Sierra Wireless has launched a new LTE router for IoT applications, the AirLink LX40. Ahead of its launch, we spoke to Chief Engineer Ashish Syal, about the designer and manufacturer’s IoT strategy. Broadly, we were interested in how Sierra Wireless views mangOH, its open source hardware development platform that Riot covered recently.
Syal explained that mangOH’s focus on industrial grade hardware was key, better suited for Sierra Wireless’ typical customers than the likes of the Arduino and Raspberry Pi platforms. Growing the partner ecosystem has been a main focus, as well as boosting community participation on the forums, with Syal noting that the ecosystem is what often needs the most investment.
According to Syal, mangOH is progressing well. He points to Jabil’s truck tracking system as a good example of the benefits of mangOH, where it was able to launch a project in about 5 months, after picking up the mangOH Red boards. That asset tracking project has just finished its roll-out, and has been a success. Barnacle’s boat tracking sensor is another good case, although at the other end of the scale from Jabil, as Barnacle was financed by selling its founder’s home.
For Sierra Wireless though, every success helps build its visibility and credibility. Syal said that increased revenue capture was being enjoyed, and that the project has helped Sierra Wireless to become a more customer focused development company. As it stands, the majority of applications using mangOH are LTE, although the platform supports a number of other options, and there are over 50 new use cases.
As is tradition, Riot brought up its point that Licensed LPWAN (L-LPWAN) requires sufficient LTE coverage, and that requires an MNO to have built out its LTE footprint to accommodate applications like asset tracking, which need that sort of coverage guarantee. To this end, Syal noted that Sierra Wireless’ range of 2G and 4G combo modules are a good choice, adding that even those these are costlier, the applications that require such connectivity assurances are going to be more than happy to pay for the extra components.
Syal agreed that there would be issues with revenue incentives for MNOs, who might never see a return on their investment in cells that support very few devices. For the unlicensed LPWAN (U-LPWAN) like LoRa and Sigfox, there remain strong arguments for their use in locations with very dense device deployments, like campuses, but for widespread mobility applications, the L-LPWAN is being very aggressive on pricing, which will begin to squeeze U-LPWAN even harder shortly. It has been an impressive race to the bottom.
On that note, Syal said that L-LPWAN enables lots of new market opportunities, and that the growth in volumes of devices will help to counter the falling per-device revenues – an example of which is 1NCE’s ten-year 500MB deal for SIM cards, which each cost €10. T-Mobile has talked of $7 annual plans too, and both of these L-LPWAN pricing options are firmly in the U-LPWAN zone. To this end, Syal said that Sierra Wireless wants to drive the market, as if the market does not take off sufficiently, everyone loses – hence mangOH.
Leading on from this, we asked Syal if Sierra Wireless was explicitly viewing mangOH as a way to achieve an RoI – rather than as an altruistic endeavor. As an open source project, Sierra Wireless could see customers opt to use its rivals, and therefore any money spent there would have been wasted. Syal said that Sierra Wireless does track its RoI, but can’t talk about those numbers.
However, Syal said that the bigger benefit for Sierra Wireless is in leveraging its community, as it significantly lowers its customer acquisition costs. Instead of paying for marketing and advertising, which can be costly and hard to quantify success with, Sierra Wireless is letting mangOH do the talking – showing the capabilities of the hardware, and the possibilities of the applications being tested. After that success has been shown, Sierra Wireless can then step in, with a packaged offering.
It is Syal’s view that the real value is in the complete package, and with its designs and products, it should be able to offer mangOH testers something close to their exact requirements. The sales pitch here is that it would be easier to opt for a Sierra Wireless design now, than to try and build one yourself, now that you have experimented with a mangOH test and seen the value for yourself.
As for the new LX40, the unit is pitched at devices like cameras, security systems, point-of-sale terminals, and industrial equipment. The two configurations support LTE Cat-4, or a low-power choice between Cat-M1 (Release 13 LTE-M) or Cat-NB1 (Release 13 NB-IoT), and Sierra Wireless is calling it the most compact cellular router for IoT applications.
Network-edge data processing is also on the cards, useful for keeping the data usage bills down, and as expected, the LX40 supports Sierra Wireless’ range of network management tools – which are available in cloud and on-premises configurations. The announcement says that edge-processing could reduce data usage by 10x.
The unit costs $350 for the low-power LTE variant, $400 for the Cat-4 configuration, and $450 if you want a Cat-4 with WiFi. Samples of the Cat-4 are available now, but the commercial availability is scheduled for September. The low-power samples are due in September too.