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27 February 2016

RIoT @ MWC: The networks roundup

  • Sequans announces Australian Cat 1 launch with Telstra, Skyworks partnership
  • Aeris posts 52% growth, announces distributor deals with Avnet, Synex, Digikey
  • Ingenu still set on world LPWAN domination
  • Sierra Wireless eyes eSIM opportunity, adding 4G to offering, eyeing Cat M
  • Stream secures India smart city deal with Gaia
  • Nokia to buy Nakina, invests $350m in IoT
  • Jasper’s growth made it Cisco target, up to million monthly additions
  • Sigfox changes sales strategy to target channels
  • Qualcomm talks smart cities but IoT presence minimal at MWC

Sequans announces Australian Cat 1 launch with Telstra, Skyworks partnership:

Sequans used MWC to announce a new trial deployment for its Cat 1 chipset in Australia, with Telstra, which will be exploring the commercial potential of Cat 1 in the market, potentially with a view to the new Cat M1 or M2 protocols in the near-ish future. We asked about potential markets outside the two confirmed US and Australian territories, and VP Worldwide Marketing Craig Miller explained that the EU and APAC would be subject to upcoming announcements.

So with cards in those markets yet to be played, Sequans appears to be expanding on its global ambitions for the next evolution of LTE – with Miller confirming that commercial deployments of LTE M were still expected in 2017.

When asking about the potential to reduce the BOM cost of the emerging LTE devices, Miller explained that the M-class devices had the potential for building the power amplifiers in a CMOS process – mostly thanks to the lower power requirements of the M-class.

At 20dbm, Miller said that CMOS was a viable option that could help reduce the per-device manufacturing cost, but said that the 23dbm requirements of the higher-power LTE devices meant that CMOS RF components were out of the realm of possibility – on current manufacturing technologies at least. The end goal, for Sequans at least, is to bring the RF requirements for LTE M onto the same kind of integration capabilities as WiFi – where the circuitry is integrated directly into the chip itself.

As for direct MWC news, Sequans used the event to announce a new partnership with Skyworks, which will see the pair work together to incorporate Skywork’s half-duplex RF front-end with Sequans’ new Monarch LTE M- class chipset – which the pair say will simplify the design process, shorten the development time, which should lead to shorter deployment schedules.

Aeris posts 52% growth, announces distributor deals with Avnet, Synex, Digikey:

We spoke to Dan McBride, the Senior Director of Marketing for IoT and M2M connectivity platform Aeris, who updated us on the growth of the business – which has posted 52% revenue growth this year, and now handles some 7m devices.

Aeris has recently announced partnerships with hardware distributors, which aim to increase its potential sales footprint. With Avnet, Synex and Digikey signed up so far, the move should allow the distributors to offer a more complete system to their customers – who would then be able to more quickly on-board their development projects and final products.

As the distributors sell to enterprises, Aeris believes the deal gives it a new large potential market for sales of its connectivity services. Moving closer to the application platforms, McBride said that the new initiative had attracted the attention of a global aerospace customer, as well as that of a significant automotive player too, as well as asset management and fleet tracking vendors too.

Positioning itself as a mobile operator with all the familiar service components except the Radio Access Network (RAN), according to McBride, Aeris’ focus on cellular remains unchanged – having recently secured LTE in the US via Sprint, alongside its T-Mobile 3G and Vodafone 3G in Europe.

Ingenu still set on world LPWAN domination:

Also at the show was Ingenu, the 2.4GHz LPWAN vendor that is making a serious stab at a global network with a technology that initially sounds like it should struggle with interference in the infamously congested ISM band. But CEO John Horn assured us that the technology’s origin, the original CDMA engineers at Qualcomm, ensures that it doesn’t encounter those problems.

Explaining that the key to the Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) technology was having more link budget to essentially broadcast more loudly than most other 2.4GHz technologies, combined with using multiple sends to all base stations within range, Ingenu likens the technology to whispering beneath the din of shouting from other devices. Using Direct Spread Sequence (DSS) modulation and message parsing at the access point, Ingenu notes that it operates in Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Seoul (some of the most interference-ridden cities in the world) successfully.

With some pretty big claims, backed by 32 patents, there is a lot of skepticism about the capabilities of Ingenu’s technology. Being able to cover the entire US with 1,500 towers sounds like witchcraft, but Horn said that the proof is in the eating – and that the company’s best sales tool was to send prospective customers to talk to the users of existing deployments.

Longevity is the other aspect of the sales pitch, with Ingenu aiming to guarantee that its networks will still exist long after the next iteration of the 3GPP standards – with Horn noting that many of the big enterprise customers have already been burned by the 2G sunsetting and spectrum refarming, and are therefore great targets for Ingenu.

Focused on the Industrial IoT (IIoT), where the most money is currently, Ingenu negotiates exclusive licenses for countries – and is very protective of how these terms are thrashed out. The exclusive license is dependent on meeting certain coverage footprint targets, but allows the licensee to operate a network using the RPMA tech, and buying the access points from Ingenu.

The terms of the license are based on the country’s population, and therefore the likely cost to achieve full population-coverage, as well as a per-device consideration. The licensee then installs and manages the RPMA network, selling the connectivity. There is no revenue-share agreement, and licensees have so far come from varied backgrounds including cellular, broadcast, and tower infrastructure providers.

Sierra Wireless eyes eSIM opportunity, adding 4G to offering, eyeing Cat M:

Sierra Wireless was another big exponent of the new eSIM standards, and was using MWC as a chance to show potential new customers around its full MVNO offering – now that it has control over the reprogrammable SIM cards inside the devices it manages, adding to its full core network.

With no desire to push into the RAN side of things and start managing base stations, Sierra walked us through its current offering. With plans to integrate 4G SIMs by the end of March, and the new eSIMs by the middle of the year, Sierra was very conscious of the potential for poaching eSIM customers from other providers – which will certainly make the cellular M2M and IoT market a lot more interesting from now on.

On the stand was a police data terminal from Indestat, a senior care monitoring platform called Attentive from Solen, security camera monitoring systems from Axis, and the Parkeon parking ticketing meters – which were using the cellular connections to provide new services such as city news, fine payment, and local business coupon incentives through the solar-powered terminals. A telematics reporting and connected car control system from Valeo was also pretty interesting to see, which has the potential to allow customers to remotely check-in on their cars, as well as command them to pre-set their HVAC systems or defrost.

Sierra Wireless is currently planning trials of Altair’s Cat 1 chipset, and said it was looking to implement Cat M devices in the coming years too. Sierra was also extolling the virtues of Power Saving Modes and Extended Discontinuous Reception (EDRX), which could provide very significant improvements in the battery life of the cellular devices – with headline figures of a 116x improvement if customers are able to dial back the frequency of their message sends.

Stream secures India smart city deal with Gaia:

Stream Technologies had just announced a new deal with India’s Gaia Smart Cities startup, when we caught up with CEO Nigel Chadwick and Senior Software Architect Niall Strachan. The new project will see Stream’s IoT-X platform used to rollout a smart city network in collaboration, with Gaia building out a low-power radio network and Stream acting as the platform that handles the new connections created by the initiative.

Due to India’s strict data regulations, which prohibit that sensitive information from leaving the country, the IoT-X instance is being housed inside a VMware session inside an Indian Wipro datacenter. Stream notes that the recent EU Safeharbor ruling means that the likes of Jasper, which sends performance data back to the US for analysis, will have to rework some of their operational practices – or potentially run afoul of the EU’s stringent data protection legislation.

Key to Stream’s success has been its focus on accommodating the existing business tools and processes of its customers, aiming to use software to adapt them to work inside IoT-X. Stream is known for being among the lowest bidders in the market, and its success is apparently down to this practise – with Chadwick explaining that business was good, and more than paying the bills.

The company had also rebuilt its LoRaWAN network tools, in node.js, which was prompted by a lack of continued support from IBM for its initial LoRaWAN in C implementation – with some of the engineers from that project having jumped ship and founded outside of IBM.

Strachan explained that the node.js version allows for easier module creation, again simplifying operations from Stream’s point of view, and speeding up the onlining process for its customers. The engine could also support around 6m LoRa connections in one instance, on something as complex as a Raspberry Pi. Cisco has shown interest in using it too.

As for accommodating the upcoming Cat M2 protocol, Stream says that it will just be a case of matching the formats, and doesn’t anticipate a problem in that regard. Aiming to be PHY agnostic, Stream is still running a lightweight operation with about 30 staff and a heavy R&D slant – a software house with an MVNO, with LoRa gateways being the only hardware they play with.

Nokia to buy Nakina, invests $350m in IoT:

Meanwhile, we spoke to Nokia’s VP IoT Development, Jason Collins, about the company’s ambitions in the IoT. He explained that the company was still aiming to support all 3GPP standards, and was moving towards the new Cat M1 and M2 protocols – to support inside its RAN infrastructure and back office systems.

Collins added that the company had invested around $350m as part of its Nokia Ventures program, and intended to purchase Canadian software company Nakina – which specializes in security and orchestration software for virtualized and hybrid networks. No price has been disclosed, but Nokia expects to close the deal in Q1.

Using Metcalfe’s Law as a yardstick, that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users, Collins believes that the IoT is poised to surge in both value and adoption. Key to this is staying involved in the standards processes, and remaining engaged in the market.

Collins added that the company expects Release 13 and its new Cat M1 and M2 standards to appear in Q2, and said that Intel’s Cat M2 chipset was anticipated to arrive in the second half of the year. It’s in the 3GPP’s interest to ensure that those standards arrive in a mature form – although from the outside, it certainly feels like the organization has rushed to accommodate an in-house rival to the likes of Sigfox and LoRa.

We also spoke to Nokia’s head of fixed networks marketing, Stefaan Vanhastel, about how Nokia intends to incorporate its recent Alcatel-Lucent acquisition into its IoT ambitions. Given Alcatel-Lucent’s home gateway portfolio, the company is planning on ensuring that it is well-placed to provide smart home CPE to operators looking to use a smart-home-as-a-service offering as a churn-busting measure.

In addition, Nokia is looking at how best to integrate the next generation GPON fiber connections, and is particularly interested in the potential for these TWDM-PON (NGPON2) units to act as mobile backhaul – representing the convergence of Nokia’s wireless experience with the fixed-network portfolio and development of Alcatel-Lucent.

Jasper’s growth made it Cisco target, up to million monthly additions:

IoT and M2M platform Jasper was the subject of a lot of attention at MWC, in part due to its recent $1.4bn acquisition by Cisco – which will see Jasper absorbed into Cisco and become its IoT Software Business Unit. That deal should close next month, but as Jasper doesn’t release its financials, it’s hard to know what revenue multiplier that price represents.

But Jasper’s Robb Henshaw was on hand to update us on progress. Jasper sits above the RAN but below the application platforms that process the data the Jasper brings in from the network edge. With over 120 MNOs in over 110 countries, Jasper’s size was likely the main draw for Cisco. Henshaw said the company had seen huge growth in the APAC region, particular from the recently signed China Unicom deal, and was now adding around one million devices to its platform each month – with the total number of devices in the tens of million (Henshaw couldn’t be more specific).

Jasper has also announced the integration of Gemalto’s LinqUs eSIM offering, which Henshaw admitted was a great opportunity for Jasper as it meant that it could potentially poach SIMs from other platforms and providers.

Also announced was a deal with Tellular, a home security automation and fleet management and analytics business that will see Tellular shift its entire operation onto the Jasper platform. In a similar vein, Jasper has also just signed a deal with POST in Luxembourg, which will bring 1.1m connected cars onto the Jasper books. The deal will enable Peugeot to offer in-car services to its legacy customers, with Henshaw explaining the migration was carried out in a single evening service window.

Jasper is looking to bringing Cat M1 and M2 into its platforms, as well as integrating LoRa and Sigfox – as part of its transport agnostic strategy. The company is also expanding into enterprise WiFi – somewhere in which Cisco is very aggressive, and likely a strong secondary benefit of acquiring one of the largest IoT platforms in the market.

Sigfox changes sales strategy to target channels:

We sat down with Sigfox’s Maxime Schact, and Allen Proithis, President of North America, to catch up with the LPWAN provider’s expansion. Operating its own network in the US and France, the company’s current strategy consists of using network partnerships to keep its operating expenses low, offloading the network construction to the partner in a revenue sharing agreement.

Sigfox said that it realized it wasn’t made for everything, but said that there were billions of devices out there well-suited for Sigfox connectivity. With over 8.2m devices now connected, thanks to two new deals with Verisure Securitas (200,000 home security alarms) and a one-million-unit deal with Otio to connect its smoke alarms.

Proithis said Sigfox has a lot of upside for developers looking to add a control channel or redundancy connectivity system to their designs, with around a 50/50 split between single and dual-mode devices currently on the Sigfox network.

He also said that the goal for Sigfox was to model itself in the manner of a utility, where its connectivity is available to everyone who wants it in a transparent pricing system. Key to this was a new focus on signing up channel partners who could offer Sigfox connectivity as part of their existing services (such as a plug-in for an application platform, or as a modular option in a hardware design system).

With a recent FCC conflict regarding uplink channel usage resolved by adding filler messages in the transmissions, Sigfox looks set to continue to expand its US presence, albeit on the back of a slightly ugly tweak to comply with the regulations. In addition, Proithis sees Sigfox existing at a different level to the likes of Ingenu and LoRa, which he feels are going to be the protocols that the new M-Class LTE begins rubbing up against in the emerging market.

Saying that the cellular industry had finally accepted that it couldn’t be the single option for all connectivity requirements, he notes that LPWAN connectivity is so disruptive because it offers the potential to be a single-digit percentage of the total system cost – rather than the majority cost that it used to be in cellular-only installations.

Rounding out our conversation, Proithis admitted that Sigfox might have spent too much time preaching the merits of its technology, rather than focusing on winning over customers with its service level agreements. With one more investment round likely this year, he added that an IPO in three to four years would make sense for Sigfox.

Qualcomm talks smart cities but IoT presence minimal at MWC:

Qualcomm held an IoT and M2M roundtable analyst briefing at this year’s MWC which told us very little, apart from some brief updates on its network plans for its smart cities initiative.

Qualcomm said that for its smart cities project its primary focus is on LTE and 3G network technologies, but is also incorporating Bluetooth and WiFi for connectivity at the edge. As of September last year, Qualcomm supports both Cat M and NB-IoT (now called Cat M1 and M2, respectively, but potentially subject to another name change in the standards process). The company believes that in the battle of the networks it is unlikely that one will ever takeover as a standard. Both Cat M1 and M2 are set to become 3GPP recognized standards later this year in Release 13.

However, Anthony Murray, SVP and GM of IoT at Qualcomm, said the company is pushing for adoption of Bluetooth synchronization profile (SYNC) as a standard for consumer products, in everything from home media systems and boxes, to VR, and lighting. Murray gave the example of connected toothbrushes, which can be used as a follow up to grow revenues with advertising – such as informing the user when the toothbrush head is getting worn and notifying them about a deal in a nearby store.

The briefing briefly covered security, with Qualcomm stating that the company is working on multi-layered protocols, but that it, and the industry as a whole, is still some way from certifying security. He specified that Qualcomm is working on random number generation among other methods.

Qualcomm also touched on the recent announcement that it is joining yet another consortium, the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF), which is the rebranded OIC – with Microsoft and Electrolux also joining the board and increasing Qualcomm’s overlap with the AllSeen Alliance’s AllJoyn. As part of joining the OCF, Qualcomm said it is sharing data in collaboration with white goods manufacturers. Meredith Solberg of the Linux Foundation has reiterated that AllSeen remains an entirely separate entity from the OCF, amidst rumours it was combining with the OIC to form the OCF.

Qualcomm was also demonstrating its LinkNYC project, which aims to turn New York phone booths into free WiFi and local call zones, and use smart garbage cans which signals when it needs emptying – reducing the city’s truck-roll and overall footprint.

MWC also saw Qualcomm sign another deal with Ericsson to continue their collaborative work on Cat M1 and M2, as well as the two giants signing a new partnership to develop 5G technology and rollout trials to support the Release 15, expected in 2018. We’re not quite sure what’s happened to Release 14 in the meantime.