgium, before expanding the LTE-M service into the rest of its territory. Vamparys said LTE-M is the global answer, thanks to its ease of upgrade (100% software), and the benefits of dedicated frequency. We asked if Orange was interested in exploring LoRa in private spectrum, and Vamparys said it was not.

The French company is using the IoT as part of its current diversification, and we are more optimistic of its success here than in its slightly weird strategic pursuit of financial services, which has seen it launch a banking service. Orange is aiming for €600m of IoT revenue in 2018. With current annual revenues of around €40bn, that’s still not a large percentage, but Vamparys is confident in the internal growth forecasts.

Energy efficiency applications and the increasing prevalence of process-digitization (such as connecting aspects of maintenance or cleaning tasks, for example) will be big drivers, according to Orange. To this end, Orange is using its IoT Lab near Paris as a way of attracting new customers and startups to its IoT offerings, and the company was also demonstrating a joint project between itself, Peugeot, Qualcomm, and Ericsson, which was exploring the potential for next-gen IVI systems, specifically with the upcoming Release 14 spec.

Cobham Wireless: in IoT, bandwidth isn’t the KPI you are looking for

Cobham, a specialist in Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) is looking at the IoT and 5G as a great opportunity, for shipping more of its networking equipment to customers requiring extra capacity. Senior Director Ultan Kelly said that he shared our skepticism that the upgrade path to LTE-M would be as easy as many are saying.

Pointing to legacy equipment and the necessary network validation as the main pain-points, Kelly also noted that the 5G expectation of a million connections per square kilometer is going to cause headaches, and that automotive applications aiming for millisecond latency will require particular focus from the 5G ecosystem.

Kelly noted that Cobham’s customers were more bullish on NB-IoT than Cat-M1, and that Cobham doesn’t currently focus on Cat-M1 because of this lack of demand – although Kelly added that this view may be due to his heavy involvement in Cobham’s R&D teams, and that the sales team might report a different picture.
On the Cobham booth, we saw an NB-IoT demo that simulated an automotive sensor pushing alerts over the network. Huawei and Telefonica are working on a 5G version that would achieve a sub-3ms latency, instead of the tens of milliseconds found in the current LTE standards.

Kelly noted that this focus on latency was something of an entirely new KPI for MNOs, which have so far been mostly focused on throughput or dropped calls. For IoT devices, he said, data-rate is not the necessary KPI, but reliability and latency most certainly are. Kelly added that it looked like the industry was shifting from x86 to ARM for its processing workloads too.

EMnify: fancy Jasper without the bill? Come closer and let us tell you more

Our next stop was to Berlin-based EMnify, a cellular connectivity management platform, looking to provide SIM-based last-mile services to both MNOs and customers that require a SIM-enabled IoT device to connect to a network – in a more capable customer-facing environment.

With its last-mile abstraction layer, represented in a dashboard, customers can monitor their SIM’s usage in real-time, as well as activate and deactivate SIMs to help minimize their costs. The EMnify platform also provides APIs for this data to be incorporated into other applications.

Hosted in AWS, EMnify provides the SIMs for its customers, and can send authentication certificates to SIMs used in device provisioning. The multi-tenant infrastructure is designed to enable peering with other IoT applications, and is currently focused on just that last-mile service – using roaming agreements with local cellular providers.

EMnify currently has two types of customers; the normal IoT applications, and MNOs and CSPs that are looking to provide a similar capability as Cisco’s Jasper without the large contract. With a current focus on enterprise customers, we were told by CEO Frank Stocker that some big announcements were coming in the next few months.

Zinwave: MNOs don’t want to do in-building networks, luckily we do

We raced to our appointment with Zinwave to try and fit in some extra time before hosting a GSMA NB-IoT panel, and were graciously accommodated by CEO Scott Willis and CTO Slavko Djukic. Zinwave, a provider of in-building

Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), which is excited about the potential for IoT applications leveraging DAS.

Agnostic to the waveform that customers wish to send over its DAS RF, Zinwave is positioning itself as a provider of all protocols required for in-building coverage. This would include the common WiFi and LTE specs, as well as the new Release 13 LTE-M protocols, but could also encompass LoRa, Sigfox, and Ingenu if required – which is pretty neat.

Wireless network coverage from macro-cells can be particularly poor, which drives demand for DAS, and with the rise of the IoT and 5G, there is going to be significant growth in demand for DAS infrastructure for operators and building-owners looking to serve connected devices that can’t be reached by external base stations.

Recently acquired by McWane, Zinwave is looking to make its platform easier for end-customers to adopt and install, using fiber links inside the building to provide the necessary transport bandwidth. With global reach and the pattern of MNOs pulling back on in-building deployment, leaving that task up to enterprises, Zinwave is confident that it has some rather good years ahead of it.

Sequans: bagged Huawei deal, still seeing LTE-M customer confusion

Kicking off day-four of MWC was Sequans, whose Director of Marketing Communications, Kimberly Tassin, was on hand to talk us through the company’s recent announcements. Using the event to launch its new Monarch SX LTE-M SoC, the LTE silicon designer had also just announced a pretty major deal with Huawei.

The Huawei deal sees the Chinese networking giant pick Sequans’s LTE-M Monarch chipset for use in a new family of IoT modules. The deal is pretty interesting, given that Huawei already has its own NB-IoT chips, designed by its HiSilicon subsidiary.

With Monarch, Huawei is likely looking to add LTE Cat-M1 to its line-up, but could feasibly move to using Sequans’ NB-IoT designs too – as Monarch provides both. We know that u-blox currently uses HiSilicon chips, and will be paying close attention to HiSilicon’s presence in the LTE-M silicon markets – as Huawei ditching its own design would be a rather big story.

Tassin noted that Sequans has been encountering potential customers that are confused by the Release 13 specs – and think that NB-IoT is ‘better’ than Cat-M1, and has more throughput. Whether this is a hangover from the days when NB-IoT was called Cat-M2 or not isn’t clear, but it seems that the market is still getting to grips with the 3GPP/GSMA nomenclature.

We asked about risks for LTE-M, and Tassin said that the industry is unlikely to see something comparable to the death of WiMax in this low-power space. Tassin also noted that Intel has gone very quiet on its low-power cellular silicon products, and that Sequans was very happy to see the 9-operator announcement for Cat-M1 support.

Sequans’ other MWC announcement was that its LTE Cat 1 chipset, Calliope, had received VoLTE certification on T-Mobile’s US network, for providing voice services. The chips will also be featured in T-Mobile’s IoT Access developer kits.