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9 August 2019

Semtech and Murata unveil new LoRa offering, how long until a network?

Semtech and Murata have unveiled a new LoRa modem that is closely tied to Semtech’s LoRa Cloud Device and Application Services. Perhaps it’s just more vertical expansion, akin to Arm’s pivot to offering more of the services that its chips need to actually be useful out in the wild, rather than the precursor to Semtech pulling-a-Sigfox and going it alone as an LPWAN operator, but one can wonder.

The very fetchingly titled CMWX1ZZABZ-104 is an embedded modem built around Semtech’s LoRa chip, with additional Murata hardware to create a drop-in component that can power an IoT device’s U-LPWAN connectivity. For Semtech, this is a sale of a chip, and for Murata, this is a component sale – expanding on its L-LPWAN offerings and also its Sigfox designs. Both are counting on the integrated services angle increasing demand for the new modem, but Semtech is starting to step on toes in the LoRaWAN ecosystem.

There are plenty of firms that would gladly provide the services needed at the higher levels of the stack, but Semtech, which used to only provide the radio chips, is now looking to take a slice of that action too. From Semtech’s perspective, it’s simply making its chips more attractive, but if you’re a small startup that was previous in the device management and provisioning game, then Semtech’s intrusion is definitely cause for concern.

One wonders if there’s even a clear line to draw in this kind of expansion, as to where to stop. Arm went as far as acquiring Stream Technologies and building its Pelion PaaS, and it’s the most striking comparison with which to examine Semtech. Intel dabbles in software for its CPUs, but hasn’t gone as far as create an operating system or motherboard, and the smartphone platforms are filled with third-party apps.

Qualcomm is similar to Intel, and perhaps the more direct comparison to Semtech. Qualcomm expanding in a similar manner would greatly upset the MNO ecosystem, which would be quick to cry foul and throw the term ‘anti-competitive’ or ‘monopolistic’ around. Sure, Semtech isn’t a monopoly here, but it certainly is very influential – and as it still owns the LoRa IP, it could pull up the drawbridge and cut off much of the ecosystem.

So, should all LoRa users start worrying that Semtech is about to flip the chessboard, and begin drawing up contingency plans? Probably not, but you should definitely have already had a contingency plan tucked away in case the plague of semiconductor consolidation touched this particular crop. Semtech is not just in the LPWAN game, and should a larger firm absorb it, with little interest for LPWAN, then the ecosystem should probably start to panic. Although the new owner might want to offload it, and seeing the LoRa Alliance purchase that IP would be quite interesting.

Speculation aside, the pair sound quite pleased with the new offering. “The modem integrated with Semtech’s LoRa Cloud Device & Application Services enables customers to focus on developing innovative IoT applications without worrying about underlying radio connectivity,” said Marc Pegulu, Vice President of IoT for Semtech’s Wireless and Sensing Products Group. “This new offering shortens the design and sales cycle by providing users with a secure and easy-to-deploy LoRa-based wireless modem.”

Broadly, having the LoRaWAN stack pre-installed on the modem and ready to be added to your desired network via that Semtech service should make it easier to experiment, design, and then deploy your given LPWAN device. However, some will view this as restrictive, and as an unnecessary upwards expansion from a firm that should remain focused on making the best radios. Your outlook is going to be influenced by past experience, but Semtech isn’t, yet at least, mandating the use of these services.

“The new LoRa-based module with an embedded modem will allow our customers to bring products to market faster than ever before,” said Samir Hennaoui, LPWA Product Manager at Murata. “The goal of this project is to provide production-ready LoRa-based hardware platforms and associated Cloud services, which abstract complexity and simplify development. We are confident that the module will also accelerate the worldwide adoption of LoRa-based devices and the LoRaWAN protocol.”