Semtech braces for expansion, signs China Unicom LoRa MoU

It is a very short announcement, but one that could have a very big impact on LoRa adoption globally. Semtech has announced a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with China Unicom, one of the three state-owned MNOs, to collaborate on standardizing wireless network gateways and protocols, and jointly develop IoT ecosystem partners and use cases.

Over in the USA, both Senet and machineQ have announced progress with their own LoRa networks, but China has been much more receptive to LoRa than the US, and looks set to drive a lot of growth. However, China is also the leader in NB-IoT (NB1 and NB2), but it looks like there’s enough room for both – to begin with, at least.

Semtech and China Unicom have worked together previously. Back in April, Semtech and Alibaba Cloud teamed up with Zhejiang Provincial Company of China Unicom (a subsidiary) to deploy a pre-commercial LoRa network service in Hangzhou and Ningbo.

In that deal, Alibaba Cloud wants to create a LoRa ecosystem to support its cloud computing offerings, with the China Unicom wing deploying the actual network infrastructure. The roll-out was scheduled for mid-2018, and should be nearing completion, but there’s no mention of this deal in the new MoU announcement.

Zhejiang Provincial Company of China Unicom’s Yongxin Zhong, Vice General Manager, said that “operators have been putting a lot of effort on deployment of IoT network. We regard that LoRa is a good complement technology for existing IoT technologies.”

In China, LoRa is being deployed in the 779-787MHz ISM band and 470-510MHz band. For Europe, the 863-870MHz ISM band is being used, for the Asian ASN regions its the 923MHz ISM band, and in the US, it’s the 902-928MHz ISM allocation. There are other separate allocations for Australia (915-928MHz ISM), South Korea (920-923MHz ISM), and India (865-867MHz ISM). The current version of the LoRaWAN standard is 1.0.3.

For Senet, this past week saw it announce that it could now provide customers with LoRa network coverage in 80 countries. However, it’s worth clarifying that its active deployments are only in the USA, Canada, and India, while the other markets are listed as ‘Senet Ready.’

In comparison, the LoRa Alliance itself says that there are 95 countries with LoRaWAN deployments, comprised of 83 network operators, of which 57 are active members of the Alliance. In terms of gaps, most of Africa lacks any form of coverage. However, it must be remembered that the majority of countries do not have anything like 100% territory coverage – yet, at least.

Senet is also introducing some improvements to its services, which include deployment and management simplifications. The company is looking to draw more potential operators into its network through its marketplace, where it would pay out a share of revenues to the operators if they hook their gateways up to Senet’s marketplace – similar to Sigfox’s business model.

For Comcast’s machineQ, a raft of new customers has been announced, but it’s somewhat hard to get excited about this as we don’t exactly recognize any of them. They comprise FairwayIQ (golf course monitoring), H2O Degree (utility metering), Seco Sys (water metering), SteamIQ (steam-based facilities management), and Vinduino (agriculture and wine irrigation).

Now, that’s not to be inherently cynical, but we would be taking a different tone had machineQ announced that a national chain had adopted its LoRa network services. The IoT does allow any small startup an opportunity to grow to monolithic proportions, but usually only within their own niche. Sure, FairwayIQ or Vinduino could become the dominant providers, but even at scale, that would seem to be an order of magnitude less than if something like Walmart decided to keep tabs on its shopping carts using LoRa.