One of the clear advantages that the LTE-based NB-IoT has over other LPWANs (low power wide area networks) is that it comes with readymade global infrastructure and roaming. By contrast, deployments in unlicensed spectrum are often standalone – there are different technologies, such as LoRa and Sigfox, in play, and even between networks of the same type, there is limited roaming or interoperability. That can restrict the use cases and affect the economics of scaling up a system.
Progress is being made, however. In May, Orange spearheaded a testing initiative which pointed the way forward for operators wanting to use multiple LPWAN technologies, and for a standard way to roam between different providers’ networks. It is kicking off testing on interconnect and roaming between different operators’ LoRa networks now, working with several European players. The most prominent European MNOs using LoRa are Orange’s French rival Bouygues, and Proximus of Belgium. The trials will be carried out under the auspices of the LoRa Alliance, which will also seek to use the work as the basis for a standards framework for roaming.
“Orange is also preparing to test the interconnection of its LoRa network with that of other European operators by December, in the framework of the LoRa Alliance, and work on the roaming standards on LoRaWAN networks,” the firm said, in a statement.
Now, across the pond, Senet has launched what it calls the Global Low Power Wide Area Virtual Network (LVN). The LVN is a cloud-based platform for connecting LoRa networks and building new services on top.
Not only could this support interoperability between different physical LoRaWANs, but allow non-network operators to connect to the system and build their own IoT services, paying fees based on network usage or numbers of devices. Or, to use a Senet example, a city might deploy its own LoRa gateways across public rights of way and use the LVN to manage connectivity and charge fees to service providers.
The LVN could greatly broaden Senet’s model, beyond its own nationwide M2M network, to become an enabler for many other stakeholders, including cablecos. Comcast, for instance, is building out LoRa in 15 cities so far by attaching gateways to its existing HFC cable plant. Senet also expects to work with towercos which, as the company’s CEO Bruce Chatterley said, are “interested in investing in the gateways, putting them on their towers, which leverages the power and Internet connectivity they have already, and so essentially that becomes a node of the Senet LVN network, and as anyone who wants to connect to that connects, they generate revenue.”